In many ways, Paul Michael’s story is the story of America. Born in Jamaica, Paul worked as a farmer in his hometown of Dublin Castle, putting in long hours of backbreaking work for low pay. Though he loved his home country, Paul often dreamt of the opportunities he imagined in the United States. Then, in 1997, Paul made the courageous decision to immigrate for a better life.
Growing up in Jamaica’s desirable island climate, it may be surprising that Paul decided to move to snowy New Hampshire, but he was intrigued by the different seasons.
I wanted to experience a good winter. And believe me, I’ve seen my fair share of good winters.
He was also attracted to New Hampshire’s tight-knit communities and small towns, where everyone knows each other. He eventually met his wife, Kimberly, here and they bought a home in Hampton Falls. Paul and Kimberly, who this year are celebrating 20 years of marriage, have two daughters, Grace, 19, and Hannah, 21.
Breaking Down Barriers
While there are many things Paul and his family love about their life in New Hampshire, he also reflected on some of the challenges he faced integrating into his community as one of only a few Black people living in Hampton Falls. Many of his community members welcomed him and his family warmly, but others were not as welcoming.
Paul decided that the best way to break down the barriers between him and his neighbors was through service to his community. He stopped by his local firehouse and started a conversation with the staff. Soon enough Paul was training to become a volunteer firefighter for the Hampton Falls Fire Department, a role he’s now served in for more than 14 years.
Though he admitted firefighting isn’t for the faint of heart, Paul is passionate about his volunteer responsibility.
If you really want to help people, firefighting is an awesome way to make a difference and be a part of the community.
Serving as a volunteer firefighter also helped him to build trust and understanding between him and his neighbors.
In a time of crisis, we come together. Nobody thinks about the color of your skin, your background, or your differences. Volunteering as a firefighter helped me break down some barriers. They saw that I was there to help and that I was their neighbor.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
By day, Paul has worked at Lindt USA in Stratham, New Hampshire for more than two decades. He now serves as a team lead in the warehouse, ensuring that the premium chocolates are shipped to delight customers throughout the world.
As one of the top employers in the state and the nation, creating a dynamic environment that embraces diversity is a key value. In the wake of the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and the reckoning of the Black Lives Matter movement, Lindt invited Paul and some of his coworkers to serve on a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee.
Paul was eager to take the opportunity, which he saw as an extension of the work he’d been doing in his community. Lindt selected him to serve on a subcommittee focused on Black history and culture.
He said that the work, while challenging at times, has given staff the opportunity to vocalize their experiences and better understand each other.
Paul decided to focus on how civil rights leader Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus. Parks’ courage resulted in the Montgomery Bus Boycott and accelerated the civil rights moment.
I always found Rosa Parks’ story so inspiring. I’m hopeful about the future of civil rights and we wouldn’t be here without her.
Achieving the American Dream
In many ways, Paul had achieved his goal of creating a better life for himself and his family. But there was still one dream that he hadn’t accomplished – finishing his bachelor’s degree. From an early age, his parents had instilled in him the importance of education. Paul did the same for his daughters. Now, Grace is at Saint Anselm College studying social work and Hannah is at St. Joseph’s College of Maine studying biochemistry. With his daughters off pursuing their dreams, Paul knew it was time to focus on himself.
I wanted to be a good role model by showing my daughters I’m not a quitter and that education is lifelong. I was ready to finish my bachelor’s degree.
Paul heard about how Granite State College focuses on helping adult learners finish their degrees. Talking with an advisor, he learned that his firefighter certification could be assessed for college credit toward a B.S. in Applied Studies with a Management concentration. He also was able to take advantage of a tuition benefit provided by Lindt.
He enrolled in online courses with Granite State, allowing him to earn his degree while balancing his job, volunteer work, and family responsibilities.
Incorporating DEI Into His Capstone
While Paul was serving on the DEI committee at Lindt, he was starting to prepare for his capstone course. Director of Business, Management and Finance Programs, Dr. Mercedes Hunt, invited Paul and his peers to begin thinking about meaningful ways they could explore topics in their capstone projects that were relevant to their workplaces or career goals. Paul decided that he would incorporate what he was learning from his DEI experience into his capstone.
Mercedes was so impressed by Paul’s hard work and vision that she nominated him for the Changemaker Award from New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsibility (NHBSR). NHBSR selected Paul to receive the award, honoring him during their annual ceremony.
For Paul, receiving the Changemaker Award felt like validation to continue on his path, advocating for inclusivity. Paul sees creating his capstone project as a foundation to pursue DEI work as a career.
When you finally find your passion, it’s so wildly exciting.