Louis Porter II, a University of St. Thomas English professor in Dougherty Family College, wants to help tell the stories you don’t otherwise hear. It’s a passion that started earlier in his career at the St. Paul Pioneer Press reporting on the working poor.
“These are people who were working every day but still had to struggle,” Porter II said. “The myth is that the harder you work the more successful you will be. And for others that may be true, but for these people it wasn’t.”
That reporting assignment was the start of a long career focused on telling the stories of those unheard voices. As a reporter, he interviewed people who experienced situations, in addition to leaders of organizations.
For example, later in his career he covered areas relating to social services and education services.
“I really wanted to get the voices and feelings and emotions of the people who use social services,” Porter II said. “I was able to do that, which was very satisfying.”
Porter II’s love for words first started in junior high.
During his time at Boston University, Porter II credits a man named Jeremiah Murphy for supporting him and taking him to his first journalism course. He was a “seasoned reporter,” according to Porter II, who came into his classroom to teach, which in Porter II’s opinion made him a great teacher.
His teacher encouraged him to further his education, and Porter II ultimately received a bachelor’s degree from Boston University, a master’s degree from Hamline University and a doctorate in education from the University of St. Thomas.
People like Murphy who helped Porter II when he was younger made him want to go out of his way to teach others.
“They’ve been so different, and they’ve been a different challenge and different job,” he said. “I would have to say teaching is my passion.”
Now at the University of St. Thomas, he is helping others tell their stories.
He teaches English at Dougherty Family College at St. Thomas. Porter II teaches memoir writing on the side through arts organizations like COMPAS, an arts organization that hosts classes in libraries, senior centers and K-12 schools. Porter II tells his students that memoir writing has to contain your truth.
“(Memoir writing) can also help you sort out and understand what you’ve been through and to look back on what you can learn,” he said. “That is one of the most powerful things to do, is to tell your own story.”
Porter II came to St. Thomas to make a difference in the lives of his students who come from different backgrounds, such as first-generation and immigrant college students or students who are working multiple jobs to support their families.
Porter II tries to meet with his students face to face once a month and provides his phone number in case his students require any assistance. With COVID-19, he meets with his students on the phone or over Zoom to connect and find out how they are doing in class. He encourages his students to connect to specific professors if they are struggling in a class.
Doing a lot of outreach and mentoring for his students requires Porter II to be available during the day. This is because he understands that his students have obligations other than school, such as work and family.
“Access has been something that’s important to me, whether it’s working with students to get them access to education or at the council.”
A note about the authors: Yasmin Abdurahman, Rosemount Senior High School, and Amira Ahmed, Wayzata High School, are both participants in the ThreeSixty Journalism program. A nonprofit of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of St. Thomas, ThreeSixty Journalism uses the principles of strong writing and reporting to help diverse Minnesota youth tell the stories of their lives and communities.