Photos by Adam Baker and Shaie Williams

Guy Bell seems to fit the classic image of an Amarillo resident. He’s white. He has an agricultural background. He spends weekdays selling farm and ranch equipment, and on weekends, he rides horses and runs cattle on family land.

He wears boots and jeans and a hat and a leather belt that reads GOD BLESS TEXAS. 

Guy Bell is a real-life cowboy.

But there’s more to Bell than his traditional appearance. To start, Bell is something of a social media star. A viral, early-pandemic Facebook video—you probably saw his cowboy “balance beam” routine—gained the cowboy a sizable TikTok following. More than a million viewers have now watched videos featuring Bell and members of his family.

In his TikTok profile picture, Bell sits cross-legged, wearing chaps, in a classic yoga lotus pose. He’s on social media to have fun and spread positivity—“I love everybody,” he says, with a bit of a twang—but there’s more going on here than horses and tumbleweeds.

“I’ve started wearing my hat in a lot of videos,” Bell says, because that’s who he is. But when he wears the hat while traveling, especially in other states, he finds outsiders quick to form an opinion. “People choose to think: There’s a Republican. There’s a gun-toter. There’s a racist fella there.”

The prejudgment bothers him. “You’ve gotta look at the rest of the layers of me.”

Look past the boots and dust, in other words, and you might be surprised what you find.

Upending Expectations

Cities aren’t cowboys and Amarillo isn’t a TikTok personality, but this region and Guy Bell both have a knack for upending expectations. A city with multiple layers and communities, Amarillo is far more complex than its white, conservative, agricultural reputation presents. Yes, the Western culture is authentic. Yes, local values and politics are definitely conservative. But culturally, there’s more to Amarillo than meets the eye. This city is surprisingly diverse.

For instance, our vibrant arts scene always grabs attention. Organizations like the Amarillo Symphony—whose new music director, George Jackson, hails from London—have been part of Amarillo’s cultural fabric for a century. 

The city’s LGBTQ community is thriving. The 2022 Panhandle Pride celebration gathered an estimated 4,000 local residents together on a hot, windy, welcoming Saturday in June.

Neighborhood plans in the Barrio, North Heights, and San Jacinto are uniting those communities behind long-awaited investment and optimism, with another plan in the works for the heavily international population of Eastridge.

And while the influx has dropped in recent years, Amarillo spent the past two decades as a prominent destination for refugees, bringing international flavor to this city of steakhouses and brisket joints.

Like the rest of Texas, the city’s racial and ethnic makeup is shifting. Amarillo surpassed 200,000 residents in the most recent census, and that population is more diverse than ever. More than half of the city’s residents are white, but a quickly growing third of the population (33 percent) are Hispanic or Latino. Another 7 percent are Black or African American. More than 4 percent are Asian and 5.4 percent divide their heritage among two or more races.

Jeanette Arpero, a political science and criminal justice instructor at West Texas A&M University, says Amarillo’s diversification falls in line with what’s happening throughout the state. From 2010 to 2020, Texas grew by nearly 4 million people, and more than 95 percent of that growth was attributable to minority populations, she says. “Out of that 95 percent growth, 50 percent was Hispanic,” adds Arpero. “But it’s other minorities as well. We are definitely becoming more diverse.”

Refugee Relocation

Amarillo’s refugee population has been well-documented, including this magazine’s March/April 2022 feature about Refugee Language Project and The Place, a new gathering spot for members of the refugee community.

“What makes Amarillo unique is that, for a while, we were accepting more refugees and immigrants than any other city, per capita, in Texas. It’s part of what makes us special,” says Arpero. She was born in Amarillo after her own parents immigrated from Mexico, seeking economic opportunity. Meanwhile, her brother is married to a Burmese woman whose family sought asylum here.

From 2015 to 2020, more than half of the refugee arrivals in Amarillo were from Burma—many of them Karen people fleeing persecution (see below). The Democratic Republic of Congo, in central Africa, accounts for nearly a quarter of local refugees. Significant numbers also come from Somalia, Iran and Afghanistan.

These placements peaked around 2009 and have been declining steadily since 2016. Most of them arrived through the work of two organizations: the social agency Refugee Services of Texas and the religiously affiliated Catholic Charities of the Texas Panhandle.

