Coming Back Home to North Carolina; Meet Seth

Why I Chose To Do This Work

Seeing problems and hardship made me want to make things better. From a young age I’ve seen the brokenness of our world. I went to a daycare where I watched my peers get abused. I didn’t see my only cousin after entering elementary school, due to his first of many arrests and prison sentences. In high school I saw our school and community erupt with vicious racism towards the new black students who came to our school to escape the violence in Chicago.

My life and career has been defined by the the people in my life that I am closest to.

My second cousins were dealt a short hand. Their father is my only first cousin. He is 12 years older than me. He dropped out of school at age 15. He joined a gang and soon had his first arrest. As an African American special ed student he was failed by a school system that was not designed around his needs. He has spent the past 21 years of his life in and out of prison. He is locked up to this day. In between failed attempts at re-entry, my cousin has become the father of five children by three different women. These five children, my cousins, feel like siblings to me. I have watched my cousins grow up in poverty. I have watched 4 cousins grow up with single mothers. Nadia, my oldest cousin, has grown up with a mother who is also incarcerated. She struggles as a homeless teen to provide for her 1 year old daughter. Poverty and all its ugliness is Nadia and her daughter’s reality. Through the lives of my family lives I have seen the brokenness of our world and cannot choose to ignore it.

The relationships and closeness with my cousins has lit a fire inside me to serve kids who have been dealt an unfair hand.

Where I came from — my sense of place

Since before birth, I’ve also been handed an immense amount of privilege. Privilege I did nothing to deserve or earn, but privilege none the less, and privilege that I have become beyond grateful for. I grew up in Iowa City, Iowa. A midwestern college town that provided me a safe and loving place to grow up.

I grew up in a house where both of my parents had a college degree. I never worried if we had enough to eat in the fridge. My dad played catch with every night when I was younger. I grew up in a safe, college town with low-crime and quality public schools. My parents read books to me. I had a community of people who were investing in me and my healthy development. My parents had health insurance.

I’ve always been a restless person. Seeing the hardships others faced around me only deepened this restlessness. Very early in life work became my outlet. I was rejected from my first job application on the day I turned 14 years old at our local grocery store. That rejection proved to be a blessing as I ended up growing much more through starting a landscaping business where I mowed over 2,000 lawns in 4.5 years.

My place, the midwest, instilled the values of hard work, humility, and integrity. Farmers are in my family tree and I have internalized the “sun up to sun down” work ethic. The midwest is a place where people value hard work, and often value even more the humility to not view yourself as important for your accomplishments. My high school principal instilled the value of integrity by telling me the measure of a person’s character is “doing the right thing when nobody’s watching you.”

My high school years taught me about my privilege. I saw how differently I was treated as a white male compared to my friends who were black. I’ve always worked hard, but I began to question if I was succeeding because of my hard work or because the school system I was in was “setup” for me to succeed in. I learned not to run away from the guilt of being privileged but acknowledge it. Seeing the racism in my community against my new black friends from Chicago built a conviction to be an ally. It built a desire to learn how to use my privilege, strengths and gifts to work to create a more equitable world.

I taught high school special ed in Warren County, North Carolina and built close relationships with my students and their parents. Warren County accepted me with open arms and made me feel like I belong there. The community made me feel like this was my community. Warren County planted the seed of wanting the privilege of getting to work in North Carolina.

“To whom much is given, much is expected.”

My mission is to strengthen communities through creating pathways out of poverty for kids & families. My past vehicles to accomplish this mission have included being a: high school special ed teacher, parent & community organizer, human centered design researcher, nonprofit program developer, early childhood volunteer, and co-founding a nonprofit.

Through teaching I saw that high-quality education is an effective pathway out of poverty and into high-wage jobs. Through community organizing, I saw that parents are the experts on their child and have an enormous potential impact on shaping a lifetime of positive outcomes from their child. Through interviewing over 50 parents of kids in Oakland I learned that prenatal to age 5 is the time period of highest potential impact to positively affect a child’s brain development. We also know that impact of trauma has devastating consequences on a child’s cognitive, academic, emotional, and social development, thus severely limiting growth and opportunities. We have proof points of evidence-based, deeply researched early childhood programs (prenatal, home visiting, child care, Pre-K) that we know have large positive impacts on kids. The need is so much greater than the supply of these evidence-based high quality early childhood programs.

What I hope to gain from being part of JKH Fellowship and carry forward

I hope to live out Jamie’s values of humility, love, and service through building a vision for how to serve all under resourced children in North Carolina. Specifically, I want to build a vision of how to deliver high-quality services prenatal through age 5 so all kids can receive the support and resources necessary to enter Kindergarten ready to thrive.

*To connect with Seth contact him: 319 594 2647 (cell)