Going against the grain is often the most efficient path to your destiny. Reflecting on my journey made me conceptualize that I was molded to fight the inevitable until I went against the grain.

My first year of elementary school deemed itself to be the springboard when I jumped off the porch in life. That was the first year I began playing organized sports, made friends in my neighborhood, experienced a tragedy, and began working with my father.

The innocent childhood ambitions of becoming a Power Ranger or another fictional character died along with the person I watched lose his life while I was in first grade. Often, we miss the message in the mishap when we only view occurrences from a one-sided point of view. Once the innocent stage of my childhood vanished, my vision for the future became clear.

At a young age, I knew that I wanted to leverage sports after high school, become the leader of a major company, and impact the culture. Conversations with my dad, while we worked in the disrespectful New Orleans summer heat doing landscape and construction work, developed those ambitions.

Unsurprisingly, storytelling became my profession because my dad has a new story every time the sun rises. His passages instantly become the life of the party, priceless stories, quoatables, and laughs that are everlasting. My father was 41 years old when I was born. Therefore, many of our neverending conversations are about the segregation era, the civil rights era, his interactions with Malcolm X and Dick Gregory, and other historical figures from that era. Those conversations, coupled with racial instances that I elaborated on in Crabs In A Barrel, always kept impacting the culture at the front of my mind.

Go to college and get a good job is unarguably the most popular blueprint preached to most millennials during their upbringing. Many didn't become defensive about that approach until student loans began financially crippling the masses, and degrees often only led to decoration on the wall. It wasn't until recently that I stopped questioning if obtaining my college degree from Tulane University was worth it. My network, college-related experiences inside and outside of the classroom, added credential to my legacy, and social currency that my degree holds, made me forgo reconsidering the accomplishment.

Making my parents proud was what kept me passionately pushing at a lifelong dream that I rarely thought twice about accomplishing. The next step was to get a good job, but thankfully, that led me to discover the balance of living for yourself and others. When I reached my breaking point in corporate America, I deciphered where to draw the thin line.

Instead of chasing the dreams that my loved ones laid out for me, I let them be my motivation, rather than my dream dictators. We often take it personally when others don't see our vision, but life would be boring if we all thought the same way. The people that love me the most told me to get a job, even after my gift became exposed to the world, and my books reached the top charts amongst celebrities and famous authors that poured thousands of dollars into marketing their books.

We often confuse our loved ones' best wishes and goals for us as dream killing statements. Many millennials' parents preach that universal sermon to their children because they want a stable life for their next generation, but the receivers of those messages must be bold enough to go against the grain respectfully.

Striving to make my dad proud has remained a consistent mission throughout my entire life. I assumed that achievements such as playing sports in college, obtaining my bachelor's degree, or a professional accomplishment would serve as the way I made him the proudest. I often wondered which specific achievement made him feel that way, but it was easy to recognize that feat shortly after brainstorming.

When I was ten years old, two of my father’s employees flaked on the final day of an important project. Until that day, my job duties consisted of general landscaping duties, such as pulling weeds, raking, and other tasks that didn’t take much grit to accomplish. My responsibilities on the final day of the project consisted of breaking up concrete with a maul, carrying filled wheelbarrows of dirt and grass, and planting grass that covered an oversized backyard. When we made it to the job site at 7:30 am on a Saturday, he mapped out the instructions for the day.

My dad is a major factor for my high confidence, but his eyes were filled with uncertainty as he laid out the plans for the day. His doubt was washed away after we worked side by side in 100-degree heat, and I kept up with my assigned job duties. The dark skies threatened to wash away our progress as we transitioned into the afternoon.

As the clouds covered the 9th ward of New Orleans, the uncertainty crept back into my father's eyes. The look on his face intensified as the rain attempted to disrupt our project. When the rain, which was initially confused as hail, began rapidly falling, my dad stepped back into his client’s driveway. I saw him retreat out the corner of my eye. We were already soaked from the scorching summer sun, and I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to show my father that I had his back under any condition. A fire was ignited under me to come through for my dad when he needed me the most. That sense of urgency is applied to each project I work on, and when the opportunity presents itself to come through for others.

I casually asked my father which of my achievements made him the proudest before writing this article. He instantly told me this story I just shared, as if I never heard it before, and I smiled simultaneously. That moment made me realize that his DNA is deeply rooted in my business. Aside from watching my father go all out professionally by busting his butt in any weather on a daily basis to live out his passion and carry on his father’s business, his efforts to be a father figure to a countless amount of kids throughout Louisiana impacted me the most.