Jeff Gulde, executive director of Catholic Charities, says the decline in refugee numbers over the past few years represents a healthy change. “About 10 years ago, we were at a point where the numbers of refugees we were resettling in this area was difficult for a variety of reasons—the burden on the school district and public health,” he says. The Trump administration sought a dramatic reduction in those numbers, and under the Biden administration they have slowly begun to increase. “The happy place is somewhere in between,” Gulde says.

In recent years, most refugees have hailed from the Middle East. “They come through the special immigrant visa program,” he says. “They helped the armed forces in some form or fashion. Because of their service to us, they may have ended up in harm’s way in their own country.”

Gulde recalls the transport planes departing Afghanistan last summer, as desperate Afghans tried to escape their home country. “For the most part, everyone was receptive [to those refugees] because of the horrors we saw directly on TV and their service to our brothers and sisters fighting to protect freedom,” says Gulde. Around 250 Afghan refugees arrived in Amarillo last year, and 50 came through Catholic Charities.

His organization meets these families at the airport and arranges housing for them at a local apartment complex. “They quarantine for two weeks to protect against COVID, and Public Health makes sure their immunizations are up to date,” he says. “We help get children enrolled in school and help parents get a job.”

Local meat-packing operations like Tyson Foods and JBS Swift in Cactus are where many refugees find work. “They offer good, living wages and a job where the language barrier is not a hindrance. It’s a repetitive job they can learn with little translation and interpreting,” Gulde adds.

Brooks Boyett*, who operates an apartment ministry called Mission 2540, has seen Amarillo’s refugee explosion up close. He first began offering after-school activities in 2005 for low-income children at the North Grand Villas, located at 2801 N. Grand St. “The families we worked with were exclusively English-speaking Amarilloans, whether they were white, African-American, or Hispanic. Any communication difficulties we faced were with exclusively Spanish-speaking households,” he remembers. Things began to change during the next decade. “Families with new cultures, new religions, and new languages began to move into the North Grand Villas and several of our other properties. This changed our demographics considerably.”

Today, the apartment complex is mostly filled with refugee families from Somalia, Tanzania and Sudan. “I think that was a great thing,” Boyett says. “I’ve personally learned so much from new cultures, and I think the kids we work with have benefitted from this as well.”

In fact, a decade ago he began mentoring three young boys from Tanzania—Jimi Nshimirimana, Aloni Ndihokubwayo and Festus Dushigikiwenimana. All three have since graduated from high school and served as volunteers or employees with his organization. “I believe if our city is to continue to grow and thrive, it’s going to be because of the contributions of our refugees,” Boyett says.

LGBTQ Visibility

If it seems like the average Amarilloan has become more accepting of homosexuality and knows more people who are in same-sex relationships, bisexual, or transgender, that’s very likely true. In a national Pew study from 2002, barely half of respondents said homosexuality should be accepted in society. Today, that number has risen to 72 percent. 

Most Panhandle residents would agree that local public opinion probably tracks with the national studies.

Increased acceptance has meant a growing willingness for individuals in Amarillo’s LGBTQ community to come out of the closet. “Everybody’s being much more visible,” says Michael Timcisko of PASO (see below), who has lived here since 1997 with his partner, Jason Haugen. The couple met in Austin and have been married since 2008. Timcisko points to the Obergefell vs. Hodges Supreme Court ruling in 2015, which guaranteed to same-sex couples the right to marry, as a turning point in Amarillo.

 “Marriage equality and federal recognition of our marriages and families tends to make us feel safer. That opened the door for so many younger people in this city to feel more comfortable about coming out to their families and friends, at a much earlier age.”

The religious culture is becoming more accepting as well. Open and Affirming Congregations (OAC) of the Texas Panhandle is a coalition of churches dedicated to providing a safe space for LGBTQIA members to worship and participate fully in the rituals of the church, with equal opportunity to serve in leadership roles. OAC members include prominent local congregations like St. Andrews Episcopal, St. Luke Presbyterian and First Christian Church of Canyon.

“In this highly conservative area we live in, to have churches who are open and welcoming allows for more visibility and understanding,” says Timcisko. “Our families are opened up to us. They’re celebrating our marriages.”

These changes have made residents more likely to take their sexual orientation public rather than hide it. Timciscko speculates that the percentage of LGBTQ Amarillo and Canyon residents probably hasn’t changed much from a decade or two ago. It’s just that it has become slightly safer to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender in Amarillo. 

