Native American Heritage Month Is Time To Embrace Shared Values, 30-Year FCPS Employee Says
Rufus “Rick” Kelly knows he could do information technology work anywhere. But the Fairfax County Public Schools’ senior technology specialist says his Native American roots and cultural upbringing led him to a 30-year career in public education.
While working for a large technology company in his 20s, Kelly says he realized he wanted to do something else with his life.
“I was making good money, I was doing fine for myself, but it wasn’t enough,” Kelly says. “I needed to satisfy my social conscience. My parents were teachers, I was familiar with education, and while I didn’t want to be a teacher, there was something about education that appealed to me.”
Kelly says he was raised to value education. “We prioritize making sure you are always doing something to take care of those who come behind you,” Kelly says of his tribe’s beliefs.
Over 30 years at FCPS, his work has gone beyond information technology. At one point, the Virginia Department of Education reached out to the Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia, and asked their chief Lynette Allston to attend a meeting on school curriculum.
“Our chief was unavailable, but she knew I worked in education so she said ‘please represent us and make sure our voice is heard,’” Kelly said. “I went to Richmond, I sat on a panel and provided input on some changes they were considering making on the state standards of learning as it related to Virginia’s Indians.”
This school year, Kelly again seized an opportunity to share Native American culture through his job. At an FCPS technology event in August, he met new superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid, Ed.D. While conversing with her, he asked if she’d like to join him at the upcoming Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia powwow.
“I knew she was from the Pacific Northwest and she mentioned she had never been to a powwow, so I invited her and she came,” Kelly said. “I serve as the master of ceremonies, so I had her come right up to the front with me where we introduce all our special guests. We had some social dancing, she observed for a while and then she came on in and joined the circle. It was wonderful.”
November is Native American Heritage month, and Kelly says he sees it as another opportunity to “set the record straight.”
“To me, this is a way to celebrate our culture in a way that is attractive, interesting, and pulls people in,” Kelly said. “There is a really rugged history we have and we can talk about broken treaties and things like that, but we can also celebrate the values that bring us together – the belief in family, the belief in education, the desire to take care of your elders, these are Nottoway Tribal values that we share with many people. Native American Heritage month provides a vehicle and gives people an opportunity to focus, whether they are a member of this group or not.”
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Watch NBC4’s Coverage of Rick Kelly’s Story