Dominic Dorsey II loves Indianapolis. The city yes, but it’s the people he is drawn to. Sometimes he is pulled away for work or travel but no matter how far he goes, he always wants to come home. “Indy raised me” he says. And, it’s this sense of community that compels Dorsey, one of our United Way ELEVATE finalist for Innovator of the Year to lead with love. He says, “to love others unconditionally is disarming.”
And, when we sit down to chat, he quotes Alice Walker. “Activism is the rent I pay for living on planet earth.” Perhaps her spirit has always infused him in some way. Dorsey started as an activist in college focusing on issues surrounding racial inequities in higher education. He was a driving force behind the Black Student Initiative on the campus of Indiana University Purdue University – Indianapolis, which many saw as a defining moment in IUPUI’s history.
Unable to stand by and watch any underrepresented group be oppressed, Dorsey later founded the grassroots organization DONT SLEEP (Deconstructing Oppression Now Through Solidarity Liberation Equity Empowerment & Perseverance) which aims to battle and dismantle systems of oppression that contribute to social injustice locally and nationally.
For the past few summers, DONT SLEEP has coordinated Liberation Weekend – a three-day event where local organizations commemorate Black August with social and educational programming. The weekend includes theatrical presentations, plus local and national speakers and artists. In addition to the educational activities, attendees are urged to make more conscious decisions to patronize Black-owned or local businesses. It’s in this spirit of spending money mindfully and inspiring people to become entrepreneurs which is at the heart of the concluding event, A Black-Owned Business Block Party.
Dorsey’s goal? To one day not need organizations like DONT SLEEP. While it’s genesis came from Dorsey’s organizing work at IUPUI, it’s not a single-issue organization. It gives a hard look at the root causes of injustice that impact all of us. “No one is more or less oppressed than another. If you drown in a glass or a bathtub, you still drown. The work of DONT SLEEP is to prevent people from drowning at all – not to check first to see who had it worse.”
Dorsey admits that social justice work can be draining. Which is why his small wins often come from his students. “Helping others helps me.” Dorsey’s currently serves as the the Director of Accessible Campus and Community & Equitable Student Support (ACCESS) at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. With a front row seat to the microcosm that is the modern-day college campus, Dorsey throws his energy into working with students with disabilities. He regularly encounters individuals who feel hopeless and wish the campus community would be more welcoming. Together they work towards plans of action to help students feel better understood by their parents, teachers, peers and society.
Thank you, Dominic, for paying your rent and leading with love. Congratulations on being an ELEVATE finalist!