Sam Roley, 26, teaches special needs children at Grassland Middle School and is an assistant football coach at Franklin High School, both his alma maters.
He said when he was in high school he couldn’t wait to get out, but now that he’s older he said he has a different appreciation for it and especially for teachers.
“It’s good to be back around the old stomping grounds where I grew up,” he said. “I always said I’d never be a teacher and here I am teaching and being around kids. Life is full circle. It’s an opportunity I didn’t think I’d see but now that it’s here, it’s great.”
Born in Nashville and raised in Franklin, Sam was adopted by a White family when he was two years old.
“When I was 16, I found my biological mother on my own and have kept a great relationship with her since then. I have two little sisters and a bunch of aunts and uncles.”
Sam used adoption papers and the internet to find his mother and said he wouldn’t be the person he is today had he not done that.
“I don’t know if I was mature enough at the time, but God gave me the opportunity to do it. Up until that point, I didn’t know if [my biological mother] was strung out on drugs or something like that, but the Lord protected her and she is a Godly woman,” he said. “Thank God she had a home phone too, because no one has home phones anymore. I found her number and we met that night.”
Sam said that the moment he met her was one of the most pivotal points in his life. He said it changed his perspective on a lot of things and motivated him to pursue higher education.
He said he was certainly blessed to have another opportunity for a family that loves him but said at times growing up in a family of a different race was difficult.
“At first, I didn’t have an opinion on who was taking care of me or what that looked like from the public eye,” he said. “All I saw were people who loved me.”
Sam said it wasn’t until he was older that he saw and heard things from others that made him realize how it wasn’t the norm.
“I definitely had some identity issues growing up. I had a lot of anger and confusion toward God, like why me? Everyone else knew their mom and dad and looked liked them too,” he said.
Unfortunately, Sam said he hasn’t been able to find out much about his biological father. He said he calls one man dad, and that’s his adoptive father, Scott Roley.
“I matured over the years and took what people saw as different as a blessing.”
AFTER HIGH SCHOOL
Sam said growing up he’s always been more motivated by sports than school work so when he received a scholarship to play football, he took it.
“I grew up in sports,” he said. “Being in school and playing sports was challenging but at the same time, I loved it.”
He graduated from Franklin High School in 2008, where he played football, first a running back then an outside linebacker. After high school, went on to attend and play football at Scottsdale Community College in Arizona. Sam then went to Chattanooga State Community College and again, played football at Trinity International University in Illinois before coming back down South to finish his degree at MTSU. In December 2014, he graduated with a degree in psychology.
“I’ve been everywhere,” he said. “I’ve met a lot of people and made a lot of friends, but the best thing was that I found out what I really want to do and what I don’t want to do.”
Sam said playing the sport all of his life, he knew he wanted to coach football. After college, he got a job as an assistant coach at Franklin High. He said in Williamson County, unless hired by a private school, the only way one can coach is if they can teach too.
Unfortunately all the teaching positions at Franklin High were full. He did some research and found an open position at Grassland Middle School working with special needs students. He applied and got the job.
He said, at first, he was very timid and hesitant about it because he didn’t know much about people with special needs.
“Now that I’m in it, it’s awesome,” he said. “All those kids really want is to be treated like the next kid. I’ve learned from working with them that God does not make any mistakes. He made people a certain way for their purpose.”
He said even though someone might not be able to speak clearly or demonstrate things in society’s way of normal, doesn’t mean that he or she doesn’t have a purpose.
“It’s really made me value God’s creation,” he said. “Even on my bad days, I’ve got it good.”
Sam said he isn’t sure if special needs teaching is where he wants to be long-term but said he definitely loves being around kids in the community.
“Children are so curious, and without knowing much about them you can see the gears in their minds working,” he said. “And they look up to you. I always pride myself on trying to be a leader and being a man of my word.”
Sam said he wants to be a role model and a leader.
“I want them to see that there are many positive black men out here that they can look up to,” he said. “I want to give them a different perspective and give myself a different perspective too.”
WHAT the FUTURE MAY HOLDS
Sam and his fiancé, Casey, are getting married in October. The two met in Kentucky through a mutual friend and have been together for about two and a half years.
“I think we’ll definitely have our roots in the Nashville area,” he said. “I’ve always been around Nashville, always visited and have friends that live there but it’d be cool to live closer to the city.”
Sam said he definitely wants to further his education and go back to school. He said going through undergrad he realized how important having an education is.
“No one can take that from you and I’m just now getting it, so it definitely motivates me to further my education, whether that’s a Master’s or a doctorate degree,” he said.
He said his goal career-wise is to be a school psychologist.
“I like to see what’s going not only in school but also try to understand what’s going on at home and how it’s affecting a child’s success in school.”
“Community is sticking together,” Sam said. “It’s like a wall. It’s not breaking. It’s loving people and treating people how you would want to be treated.”
He said being a part of a community means loving one another regardless of creed, race or sexuality. He said he believes a community should always be about growth.
“Definitely have standards and expectations, but never settle,” he said. “No one can say they did what they had to for the community. On a daily basis, there’s always more that can be done to help.”
Sam said it feels great to be a part of his community, too. He said he feels as though he’s making a difference helping children achieve more.
He said life is a great opportunity to give.
“When you give back, you get back.”
For him, the community has given him a reference point, a background and an identity.
“I can always say I’m from Franklin,” he said. “A lot of times, wherever I go I represent Franklin. It’s like sports, the name on the front and on the back are who you represent.
Sam said a lot of things depends on a person’s outlook.
“I know a lot of people who grew up in Franklin and didn’t like it, but it is what you make it. You can be positive about it or you can be negative about it. I’ve always felt accepted.”
CHANGE and CONCERNS
Speaking of Nashville and Franklin’s tremendous growth in the last few years, Sam said change is a good thing. He said it’s good to see people moving in rather than moving out.
“With no help from the Titans, Nashville and surrounding communities are attracting a lot of opportunities for people to move here. Of course there’s music and other industries too.”
Sam said traffic wasn’t the best, but that’s a part of the growth process when a city is developing.
Sam did share some of his concerns for his community.
“Our neighborhoods like Hard Bargain and Natchez are by all means getting better, but I would like to see more community driven things to shine a light on those neighborhoods.”
He said certain neighborhoods receive negative light, which can affect the attitudes and moods of the people living in them.
“If I’m living in a neighborhood that’s getting negative light. How is that going to make me want to do something positive?” he said. “If people keep telling me I’m a no-good or I’m a this or I’m a that, well then I might as well make you right then, you know what I mean?”
“You’re only as strong as your weakest link,” he said. “The neighborhoods with the poverty and the neighborhoods who don’t have the picket fences, that’s the core of Franklin. It’s not the ones driving the Benz, it the ones with their car in the shop.”
Sam said any type of drive or volunteer effort on random occasions, and not only on holidays, would help. He said small acts of kindness could make a huge difference in the community.
Thanks for reading Nashville!
Every Thursday at noon Neat Nashville embraces the community by highlighting an individual in a feature article that tells their story and voices their concerns about the city moving forward. It is our hope to inspire good change locally, to be a force of unity, and support the people we all call neighbors.
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