Nelson Mandela once said, “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” I have found this sentiment to be quite true as I ease myself back into my daily activities at the Sam Houston Memorial Museum. I came back to work after a weeklong ALHFAM adventure in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, and as I walked around the grounds of the museum, nothing seemed to have changed. It was the same, everything exactly as I had left it. But things felt different. I was different. In just a week I had gone to my first ALHFAM conference, and after all was said and done, I came back completely altered.
It was my first time attending an ALHFAM conference, and my experience as a first-time ALHFAMer surpassed all I could have imagined. One of the spectacular things about being in Tahlequah was being in the center of the Cherokee Nation. If you are not familiar with the story of Sam Houston, at the age of 13 he ran away from home and was adopted into the Cherokee tribe by Chief Oo-Loo-Te-Ka. The Cherokees, no doubt, made a huge impact on Sam’s life, and there was nothing quite like being in the middle of the Cherokee Nation, hearing the stories and experiencing the Cherokee culture, to get a glimpse of what life might have been like for Sam during his time among the Cherokee.
Questions began to form in my mind, “How can I take what I am learning and shape it to fit our mission, preserving the memory of Sam Houston?” Whether it was a conversation sitting with someone in the hallway, across the table at dinner, or from the workshops, sessions and field trips, there was never a moment where I was not taking in something. Like a sponge, I wanted to absorb everything I possibly could. In the sessions, I took pages and pages of notes, and from the second I finished my first session my head was spinning with all of the ideas that I could bring back to my museum; all of the programs we could implement; all of the ways we could improve what we already have to offer.
One of my favorite things I did during the conference was the Old Settlers Tour, where we visited Sequoyah’s cabin, the Dwight Mission, and Ft. Smith just across the Arkansas border. Our guide, Janelle, was wonderful, and I hung on her every word. In fact, all of the guides at each of the locations were phenomenal. They were so full of passion, and I could tell through their stories that they really enjoyed what they did. The whole time I kept thinking to myself, “Wow, I want our visitors to have this same experience when they visit the Sam Houston Memorial Museum. I want to be this kind of interpreter.”
My first attendance at ALHFAM changed the course of my career forever. The things I learned and the places I experienced will stick with me for years as I continue in this line of work. But ALHFAM cannot be summed up in briefs about sessions, field trips, or inspiring locations. The friendships and partnerships I formed during my time in Tahlequah made a lasting impact on me as an interpreter. Having an opportunity to sit with colleagues-turned-friends and swap stories about sites and programs or discuss histories and experiences made me realize, “These are my people.” I will be forever grateful to ALHFAM and my new ALHFAMily for opening my eyes to this incredible, but not so new, world!
By Taylon Black, Historical Interpreter, Sam Houston Memorial Museum