My dad spent several decades coaching, feeding, transporting, and most of his income and money (that he didn’t have) on pouring into thousands of kids. Him changing the lives of so many others is what made me the proudest of him. Many of the kids he coached even received preferential treatment over me, but his undying love and impact on so many people taught me that life is bigger than self. That’s the mindset I have when going the extra mile and providing value for others. I leveraged one of my dad’s talents to continually remind me of my business’s value and DNA. My father drew the logo for Williams Commerce.

Every time I look at the logo he designed for my company, I am constantly reminded that my purpose for starting a business was to provide value, go the extra mile for others, and make my loved ones proud.

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Devine connections and life purposes become unveiled once you go with the move in your heart. A cliché statement that I believe in is that everyone has a book inside of them. One of my biggest intents when interacting with people is to learn about their story. This often leads me to learning about their mindset, life purpose, and what brings them happiness. When our company published "Little Zilla's Big Wait" by retired NFL player and now Best-Selling Author Antwon Blake, it reminded me that authors such as he and myself took on writing as a profession after embarking on another career journey. That divine connection led me to another.

Antwon and Jasmine McGee, the magnificent illustrator on “Little Zilla’s Big Wait" connected me with Arnonsia Jones. One of the first things I noticed after interacting with Arnonsia was her passion for instilling in kids’ hearts that they are more than enough. Bullying often crowds the spotlight as the sole social struggle of childhood. Not fitting in during childhood has underlying effects that often go undetected throughout a person’s life.

Reassurances in the household often diminish negative energy outside of the home. Within moments of speaking to Arnonsia, it was evident that one of her life purposes is to be a voice of reassurance for children worldwide. Her new book and career journey are applicable to anyone who has a dream they want to accomplish.

Often, we don’t discover our life purposes on our first career endeavor. Ideally, each step forward is logistically directed to our destiny. The second step of Arnonsia’s career path delivered her to one of her life’s purposes.

In 2016 she transitioned to the education realm and began teaching. While there are mainstays in grade school education, one universal change has shifted the paradigm. The opportunity to express yourself has been optimized to new heights. Unfortunately, that has resulted in a more judgmental and isolated society. This ranges from the board room down to pre-schools. The pre-schoolers and early elementary-aged kids are affected the most.

During Arnonsia's first years of teaching, she noticed the shift in the classroom and on the playground. To impact those who felt it the most, she began teaching special education in 2019. Early into teaching students with special needs, she grew the desire to continuously seek ways to impact children who need to know that they are more than enough.

When did you first think about becoming an Author?

The first moment I thought about becoming an author was also the first day I wrote and finished, More Than Enough. The majority of things I've done up to this point is typically random and very sudden, but somehow, they all seem to work. It was Easter night of this year, and I was preparing reading materials for my students. As I was scrolling through the book options, I realized how "bland" the book selections were. None of the books were relatable or familiar to my childhood or my current life, and in that very moment the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said, "Write the type of book you desire to see." I immediately stopped what I was doing, pulled up Microsoft Word and went at it.

That’s inspiring! Procrastinating is one of the most common barriers for executing in today’s society. What advice do you have for people that are facing challenges executing their goals and visions due to procrastination?

Why put off until tomorrow what you can do today? One thing we constantly take for granted is time. The saying “time is not on your side” is very true! Whatever is in your heart to do, DO IT! The more you think about it, the more you think yourself out of it. A wise man by the name of De’el Woods always says, “Believing that you can is way more profitable than believing that you can’t.”

What were the reactions when you first opened up to others about writing a book?

One thing about the people that I love, trust, and respect is that they are always supportive of any and everything that I do. They were confused initially because I'd never talked about writing a book before, but once they read the first draft, they loved it! I don't have a huge family and my circle is more like a dot, but it’s definitely quality over quantity for me.

How did that alter your energy?

Their reactions didn't alter my energy at all because whether they were supportive or not, the world was going to get this book!

What advice do you have for people that receive determent about their dreams from loved ones and their close circle?

Focus!! Drown out the noise and focus! Let your results speak for you. Eventually, they’ll be telling the world how they know you.

What motivated you to switch your profession from healthcare to education?

Working in healthcare means that you're typically at work when others are at home. In 2015, I volunteered to host Thanksgiving at my home. However, I was stuck at work, hoping the phones would stop ringing so I could leave early and help my mother and grandmother prepare for Thanksgiving. I told myself that I needed a career change for two reasons: To spend more time with my son and family, and to leave work every day with a sense of fulfillment. In December of 2015, I graduated from the University of Houston-Downtown, resigned from my job in March of 2016, became a substitute teacher in August of 2016, and an Official Teacher of Record in August of 2018.