“We’re not growing by leaps and bounds. The numbers seem higher because people aren’t as afraid,” he says. “Gay people want the same things as straight people—we want to live good and happy lives, pay our taxes, and contribute to society. We’re not the boogeyman in the closet anymore.”

Workplace Diversification

Diversity is a hot topic within the downtown office of the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation, but in a different context. The EDC has been tasked with diversifying the local economy by attracting new businesses and industries. A city dependent only on oil and gas revenue or agriculture is at risk, but a diversified economy can weather downturns in any industry.

When the EDC begins conversations with companies who might consider Amarillo for expansion, racial and ethnic diversity is always top of mind. “They 100 percent want to see diversity,” says Sabrina Perez, Director of Workforce Attraction & Retention for Amarillo EDC. “As companies become larger and look to expand or relocate, they really value diversity, equity and inclusion. They see that they cannot grow without different people—representatives of different backgrounds—having a seat at the table.”

Diversity becomes a prominent value of these companies. And when they begin looking to relocate into a place like Amarillo, “they’re asking, ‘Is this community going to reflect the values of our company?’”

She points to the recent decision of Cacique, a Hispanic foods producer, to build a new dairy processing facility in Amarillo, currently under construction in southwest Amarillo. When the EDC was wooing Cacique executives by giving them a tour of the city, Cacique wasn’t particularly interested in the typical highlights. They recognized the quality-of-life value of a revitalized downtown or a Sod Poodles game, but what they really wanted to see were neighborhoods—specifically the neighborhoods where their future employees might live.

“They are a family-operated business,” she remembers. “They wanted to know where the most entry-level employees would live. What do our neighborhoods look like? What does that culture look like?”

They appreciated the progress they saw in the Barrio neighborhood and the city’s forward-thinking neighborhood plans.

And while large companies like Cacique acknowledge the value of our workforce, another type of worker is adding to that diversity—the remote tech worker. Matt Herzberger moved to Amarillo in 2014. “I’m a transplant,” he says. “I’m here because of family. I’ve had three jobs since I moved here, but I’ve never worked for a company fromAmarillo.”

A digital strategist and marketing professional, Herzberger’s employers have ranged from Midwest universities to coastal marketing agencies. 

He enjoys the lower cost of living and proximity of Amarillo to the rest of the nation. He tried to work from home at first but found that arrangement wasn’t ideal, so he joined Union Hall Workspace, a coworking space on Dunivan Circle. In 2021, Herzberger bought Union Hall from its previous owner and manages that community today. Its memberships and desks are currently maxed out—remote working has flourished since the pandemic—which has Herzberger planning to open a second location. 

“In some ways, I feel like we get a front-row seat on what’s coming into the area, especially in tech-sector jobs and industries that lend themselves to remote work,” he says. “COVID upset a lot of the assumptions about where you have to live to make money.” In other words, you don’t have to be a resident of San Francisco to work for a tech company. You don’t have to live in a big city to make big bucks.

Among Union Hall’s members, Herzberger lists an individual who does marketing for a company based in Cincinnati, a human resources professional from Salt Lake City, and a paralegal who abandoned Denver during COVID, making an intentional choice to leave the high cost of living behind.

“Remote working provides the mobility to live where you want,” Herzberger says. Some companies, intent on reducing overhead and office real estate, even give remote workers a stipend for coworking spaces like Union Hall.

Most importantly, this new kind of resident injects money into the local economy. “These are often higher-paying job orientations,” Herzberger says. “Members of my office probably have higher salaries than local businesses might provide. It gives them the lifestyle they want. I think that’s positive.”

These workers don’t just diversify Amarillo’s economic data, but tend to bring more progressive politics, viewpoints and experiences to the city. That may worry some traditionalists, but it’s ultimately good for growth. “Everything adds value to the area,” explains Perez of the EDC. “Different ways of thinking, different socioeconomic status, different ethnicities and age ranges. It’s all important.”

The Mixing Pot

Angela Allen thinks about diversity all the time, and says it’s about far more than race or ethnicity. “It’s age and education. It’s language or the experience of interracial marriages or children. Your gender, sexual orientation, life experiences, personality, general worldview and opinions—I cover all of those in my trainings. That’s the diversity people don’t always think about.”

In Amarillo, that diversity is strong already, and growing stronger.

