Breaking Barriers

Persevering was a big part of Tai’s growing up in a rough neighborhood outside Tampa, Florida. Drugs and crime were constants, and Tai insulated herself by focusing on school and extracurricular activities like band, soccer, and track. “It kept me on a good path,” she said.

One day she saw U.S. Marshals deputies in her neighborhood serving a warrant. One of them was a Black female—the first she had ever seen wearing a badge. Tai approached her, asked her about it, and received the deputy’s business card to keep in contact—a moment that has stuck with Tai.

San Juan SWAT Senior Team Leader Mike Dubravetz, who has been an agent for 18 years, said those kinds of early impressions can set someone’s future course.

“If somebody wouldn’t have come to me at one point in my young days and said, ‘Mike, you should try out for SWAT’ and me not thinking it was ever for me, I probably never would have done it,” said Dubravetz. “I’d be somewhere different. And people seeing that there are opportunities like Tai has, it just opens up doors for people who may not know that those opportunities exist.”

Tai’s successes in high school earned her a scholarship to Bethune-Cookman University, a historically Black university in Daytona Beach. There she studied criminal justice, with an eye toward becoming a police officer.