Dealing With Persistent Social Problems

In less than two weeks, St. Thomas will play host to a very big deal: the Opus Prize Foundation and the awarding of $1.2 million to three social entrepreneurs from Brazil, Colombia and Morocco. The winner will get $1 million in a ceremony Wednesday, Nov. 4, at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis.

Other schools that have hosted the foundation include Marquette, the University of San Francisco, Notre Dame and Catholic University. So it’s an honor for St. Thomas to be chosen by Opus as a partner in recognizing unsung heroes who deal with society’s most persistent social problems.

What I don’t want you to forget is a campus organization that also is dealing with a persistent social problem: the lack of people of color working in newsrooms, public relations and ad agencies across the country. Trying to raise those numbers is the goal of ThreeSixty, the fledgling non-profit that’s been at St. Thomas since 2001. Its annual fundraiser comes two days after the Opus event – Friday evening, Nov. 6, in Binz Refectory.

In the last seven years, more than 400 teenagers, mostly students of color, have participated in ThreeSixty’s summer camp at St. Thomas or in one of its off-campus, weekend or website programs. They learned to report, write, shoot and edit stories – stories that often don’t get told in the mainstream media. One recent piece profiled a 17-year-old Minneapolis boy, Nico, who dropped out of school because of drinking but came back, thanks to help from friends and a caring counselor.

Thirteen of those students are attending St. Thomas, part of the 14-percent undergraduate student of color enrollment. That’s an eye-popping figure, consistent with President Dennis Dease’s goal to be a university reflecting the fabric of the metro area that is its home.

Six of the ThreeSixty grads since 2001 are working in newsrooms. Dhomonique Ricks is a reporter and weekend anchor at a television station in Lynchburg, Va., where she got her start this summer after graduating from the University of Missouri’s broadcast program.
She sent a videotape to Lynda McDonnell, executive director of ThreeSixty, to show at the Nov. 6 fundraiser. Watching it, I couldn’t help but feel the pride and passion she has as a reporter, taking the viewer on a tour of her newsroom. In six months, she’s covered fires and floods, features and festivals, murders and mishaps. She looks into the camera and says, “I absolutely love what I do.”

Chandler Sentell, a COJO senior at St. Thomas, shares the feeling – albeit with more limited experience. Sentell, who attended the ThreeSixty journalism camp in 2005, spent last summer as an intern in the KARE television newsroom.

“I feel I learned a lot and got some experience,” he said. “They let me write some short stories and I was able to watch how people did their jobs. I loved it.”
One of his mentors at KARE was Matt Lechner, a St. Thomas grad and the morning news producer. He’s a news veteran and a good writer. The news vice president at KARE is a fan of Lechner’s and also took note of the enthusiasm that Sentell had for his internship.

What made that remarkable is that Chandler had to be at KARE every Monday and Tuesday for his shift at 4 a.m. Yep, 4 in the morning. And he still wants to be a broadcast news reporter.

Now that’s a testimonial to ThreeSixty – and the kind of young men and women it helps down the road.

P.S. Want tickets to the ThreeSixty fundraiser on Nov. 6 – 6-8:30 p.m. in the Binz Refectory? Get tickets here