How did connecting with children on a daily basis change your life?

It definitely increased my patience, compassion, and empathy. Children know more than adults give them credit for, so a lot of times they take on adult responsibilities. A lot of times we get upset with the students, but once we meet their parents it all makes sense. Some of those babies don’t stand a chance when you consider their home life, so that’s when patience, compassion, and empathy goes into overdrive. I understand that I can’t save all of the children in the world, but I will give everything in me to at least try!

What would you change about the education system?

There's so much about the education system that is flawed, but one thing I would change for sure is the STAAR test. The fact that a student can work tirelessly throughout the entire school year, just to be faced with the daunting task of an end of the year, make you or break you test is completely asinine. The STAAR test is stressful to both the teachers and students. Oh, and Special Education students that typically receive Oral Administration, can only have the questions read to them during the Reading portion of the STAAR. How is that fair to them? So now you have to spend all of this unnecessary time teaching them test taking strategies when that time can be spent teaching them how to actually read.

What are your biggest takeaways from teaching special education?

My biggest takeaways from teaching special education are that SPED students are simply general education students who require different learning measures and techniques. I knew during my time as a substitute teacher that SPED was my calling. My teaching philosophy is to build confidence first. If you can convince a child that they can master the task that's in front of them, they will do it every time. Every child needs someone to pour into them, but SPED students need a little more because their emotional and cognitive abilities require a tad more tender love and care. I've had students to go from sitting in the back of the class trying not to stand out to boldly raising not one, but both hands so the teacher can call them to the whiteboard and solve a problem. Academics are important, but confidence will make a student that technically reads on a 2nd grade level pick up a 5th grade level book and say, "I can read this, watch." The late great Rita Pierson whom I love, admire, and often try to mimic, has a Ted Talk video that completely changed my outlook on teaching. I go back and watch it ever so often just to get a refill on the gems she shares. She has a saying that I made my students recite every morning. They hated doing it at first, but eventually it grew on them and like she said, "If you say it long enough it begins to become a part of you." I'll end this with her saying, "I am somebody. I was somebody when I came. I'll be a better somebody when I leave. I am powerful, and I am strong. I deserve the education I get here."

Having that type of impact on students is truly a gift. What advice do you have for parents and teachers to let their children know that they are more than enough?

VALIDATE, VALIDATE, VALIDATE! Parents please validate your children and how they feel. We nurture them when they’re sick, but neglect them when they’re sad. There are too many emotionally unavailable adults because their parents never validated their feelings. Yes, as parents we know they will get over it, but for the child it feels like the end of the world. Don’t brush it off or minimize the way a child feels, acknowledge the feelings and immediately pour positivity into them. Every child should have what I like to call a “safe space”. A safe space should be at home, but unfortunately school serves as that safe space for a lot of children. That safe space is where a child can go to just vent, cry, and speak their heart while being free from judgement and chastisement. Children desire to be heard just like adults.

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Five summers ago served as a pivotal year in my professional career. A job that I initially viewed as a stepping-stone transitioned into a professional passion. During July 2015, I was six months away from earning a second promotion at my former company in record time and filling in as an acting branch manager during the seventh month of my tenure.

Seventy hour work weeks, one-hour commutes to and from work, and extensive professional development efforts off the clock were my weekly agenda. The grind finally caught up to me on a Saturday afternoon towards the end of the month. I was 75 hours and six days deep into my workweek. As my shift ended, I began mentally mapping out my plan to relax for the rest of the weekend, until it was time for work the following Monday.

The last conversation of the workday that Saturday afternoon altered my upcoming plans. The energy exchange I experienced with my final customer of the day motivated me to forgo my initial plans and put in extra work on my off day that Sunday.

The following Monday, I conceptualized that the inspirational interaction wasn't an anomaly. Once the customer who boosted my spirits returned Monday, our interaction was duplicated, and a friendship was established.

Several months later, my friend that I speak of received a promotion in his respective craft. I didn't know what he did for a living until it was time for him to leave his second hometown, Houston, Texas, to return to work with the Pittsburgh Steelers. After learning about his route to the NFL, I was even further inspired when Antwon Blake became a starting cornerback with the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 2014 - 2015 season.

Success is not measured by the position one has reached in life, rather by the obstacles one overcomes while trying to succeed. - Booker T Washington

As impressed as I was with his accomplishments on the field, his outlook on life, work ethic, and character exceeded his amazing athletic attributes. Have you ever thought about somebody, and they suddenly called you, or connected with someone and wondered where they'd been your entire life? I can hear you answering "yes" in your mind as I type this.

