Community Connectors: Dan Thomas
Community Connectors is a monthly series highlighting Ohio State staff members who have shown leadership in partnering with our communities to make an impact.
Office of Diversity and Inclusion
Todd A. Bell National Resource Center on the African American Male
Throughout his career, Dan Thomas has had the opportunity to engage the community in many facets. Most recently, as the program director of the Bell National Resource Center, he has provided oversight for the center's Scholars Lounge and mentoring program in partnership with Columbus Preparatory School for Boys. The programs are designed to provide professional development and enhance leadership and literacy skills while promoting positive ethnic identity and cultural values. His previous work for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) included designing and implementing service-learning programs, which provided scholars an opportunity to engage in both week- and semester-long diversity and leadership activities in Central Ohio and across the nation. In his spare time, Dan volunteers as a middle and secondary school track coach. In this role, he engages with inner-city youth coaching a sport that builds self-discipline and character while promoting the importance and benefits of pursuing higher education.
Why is engaging the community important to you and your work?
Growing up on the east side of Cleveland, living in a four-person single-parent household, family, education, and community became core values that I hold. My involvement in familial activities, recreational sports, and extra-curricular educational activities has guided the path to the man I present today. As an educator, these values have strengthened when viewing students' growth while engaged in hosted activities. I strive to empower our youth to be civically engaged citizens who will produce change and ultimately uplift generations to come.
What lessons have you learned from the community that have helped you as a university staff member?
Through my involvement with the community, I have learned to be open-minded; while often reminded of my privileges. I have gained a greater sense of empathy while viewing and experiencing first-hand the daily barriers residents face. As a university, we can address many issues affecting the local community by making the most of Ohio State's social capital.
What has been your favorite moment from your community-engagement work?
A week-long, life-changing service-learning trip to Apopka, Florida, with three colleagues and ODI scholars, will forever hold a special place in my heart. In collaboration with HOPE CommUnity Center, a community-based service-learning organization, the ODI contingency lived with, supported, and worked aside the working poor and immigrant families living in central Florida. The trip included homestays, family dinners, gleaning corn, celery, and celery crops, working in a plant nursery, and tutoring students and parents. The program allowed our group to become more self-aware, closer as a unit while increasing our moral and social consciousness of laws and institutions harboring this population's advancement. Being my first self-coordinated alternative break trip for the department, it ignited a flame and desire to create additional opportunities for our scholars to build community while engaging and experiencing first-hand other's experiences. The week spent in Apopka may have been my most trying week as a professional, yet I came out of the trip feeling so fulfilled and more connected to the participating scholars.
What advice do you have for other staff members who are interested in getting involved in community engagement?
I recommend finding more sustained programs or projects to engage as it allows you to develop a relationship with residents while addressing and solving systematic issues affecting the community. We must establish sustainable programs that get to the root of the issues that perpetuate our society's inequities and disparities. A day of service or a semester-long project can enlighten one of the prevailing issues, but a continued engagement is required to enact change. Your involvement will leave a lasting impression on both you and the community that you serve.