It reminds Guy Bell of his high school days. He graduated from Tascosa High School in 1993, a famously tumultuous period at the racially and economically diverse school. “Tascosa was unique,” he says today. “It was a mixing pot of everybody and everything.” Well-to-do kids from the Wolflin neighborhood attended classes with San Jacinto kids living on the verge of poverty. With a high minority enrollment, the hallways were crowded with athletes, punks, skaters, cowboys, city kids, rich kids and poor kids.

Bell loved it. “That was such a neat thing,” he says of the diversity. “It opened my eyes, from music to food to the way I dressed. I feel like Amarillo today is a big Tascosa. We all have different beliefs and perspectives and I think that’s so cool.”

Back then, he learned not to judge a book by its cover, and that maxim followed him into adulthood. “That’s all I’m always preaching. Life is too short. You gotta love everybody and look at the best of everybody.”  

PASO Executive Director Michael Timcisko and partner Jason Haugen

PASO’s Growing Client List

“We are currently caring for 359 people with HIV,” says Michael Timcisko, Executive Director of the Panhandle AIDS Support Organization (PASO). “It’s the highest number of clients we’ve ever cared for,” he says, but case numbers have hovered in the mid-300s for the past five years. “I was concerned when we passed the 300 mark.”

PASO helps provide referrals to doctors and other providers, along with transportation, therapeutic counseling, housing assistance and more for those living with HIV. 

But why are the numbers rising? It’s complicated, Timcisko says. He points to a lack of education as a major culprit, especially here in a conservative-leaning region where school districts don’t offer comprehensive sex education. “Young people hear about AIDS but don’t necessarily learn to protect themselves,” he explains. The number of HIV-positive individuals between the ages of 13 to 24 continues to grow. “It’s a number that has trended up for us each and every year. Kids are becoming sexually active and becoming infected through sexual activity.”

The region’s increased diversity also has an impact. “Our population of refugees has definitely changed the equation,” he says, noting that AIDS education in those home countries is never a given. “Our client base has a large number of refugee clients. PASO spends a much larger percentage [of its budget] on translation services than cities like Lubbock or Midland/Odessa.”

Cara Crowley

Getting to Know “Maria” at AC

“We call our typical student ‘Maria,’” says Cara Crowley, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at Amarillo College. “Once we got real clarity who that average student was at AC, it changed everything about our institution—class structure, advising, social workers, the support systems we had in place.” In fact, it was this understanding of the typical student that earned national attention for Amarillo College, including the Aspen Institute’s 2021 Rising Star award, which recognized how the college was addressing poverty barriers among students and the resulting improvement in student outcomes.

The profile of “Maria” updates regularly, and Crowley spelled out the most recent profile from data gathered last fall. “She’s overwhelmingly female,” she says. “She’s first-generation, requires financial aid, and Hispanic. Her average age is 26. She has kids and works two part-time jobs.” 

As of last year, 66 percent of AC students were female and 68 percent were first-generation college students. More than 6 in 10 students are minority, with Hispanics making up 47 percent of the student body. (This compares to non-Hispanic white students at 38 percent, a 7-percent population of Black students, and 3 percent belonging to two or more race determinations—a number which has grown dramatically since 2016.)

Furthermore, “Maria” wants to go to a four-year university but typically doesn’t end up taking that step. Striving to balance full-time work and raising a family, she ends up getting an associate’s degree or a job training certificate. Due to the costs of a four-year university, she’s not always able to afford a transfer. 

“We understand that people live in poverty, but poverty doesn’t define them,” Crowley says of the hurdles faced by these ambitious students. “We have to be able to address those needs so they stay in school.”

Quinceañera Traditions at PPHM

As summer began, Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum unveiled a new special exhibit devoted to the history and symbolism of the Quinceañera, an often lavish religious celebration of a 15 year-old girl’s “coming of age” in Hispanic culture. The word itself combines the Spanish words quince, which means “fifteen” and años (“years”).

In Mexico and throughout Latin America, the Quinceañera is an important rite of passage for families, accompanied by parties, food, dancing and other traditions. The PPHM exhibit includes ornate dresses—both historic and contemporary—along with photographs, video presentations, and other artifacts from Texas Panhandle families.

“We had been talking about [the idea] for a few years and decided last year to do it,” says Director of Operations Buster Ratliff. “But we realized, if we were going to tell that story, it needed to be told by the Hispanic community and not by us.” 

The museum recruited a committee that included local Hispanic leaders and families, a process that has become more and more important to the museum—including a deep dive into Black History Month last February, which drew on the expertise of 15 members of the Black community. “We are trying to be more mindful. It’s not just ‘look at the cool artifacts we have,’ but involving the community in the entire process,” says Ratliff.

