Originally published at about.att.com. Tom Books is AT&T’s Vice President of Professional Services and Operations, E&LA. AT&T is a DiversityInc Hall of Fame company.
November is Native American Heritage Month, a period to honor the communities within the more than 570 federally recognized tribes in the United States and their traditions. As a proud Native American from a Mohawk family, I’m especially honored to celebrate our community through our theme “Woven with Strength and Resilience,” as we look to reflect on the strength it’s taken to achieve progress in our community and our continued resilience to address the many issues we still face today.
Health disparities, protecting sacred lands, and the ongoing crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous peoples are some of the systemic challenges these communities are facing. Additionally, opportunities for Native American youth have not always been terribly abundant, and unfortunately, this remains the same for many Native Americans today. In my personal and professional experiences, I’ve seen first-hand the impact that many of these challenges have had on Indigenous people.
I was born in a Mohawk neighborhood in Brooklyn where the men in our tribe lived during the week so that they could work as steelworkers in Manhattan. On the weekends, they returned to our reservation, Kahnawà:ke. While our reservation and our community in Brooklyn were better off than most because of ironworking, they were still places of limited choices and opportunities for American Indian youths.
Fortunately, my Grandmother and my parents were determined that I would receive an education. They made sure that I knew that ironworking was not an option for me and that I had to go on to college. By taking away this one employment opportunity, my family opened up a world of possibilities for me. Thanks to my grandmother and my family’s encouragement, I found my opportunity to become the first person in our family to graduate from college. I then went on to get my law degree which led me to the opportunity to eventually become a Vice President at a great company like AT&T.
At AT&T, I’m especially proud of the work we’re doing to enhance the quality of life and advance opportunities for Native American youth, especially in education, including our partnerships with the American Indian College Fund, the American Indian Science and Engineering Society National Conference, and the Barcid Foundation. I am also proud to work with our Inter-Tribal Council of AT&T Employees (ICAE), which includes more than 2,300 members who hold us accountable to our commitment to Native communities and employees. Along with our HR partners and ICAE, we are working hard to find internship and employment opportunities for Native American youths with AT&T.
Additionally, we understand how important it is for youth across the country to have access to the resources and opportunities needed to excel. We are working to help close the digital divide by offering low-cost options for the internet and increasing connectivity in communities across the nation with a commitment of $2 billion over the next three years. Our commitment will help communities, including Tribal lands, by providing affordability, educational resources, and economic opportunity to those who don’t have broadband connectivity today.
For this year’s Native American Heritage Month, I invite you to share stories, listen, participate, and get inspired as we amplify Native American voices to show the strength and resiliency in our community. Our Employee Resource group ICAE is hosting exciting programming to celebrate with our employees, and we will be sharing inspiring stories and addressing the need to increase workforce representation for Indigenous people through content like Conversations with Corey, a monthly video series hosted by my colleague and AT&T Chief Diversity & Development Officer, Corey Anthony.
And, AT&T Community Engagement is celebrating the month and helping to narrow the homework gap for Native American youth. U.S.-based employees can participate in AT&T Believes at Home to pack a backpack and prepare a “College Going Guidebook” for the American Indian College Fund’s Native Pathways high school program. Employees can also donate and help support organizations serving Native American and Indigenous peoples’ communities. Learn more here.
I’m looking forward to commemorating Native American Heritage Month. I hope you will be moved by the commitment and efforts of your AT&T colleagues, leaders, and community partners to support Indigenous peoples during this month and beyond. Join us in our celebration of strength and resilience!