Some people chalk those happenings up to coincidences or mental telepathies and miss vital opportunities. When I met Antwon, who is now a best-selling author, it felt like I knew him well before we first shook hands. Our careers progressed and changed simultaneously, and we developed a brotherhood throughout the years. Acting on life's signs is what helped us collaborate on a tangible creation that will live on forever.

The process of partnering with Antwon to publish his first book, "Little Zilla's Big Wait" impacted me beyond belief. I deemed it necessary to provide readers with insight into the best-selling author and retired NFL veteran's life journey.

One of the things that I admire the most about you is your desire for excellence and ability to continuously achieve it. You've experienced success as an author, athlete, and student. What has been a common denominator for your success in all three realms?

I feel that the common denominator for the success I've had is my ability to bring a vision and plan to fruition through hard work & dedication. My lack of fear in regards to failure has given me the courage and strength to pursue goals and dreams that many wouldn't feel would be attainable.

Many people see gaudy achievements but don't know about the tough work you put in behind closed doors. To give readers a view of what it's like to face challenges on the highest levels, what were some of the biggest challenges you've faced in the NFL?

The biggest challenge I faced in the NFL started far earlier before I ever donned the uniform of an NFL team. The biggest challenge was actually the lifelong task of staying focused on a dream I'd had since being a wide-eyed six year old watching my hometown team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, take the field for the first time. Staying focused on a lifelong task and actually making it happen is an extremely hard feat.

What career did you see for yourself before you put the pads on as a kid?

Early on, before I ever thought about being a football player, I wanted to be a police officer and also a wrestler. I wanted to be a police officer because I felt that it would be a way to solve certain problems that were going on in my household and family. Wanting to be a wrestler stemmed from discovering the WWE with superstars like The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and Eddie Guerrero, that I admired and wanted to be like. In many ways, perfecting my wrestling moves gave me the courage and aggressiveness to succeed during my first year of playing organized little league football.

Which book impacted you the most as a child?

The book that I can instantly recall making an impact on me as a child is "The Giving Tree" written by Shel Silverstein. As a child, I recognized both sides of the story and can relate to it even more so now as an adult. Those loving and caring people would give their all to see others happy. Yet, on the other hand, those receiving the benefits become entitled, not realizing that they are only taking and not providing anything in return.

Little Zilla's Big Wait is a book that applies to any child regardless of their interests because the book's lessons are the foundation for success on every path. What is another big lesson you learned as a child?

Another big lesson that I learned as a child is to never react to situations without thoroughly thinking things through first.

What advice would you give to your childhood self?

The advice I would give my childhood self is to dream even bigger in life. No matter the obstacles or amount of adversity, GOD has already written your story, and you're destined for greatness. Oh yea, and to call grandma back that one last time.

What made you choose a children's book versus any other genre?

I chose to release a children's book first rather than other genres I'm working on because I felt it was essential to get those examples and relatable stories into the universe first. Also, I wanted to impress my children with something that we could enjoy together and use as an example to learn from!

What advice do you have for other creators who want to turn their idea into a published novel, tangible product, or business?

To anyone who's thinking about becoming a writer, fashion designer, chef, etc., the best advice I could give is to plan things out effectively and then put your thoughts and ideas into motion. Often times, we spend more time thinking about starting something than it actually takes to truly act on it and complete it!

The world knows more about Lil Zilla. What's something about Big Zilla that would surprise readers?

I think something that would surprise readers is that I'm an elite cook, and I'm working on releasing my own cookbook in the near future!

One of the best things about becoming a new author is capturing the feelings of executing a career-changing move. What does it feel like to become a published author, and how has it changed the trajectory of your professional career?

Man, it's an amazing feeling. I almost can't describe it with words. Many months ago, when we conversed about life, and its accompanying topics, I told you that this was one of the things on my to-do list that I truly wanted to accomplish in the near future. It's a gratifying experience to say the least. This whole process has opened my eyes even more. This is my first book, but it definitely won't be my last. There are big plans and goals for the Little Zilla series. Me tapping into different genres as an author is in the works as well!

One of the most intriguing things about literature is that ten people could read one book and get ten different takeaways. What is the biggest takeaway that you want readers to have from your first book?

The biggest takeaway that I want readers to have from my first book is how far a little patience & determination can take you!

Antwon Blake

IG & Twitter: Zillamane41

Email: littlezillabooks@gmail.com

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