Marketing Director Stephanie Price agrees. “Our mission is to tell the story of the Panhandle-Plains, and who better to tell those stories than the communities that have lived them,” she says. “It’s not just the story of Native Americans and the white cowboy. It’s all the cultures who are contributing to who we are and who we’re becoming.”

One of the local families that contributed to the museum’s Quinceañera Traditions exhibit was that of current WTAMU student Debany Arciniega-Saenz, who celebrated her Quinceañera in 2018. “To me, my Quinceañera was an opportunity to be in touch with my heritage and to honor my culture,” says Arciniega-Saenz. Like many such celebrations, her Quinceañara served as a family reunion after years apart, notably reconnecting a grandmother from Mexico with a sister who lives in Las Vegas. 

Four years later, Arciniega-Saenz still thinks about the Quinceañera tradition of dancing with each of the male figures in her life, including her grandfather. “He uses a walking stick and was hesitant to dance with me and without it, but he did,” she says. “He pushed aside his fear and slow-danced with me.”

The response to the popular Quinceañera exhibit and a further commitment to the diverse local population is bringing other changes, including a commitment to bilingual labels and signage at the museum. “That hurts no one and helps everyone,” says Price. “We are working to make sure we are an accessible place—a place people feel they can make a connection to.”

Angela Allen, Chief Diversity Officer, WTAMU

Celebrating Diversity at WT

Created in 2013, the Office for Diversity and Inclusion at West Texas A&M University is a campus-wide acknowledgment of the value diversity brings to college life. The office has been guided since 2014 by Angela Allen, WT’s chief diversity and inclusion officer. 

“When I got here, the population was really beginning to grow,” she says. “We had more African American students and certainly more Hispanic students. WT has a diverse faculty and staff, including from other countries. We are trying to make our climate a great place for anybody who works here or attends college here.”

Allen points out that the two most diverse institutions in American life right now are the military and the university. “The university gives students the opportunity to interact and work with people from diverse populations—many of them for the first time, even in 2022,” she says. “Students haven’t always worked with, sat beside and eaten with people of color. This is the best place for them to start initiating those kinds of relationships and learning from different populations.”

She and WT’s administration believe these relationships and experiences are just as critical as what happens in the classroom. Students’ future employers are interested in more than college test scores. “One of the most poignant questions employers are asking now is ‘What is your experience working with diverse populations?’” Allen says.

The work her office does is broad, spanning from cultural celebrations to bringing in speakers from different nationalities and backgrounds. “I give trainings about microaggressions, how to be an ally, and why things like equity and equality are so important,” she says. “There are so many things to learn.”

Jeremy Bradford

Advocating for Inclusive Work

A diverse workforce isn’t just about race or ethnicity. Sometimes it’s about inclusion. In this area, Advo Companies connects local businesses to hard-working employees who have intellectual disabilities. Right now, 147 individuals participate in Advo’s vocational training workshops, where they learn skills that can expose them to both a regular paycheck and the fulfillment of a career.

Jeremy Bradford, vice president at Advo, says local companies like Cintas, Reed Beverage, Cask & Cork, Amarillo Gear and UCI Documents regularly hire Advo employees. 

These employees train in Advo’s vocational workshop, then go through an interview process and answer questions about their skills and experience, just like any other employee. “Shipping, packaging, warehouse work—those are the types of jobs we see more of our clients getting,” Bradford says. “It helps them feel like part of the community. It means the world to them.”

Advo clients aren’t the only beneficiaries. “Those businesses also get a dedicated employee, because these guys don’t want to miss work,” says Bradford. “No matter what’s going on in their lives, they want to be there.”

Bradford points out a client employed by Reed Beverage, where the gentleman destroys outdated beer and alcohol and helps with packaging. “They treat him like family,” Bradford says of Reed. “He goes to Reed Beverage parties and has made friends. They’re giving him more and more responsibilities.” The individual has lived in one of Advo’s residential houses for the past 15 years and used the money he made from work to buy himself a new bedroom set. “He’s on top of the world.”

While his clients may take longer to master particular tasks, Bradford says they are incredibly willing and able to learn. “I call them the forgotten crowd,” he says. “Everybody knows them as they go through school, but when they graduate, all their friends go off to college or get jobs. And then nobody thinks of these individuals who can work but don’t, due to disability.”

