Amazon exec inspires local students with life story

From living a life of crime to living a life of corporate success at one of the largest companies in America, Antonio Samuel has made a complete 180-degree turn with his life.

Now it is his personal mission to inspire children who are just like he was and give them hope for a brighter and more fulfilling future. He brought that message of hope to Santa Rosa County schools last week.

Samuel is a regional senior operations manager at Amazon.com with over a decade of experience in Fortune 500 companies. In his current role, Samuel is responsible for Amazon’s Last Mile logistics business unit for the central region of the United States, which covers 10 states.

“I love my job. I love what I do. I work from home for the most part, and I travel all across the country,” Samuel said.

The journey to where he is now, however, was not a smooth delivery.

Samuel grew up in the inner city of Cleveland, Ohio, and when he was 4 years old his mother became addicted to crack cocaine and started stealing from family members, which forced him to move around a lot. She was in and out of rehabilitation centers, so the state stepped in.

To avoid losing custody of her son, Samuel’s mother sent him to live with his grandparents in Cleveland.

His father was arrested when Samuel was 7 and was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Samuel still doesn’t know what his father did to earn that prison term, he said.

“Alcoholism in my household, mixed with a lot of emotions, led to a lot of abuse – physical abuse done to myself (and) physical abuse from my grandfather to my grandmother,” Samuel said. “But that was something I struggled with emotionally for a while.”

This in turn led to difficulty in school for Samuel. He was a prominent student athlete before his decisions outside of the classroom caught up to him. At one point, he had to quit playing football as a punishment from his grandparents. Around age 12 or 13, he started running away from home quite often.

“With all the other things I had going on emotionally as well, that was like the tipping point for me to start running away,” Samuel said.

Eventually, the state stepped in again and placed him in a group home, then foster care. He eventually went back to live with his grandparents, but his grandmother died of cancer.

When she died, he lacked a role model, so he looked up to the people in his life that he thought were cool and were making money: the drug dealers in his neighborhood. Samuel said they seemed like the only constant in his life.

“I started selling drugs, started stealing. I started robbing. My first run-in with the law came as a result of a lot of theft,” Samuel said.

As a teenager, Samuel found himself being tried as an adult and convicted. He spent four years in prison for aggravated robbery, assault and committing a crime while in possession of a gun. He was released in 2003 as a 21-year-old felon.

Over the next decade, Samuel tried to do things the right way and overcome his past, but he faced years of rejections from a multitude of companies due to his criminal record.

“Anyone who would accept my application, I submitted one. Fast-food restaurants, factories, temporary work, anything,” Samuel said.

After a couple of months of receiving endless nos and getting discouraged, “I was running back to what I did to get into prison in the first place,” Samuel said.

He decided the best way to get past these hurdles was to go to college. He worked hard and obtained a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from the University of Akron, a master’s in business administration from Baldwin Wallace University and multiple professional certifications. Even after earning his degrees, he continued to hear no from potential employers.

After about 70 nos, Samuel got fed up with his approach.

“The next interview I have, I’m going to just go in and tell them up front that I have a felony,” he said.

Samuel finally received his first yes from the Timken Company, an Ohio-based manufacturer of industrial equipment that operates in 33 countries. He started off working in engineering and then transitioned to operations.

“I remember just how vulnerable and exposed I felt with telling them that information up front. I never tried that approach before. And I was prepared to hear the no,” Samuel said. “I just would rather hear it that way than the long route.”
When the hiring manager told Samuel that he cared more about the things that he did correctly than the things that he had done wrong, he almost couldn’t believe it.

“Initially, it was hard to really process that someone told me yes,” Samuel said. “Until I saw the job offer, until I signed the paper, until I showed up for work on day one and they actually gave me a desk with a computer, then I realized that it was really real. I couldn’t believe that all those choices of making the right decision actually panned out in the right way.”

However, Samuel said he still came home from work with this “super insecure feeling of job security” because he still remembered the feeling of hearing all the rejections when he was trying to find a job.

“So, I came to work every day with a very intentional approach that I had to outwork everyone because I can’t afford to lose my job because I don’t know how long it’ll be until I find another one,” Samuel said

Refusing to give up, Samuel proved himself time and again. With his survival grit and his dedicated work ethic, Samuel quickly rose through the ranks of some of America’s largest and most reputable companies including PPG and Amazon. He was 34 years old when he started working at Amazon.

Samuel said he has a deep passion for using his story as inspiration for other underprivileged teens to never give up, no matter how hard it is. He has mentored many high school and middle school students over the years and has had numerous speaking engagements at gatherings of inner-city students across Northeast Ohio.

On Feb. 6 and 7, Samuel visited several schools and events across Santa Rosa County, sharing his story and offering hope to students.

Sheriff Bob Johnson paid all the Santa Rosa County school resource officers overtime last Thursday evening to sit and listen to Samuel’s story, after working a full day at their schools.

“That’s how important he thought it was for them to hear how you can never give up on kids,” said Karen Barber, director of federal programs for the school district.

Samuel encouraged the resource officers to be the one person that makes a difference in these students’ lives, explaining that an eighth-grade math teacher was the person that had done that for him. He called on the resource officers to inspire Santa Rosa students to make positive changes in their lives, impacting the turning point for their future.

He ended his visit by speaking at the Escambia County Juvenile Detention Center, hoping to inspire a change of heart.

If Samuel could say anything to the eighth-grade math teacher who always believed in him, he would say “that I can’t even find the right words to articulate just how impactful he was to my life. And I hope and wish that I can impact anyone in my life the way that he impacted me in mine. If I could do that, I would feel gratified as a human. If I could just do what he did for me for someone else, that’s my mission.”

Samuel says his inspiration is his children – Zoey, 8, Kennedy, 7 and Bryce, 2.

“That was my first understanding of love, really, through my children. And they inspire me. That’s my motivation every day I wake up is to make them proud,” Samuel added.

Samuel is now 38 years old and has big plans for his future.

“I’m still trying to move up and take over Amazon,” he said with a laugh.

Samuel is also currently working on his autobiography, titled “From Orange Suits to White Collars,” which is expected to be published in July.

Now it is his personal mission to inspire children who are just like he was and give them hope for a brighter and more fulfilling future. He brought that message of hope to Santa Rosa County schools last week.

As seen in the Feb. 13 issue of Navarre Press.

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