Wednesday, August 15, 2012
OU alumnus works to enact social change, empower students
By Eric Reikowski, media relations assistant
Relando Thompkins is a self-described servant leader, teacher, learner, social change agent, writer and aspiring humanitarian. He is also a proud Oakland University alumnus who is using the lessons he has learned to make a positive impact on his community and beyond.
Presently, Thompkins serves as an adult facilitator with the Intergroup/Social Change Agents Program, a social justice and conflict resolution group that works with high school students in the Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor areas.
“We come together to help students improve their ability to manage conflicts in non-violent ways, build relationships with people whom they might perceive as being different from themselves and to get an increased understanding of broader social issues that can fuel tensions and prejudice between groups,” Thompkins said. “During this process, we share our personal experiences in navigating issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, class, age, ability status, religion and other ways in which we identify socially.”
Through this work, Thompkins has become active in other community-based programs, including Better Choices, a program that teaches male perpetrators of domestic violence strategies to maintain healthy relationships and settle conflict without using violence or abuse.
“I came across this program through my former supervisor who runs it and who was also my co-facilitator in the intergroup dialogue program,” Thompkins recalled, adding that the group seeks to address negative behaviors by challenging beliefs and helping participants develop an awareness of the many forms domestic abuse can take.
|Left, Thompkins as a Keeper of the Dream recipient.
“Domestic violence is about power and control,” Thompkins explained. “The tactics used to achieve the power and control can be manifested physically through coercion, intimidation or physical violence, sexually through rape or other forms of sexual assault, emotionally through put-downs, the silent treatment or withholding affection, or economically through a wide range of methods that can limit a woman’s ability to earn and use money.”
A Detroit native and first-generation college student, Thompkins says his time at Oakland helped him chart a path to leadership and lifelong learning. He gained experience as an orientation group leader and resident assistant, and also served as an historian for the Association of Black Students, a peer mentor in the Center for Multicultural Initiatives, as well as a GEAR UP mentor in the Department of Precollege Programs.
“Through each of these roles, I was able to develop my skills and interests in providing academic, social and cultural enrichment opportunities for students and staff on campus to increase community understanding.”
In recognition of his efforts to break down cultural stereotypes and promote interracial understanding, Thompkins received the university’s Keeper of the Dream Award, an honor he calls “both humbling and affirming.”
“There are many ways to lead,” Thompkins added. “However, more often than not, I consider myself a servant.”
OU social work professor Scott Smith has praised Thompkins for his “curiosity and hunger for knowledge,” noting that “his dedication to the social work program was evidenced in the high quality of his work, as well as in the passionate pursuit of social change both in the classroom and within the community.”
After graduating from Oakland in 2010, Thompkins went on to earn a Master of Social Work from the University of Michigan, where he continued to pursue social activism as co-founder of Making Race Heard, a program that provides a forum for students of color and their allies to foster dialogue concerning issues of race and other social identities.
According to Thompkins, the organization “serves not only to help ease the discomfort that can come with talking about these issues, but it is also a great supplement to the classroom and field education of social work students.”
“It is my hope,” said Thompkins, “that one day I will be able to serve in a position at a university where I can make an impact in working to build better communities.”