*Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.
I have this complicated work history. Sadly I’ve been fired twice but it was such a good thing. Once I explain, you will think so too. I was fired from Walt Disney World in college and secondly from a summer teaching job in high school. Had I not been fired from Disney World I would not have been able to start college in the fall. Out of the worst disappointment, there is a blessing.
It’s been over 20 years since I was a student participant in Summerbridge yet I’m still finding teachers who were there on Facebook. Young high school and college students agree to spend their summer teaching inner city youth for little pay but great experiences. What made Summerbridge special was the diversity of the student/teacher body. Various socioeconomic levels and ethnicities made for beautiful photos at the yearly family night event. Cool fact, the first person I met from Poland was at Summerbridge! Being a former student of the program made me want to teach and give back. Plus I saw a decent paycheck. This was my first job ever.
I was so sad when I was fired. See, what had happened was……….students said another classmate dropped something out the second-floor window. When I looked down below I couldn’t see anything. But when I opened the window more, it slipped out of place. I was just holding it in place till another teacher came to assist me with the window. I was fired because the window could have fallen to the ground below harming someone. It was the last few days of the program. We only had maybe four days left till our big Saturday evening showcase. This production allowed parents to see what their kids had been working on the entire summer.
However something happened in the days leading up to my firing that let me know sometimes at our worst disappointments in life, it is making way for new lasting memories. We got the phone call late in the evening. My Aunt was calling to tell us her son Little Howard had passed away. He’d been sick for a few months now off and on.
Little Howard was always a big guy, 300lb plus with little health problems. So when his kidney’s started failing suddenly it was a surprise. Plagued with high fevers every time he took dialysis, doctors searched for a reason why. He found out other diagnoses that he never fully shared with our family. We suspect he found out he had AIDS. He battled pneumonia many times in the years before his kidney’s failed. But always being a big guy, AIDS was the last thing anyone would think.
When a loved one has been gone for so long, it is hard to find pictures of them. They are all so old and dated. I managed to find a few pics of Little Howard that family members have put online.
My cousin Little Howard was just 42 when he passed away. He was one of my Mom’s favorite nephews she could depend on. He was always available for holidays throughout the year to share in our big family meals. When my Mom couldn’t take me to get an Easter dress, Little Howard drove me to the mall. I was happy he didn’t go inside because I snuck and bought Snoop Dogg’s first album Doggystyle. I was fascinated deeply by the West Coast rapper with long hair like mine. Snoop’s musical masterpiece the first tape I owned.
Little Howard also joined in our family travels. My Dad had to make a last minute trip to Baton Rouge, Louisiana and needed an extra driver. Little Howard was perfect for the job. But not even an hour from home, Little Howard said to my Dad, “Uncle I done burst my britches. We need to turn around.” My Dad took Little Howard home for a new pair of pants.
Little Howard was extremely tongue tied. He had a unique voice. I don’t know anyone who can imitate him. But I can still hear his voice in my head. He also planned out our Harris family reunions making sure we had family t-shirts and venues for the gatherings. He was such a great person in my family.
Little Howard was funny and always had jokes. He was so much fun to be around. Despite the 21-year age difference between us, I always had fun with my first cousin. I definitely didn’t want to miss his wake or funeral. Though I was fired from a summer program I loved it allowed me the space and time to grieve with my family.
The Disney firing didn’t come out of nowhere but I know now it was a needed occurrence. Working at Disney World was an amazing, once in a lifetime opportunity! Their college program recruits 18-50 year old college students from all over the world. Internationally professionals are also hired to join the program. It was one big party at the apartments Disney provided for those in the program. I stayed at Chatham Square first but moved to Vista Way (Vista Lay) midway through my program. Right across from Vista was a Walgreens with an attached liquor store. I haven’t been to one of those stores since I lived in Orlando.
The 8-month sabbatical from the real world and college goes by so quickly. I started in January of 2003 and ended in July. Officially on my contract with Disney, my last day at work, happened to be the day before my move in date for the dorms at UNT. I hadn’t quite figured out how I was going to make it happen. I had talked it over with my parents and they were willing to drive and pick me up with my little nephew.
I had a ten-member management team. Their personalities varied but I learned what to expect from each of them. I suppose one black manager, one gay manager and one female manager counts as diversity. There was a team manager named DeWayne*, the lone African American, who became my homeroom manager. After my first few weeks on the job, our schedules rarely matched up and I barely saw him.
At Disney I worked at The Haunted Mansion. I loved working at a popular attraction but the theme did scare me. The one difficult thing about working there is that we were not supposed to give the traditional Disney smiling customer service. Guest were used to our frowns and us referring to them as “bodies.” Despite this known fact if customers made a complaint it was valid. R&B singer Brandy came through my job one day. I was lucky to have her in my “elevator.” She looked at me when she walked out and said, “You’re so mean.” I simply stared at her straight faced. Being in character is important at Disney. I was always a “Haunted Mansion Maid” but guests complained and I was written upo. Three write ups in the same category means you are out the door.
DeWayne pulled me aside one day and educated me on the racism I was warned about before I even entered Disney. My older brother and cousin both did the program previously. I got a good education from my older brother. DeWayne told me ways others on the job had tried to trip him up. Disney used secret shoppers and secret security all the time to catch guests and employees. He told me flat out they were trying to get rid of me.
They fired me when DeWayne wasn’t at work. I didn’t even get to say goodbye to him. What a hurt, at the time. I called him once a few months later when I was back in Orlando and we spoke about that. He confirmed for me what I already knew. They made sure to fire me while he was on vacation. Even just last year I met a manager from Disney World who knew DeWayne.
Once fired, I moved back to Texas and continued working on my transfer to UNT. I had an old library fine at the community college that was holding up the transfer. I didn’t know this till I went there in person to check on some other required paperwork. I had to pay the fine in person. It was not something I could have handled from Florida. Paying the fine freed up my paperwork to be sent to UNT.
Though a late transfer to the university, I managed to score a decent dorm room with only one roommate. We shared the bathroom and a kitchenette. My family moved me in the day assigned by UNT. I was fired from Disney World but that allowed me to finish my college transfer and start classes on time for the semester.
Being fired in both cases helped me focus on personal matters that needed my attention. Have you ever been fired but it turned out to be in your best interest? Share your story in the comments below!