Richard Williams: The Journey
April 26, 2012
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|More than 15 years ago I was selected to serve as the Executive Director of the American Indian College Fund. At that time, I had been working at the University of Colorado-Boulder for 17 years and needed a change. I had several job offers within a two-week period, and I consulted several friends. They all suggested that the American Indian College Fund was the place I could make the biggest difference for Indian people. I was about to begin a journey that would change my life forever.
I had grown up in poverty and struggled with all of the characteristic challenges facing Indian people of the day. Only one person in our family had higher education experience. My grandmother was well educated for the time and continuously stressed that I was going to college. What a blessing! This was deeply rooted in my consciousness and I never gave it a second thought.
A series of coincidences, however, nearly sidelined my return to school. The first was the draft; my lottery number was seven and I was given an induction notice for May 1. While playing softball on April 19, I broke my leg and ankle. When I showed up for the induction physical, they evaluated me and told me that they would call me back within six months to be inducted. I was slow to heal and hobbled around with a full cast for the 12 weeks. After the cast was removed I still had trouble walking without a significant limp. In late November, one of my heroes called and told me he could get me back in school starting in January. I was thrilled, except there was the draft induction still hanging over my head. In December, I went to see the draft board to ask about my status. I learned that they were required to call me back within six months. Because they hadn’t called as a result of an administrative error, I was free from my obligation and could return to school the next month.
I became a serious student and graduated with honors. I worked in construction every summer until I finished college, mostly as a reminder that I did not want to work as a manual laborer for the rest of my life. This job confirmed the wisdom of my grandmother’s insistence on my going to college. I am thankful for that every day of my life.
I am thankful for the opportunity to help other American Indians get an education because I personally know that it will make a difference. I am also proud that the American Indian College Fund makes such an amazing difference in people’s lives.
When I came to work at the American Indian College Fund in 1997, one of my visions was to grow our endowment to create permanency within the Fund. This vision had its beginnings in the advice of a prestigious relative who had passed more than a hundred years ago. Chief Red Cloud, during negotiations for the Treaty of 1868, said that when you make a decision for the people, you should think about how it will impact the next seven generations. I took that to heart and I focused on growing our endowment so that seven generations from now there will be resources for American Indian students to attend college. I am happy to say we have reached a level of stability, and with the help of our supporters to maintain the current endowment, the American Indian College Fund can provide for seven generations of students.
Late last year, I decided as I was thinking about my retirement that it was time to step aside at the American Indian College Fund and prepare for a new leader. I am sad about leaving but excited to say that by the end of September of this year, the American Indian College Fund will have a new leader. I am pleased to let you know that I will not be going away. I will be doing some shape-shifting (an old Indian trick). My journey will continue for the next two years, and I will be serving as the senior advisor for the American Indian College Fund.
At a recent conference for our Embrey Women’s Leadership program, a young lady quoted Zig Ziglar…
My journey has had some success, but there are many more paths to explore and many more students to help. With your help we have accomplished many amazing things, but we still have work ahead of us and the journey continues.