“I think the one thing that people could do at this moment in time to support a greater change, both in their communities and in the nation as a whole, is to just recognize other people.”
Our Tillman Scholar Voices blog and video series amplifies the work of Tillman Scholars who actively work toward equity and justice and showing us every day the importance of leading through action. This week we highlight Samuel Innocent and his work as an advocate connecting veterans with the resources needed to thrive as they transition out of active service.
Samuel Innocent is a 2013 Tillman Scholar, Brooklyn native and ardent champion for veterans’ services. He attended the City College of New York, where he received his degree in political science. In line with his passion for veteran advocacy, he eventually held a position as vice chairman of the New York City Veterans Advisory Board.
A former U.S. Army medic, Samuel’s transition out of service and back to his hometown of New York City highlighted the glaring challenges returning veterans face in gaining access to the services they needed the most. Yet these very challenges inspired him to become an advocate to bridge these gaps between veterans and the resources essential to their success.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Samuel credits his service as what exposed him to a broader worldview, noting that it was the diverse experiences of his fellow soldiers that expanded his knowledge of life beyond Brooklyn.
“It exposed me to things that I would’ve never been exposed to,” he said. “I like to say it more or less gave me direction as far as what I’d be doing later on in life. Having met those people, having experienced those things alongside people who I considered to be good friends and colleagues. It changed how I view the world and burst the little New York City bubble.”
However, when Samuel returned home after service, he found himself falling into the cracks created by New York’s lack of available services for veterans. These experiences eventually set him on the path that would culminate in his advocacy of veterans’ services.
“My transition was what led me to advocacy work, seeing there was a gap in the need for veteran services and just more help in connecting veterans with services. It led to myself and a group of other people to advocate for the city to create an agency, one central place where veterans can go and get information and resources and help on all things veteran,” he said. “So now, if you’re a veteran transitioning to New York City, you just have to reach out to the Department of Veterans Services, and they will connect you to educational resources, mental health resources, employment resources.”
Samuel’s veteran advocacy has taken on an employment-focused bent in recent years. He is committed to showing potential employers the many ways in which veterans can be beneficial to their environments.
“Being a former medic, fixing things was my calling. It’s where I felt most comfortable, and employment happened to be one of the larger barriers that I faced,” he said. “Employers tend to have a preconceived notion, of veterans in one particular way. Breaking down that barrier is what I do now, letting employers know that veterans range from administrative services to carpentry, to medics, to nuclear submarine technicians to power plant technicians to mechanics. It’s such a very large field of potential.”
In doing so, Samuel aims to correct the biases that employers may unconsciously hold towards veterans returning to the workforce while highlighting the enormous potential they bring to the table.
Samuel continues to be thankful for the introduction to a variety of backgrounds and people through his service. He carries an important lesson from those encounters that he hopes everyone can adopt as the nation strives towards change.
“The way to get through these difficult times is to think above and think outside of your box and your circle and what you’re used to and just be considerate of others,” he said. “By doing that, I think you’ll find yourself being of service and pushing through these times.”