Disability-inclusive workplaces like Reed—combined with Advo’s commitment to education and advocacy—are changing that reality.

Amarillo Area Foundation’s Equity Fund

Soon after the murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020, a group of donors approached the Amarillo Area Foundation. They wanted to set up a fund specifically designed to address inequities and eliminate racial disparities among minority groups in the Texas Panhandle. 

Whenever the Foundation starts a fund like this one, its staff begins researching how to use it efficiently. “We reached out to folks at the NAACP, Los Barrios de Amarillo and the refugee community, and spoke about what some of their needs were,” says Keralee Clay, senior vice president of the Amarillo Area Foundation. “We didn’t want our staff to identify needs. We wanted the community to do that.”

Today that fund is guided by a committee made up of Black residents, Hispanic and Latinx residents, refugees and other people of color. This committee identified multiple opportunities for the fund, including the need to develop young leaders, the need for scholarships for students in communities of color, and increased programming for children in those communities, especially during the summer months.

The first project to receive monies from the Equity fund was Living While Black, a local series produced by Panhandle PBS. The Equity fund helped the nonprofit organization develop a nationwide curriculum based on the series, which educators and community leaders can use to facilitate conversations about race.

“It’s an open fund and it’s in a growing stage,” Clay says. “Anyone can contribute to it—$25 or $25,000. We are trying to be very intentional with it, going out in the community and trying to meet the needs that are being expressed.”

“Unity in Community”: The Karen Exhibit

Anew exhibit at the Don Harrington Discovery Center highlights Amarillo’s Karen (KAH-ren) community from Myanmar, the pilot installation in a series the museum hopes will grow to include other people groups in the future.

Since 2007, around 5,000 representatives of the Karen people resettled in Amarillo, making them one of the largest refugee populations in the area. Many of them fled Myanmar—formerly known as Burma—due to religious and ethnic persecution. The Discovery Center worked closely with local Karen leaders and the Refugee Language Project to create this immersive exhibit, which was funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

Titled Beyond: Unity in Community, the exhibit highlights the agricultural traditions, tools, music and food of the Karen people. Children are able to climb in a replica stilt house, listen to recordings of authentic music and play with a hands-on rice harvesting method. 

“The Discovery Center exists to show people how our world works, and inspire curiosity and learning in everyone,” says Wendy Taylor, the museum’s executive director. “The Beyond exhibit celebrates the fact that everyone makes unique contributions to our world, and highlights the agricultural, musical and recreational contributions of the Karen people. Communities become stronger when people learn about and understand each other.”

Refugee Spotlight

The Mohammadi Family

Yasin Mohammadi and his family have only resided in Amarillo since November 2021. He was a pharmacist and served as a major in the Afghan army. Based in Kabul, the family was put at risk by the rise of the Taliban. Apart from a married son who escaped to Australia, Yasin was able to bring his whole family to Amarillo, including his wife, Zakera; adult daughters Adina and Kamina, who both worked as school teachers in Kabul; and youngest son Poya, a junior at Tascosa High School.

Yasin’s younger brother, Younous Mohammadi, also assisted the American military and brought his wife, Nargis, and their baby, Jan, to Amarillo.

The family now lives in Astoria Park apartments on SW 15th Ave., near a number of other local Afghan families. Both Yasin and Younous are employed at United Market Street. “They are eager to work and just the kindest people you could ever come across,” says Traci Pace, a Refugee Language Project volunteer who has been helping them improve their English. “They are just so hospitable, so welcoming.” 

Samuel Uwimana and Adrienne Nyamatungo

Samuel Uwimana and his family arrived in Amarillo in 2018 after having spent eight years as asylum-seekers in Nairobi, Kenya. His mother, Adrienne Nyamatungo, is originally from Rwanda. His late father, who passed away in 2011, was from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The youngest of four, Samuel speaks four languages—French, Kinyamulenge, Swahili and English. He completed his GED upon arriving in the U.S. and has worked as an interpreter for Amarillo Public Health and as a teaching assistant at Eastridge Elementary. He is also certified as a phlebotomy and EKG technician. Recently, Samuel joined the staff of Refugee Language Project as a Storybook Assistant, helping ​​collect the stories of Amarillo’s refugees and converting them into children’s books in English and native languages.

His mother, Adrienne, continues to work at Tyson Foods. “It is very hard work,” Samuel says.