MILTON — It took a combined series of tragic events for Antonio Samuel to leave his life of crime behind and realize he had to change the way he was living. Samuel went from being a convicted felon that no one wanted to hire to being a senior manager at Amazon.
The death of his grandmother and several friends, going to prison and a chance meeting with a football coach created what he calls a "perfect storm" for change.
Now he gives back by trying to impact at-risk students in one of two ways.
"Either catch the ones that are at the fork in the road before they go the wrong direction or to let the ones that have been in trouble know that it’s not over, that they‘re still in the process of writing their own book." Samuel said.
Samuel grew up poor in the inner city area of Cleveland, Ohio, with his drug addicted mother and several siblings. In an attempt to help her overcome addiction, the family moved Hollywood, Florida when Samuel was 4 years old.
"Miami in the ‘80s with drugs, it wasn’t a conducive environment. The problem got worse," Samuel said.
Samuel said his mother was unfit to raise her children and he entered the state foster care system until his grandmother took him back to the inner city life in Cleveland.
Samuel spent his time running away from home, dealing drugs, robbing and stealing from people. When his grandmother died, his life got even worse.
He was arrested at 16, convicted at 17, and was sent to the Madison Correctional Institution in Ohio, an adult prison.
"I was the youngest person there," Samuel said.
He was released four years later as a 21-year-old convicted felon.
One night Samuel met a football coach from the University of Akron at a convenience store. Although he does not recall the coach‘s name, the man helped Samuel start his college studies and start his change.
"The two individuals that helped me while in college were Dr. Paul Lam (dean of engineering) and Dr. Julie Zhao (a professor)," Samuel said. He also wanted to acknowledge his eighth grade algebra teacher, Mr. Vanderyte, who made him fall in love with math.
Through perseverance, Samuel received a bachelor‘s degree in electrical engineering and an MBA. He climbed the corporate ladder to the position of Regional Senior Operations Manager at Amazon.
Samuel tells at-risk kids that there is an easier path to success without breaking the law. More importantly, if you are in trouble your life is not over. You can still be a success.
"Never give up," Samuel said.
Although Amazon encourages employees to do community work, Samuel‘s speaking events are separate from his responsibilities at the online retail giant.
Samuel was in Milton to speak to educators, law enforcement and justice-involved youth. The county has a federally-funded program called Supporting Our Students implemented in 2017 by Dr. Karen Barber, director of federal programs for the school district, to target this population of students.