Dexter Thomas likes to get outside his comfort zone – way out. He has wide-ranging interests in music, a passion for languages, a bent toward activism and a resolve to maximize his learning experiences outside the classroom during his college years.
His activities include being music director of the campus radio station, KUCR-FM, (88.3 FM), freelance DJ, concert booker for student activities, campus housing employee, Web designer and volunteer for both a Mexican orphanage and the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.
Though he calls himself a jack of all trades and master of none, those who listen tohis eclectic music show from 5 to 7 p.m. on Saturdays get a sense of his mastery of music appreciation. Each week, he keeps his listeners guessing what’s next and what’s new in the worlds of hip-hop, electronica, house, jungle, funk and grime.
Ask Thomas, a 21-year-old English and foreign languages major, to explain his personality and he says,
“I jump at opportunities without thinking about the consequences. “I mean, I was in the International Baccalaureate program in high school and was advised not to do anything else because the program on its own is so challenging,” Thomas said. “But I also wanted to play in the band, do club soccer and school sports, you know? Finally, my mom brought in the AD (athletic director) to talk some sense to me. I ended up ignoring everyone and, well, here I am.”
Thomas’ studies in Japanese and Spanish will be expanded to include a third language next quarter – Chinese. He says he’d love to get a bit of Korean under his belt, too.
Thomas has been involved with the Associated Students Program Board, lining up concerts on campus. He was also a housing residence assistant, involved in the Honors Program, and a volunteer at an orphanage in Baja California. Then, of course, he is director of programming for KUCR’s “Soul on Sunday” lineup as well.
His boss, station manager Louis Vandenberg, uses terms such as “thoughtful, highly principled, smart, hip, aware, positive and creative,” to describe Thomas.
“He’s very real, very genuine. He’s also difficult and complex,” said Vandenberg. “He’s a formidable individual, who likes to argue, challenge and criticize. I think he views it as an obligation of sorts, and he’s very good at it. Whatever he does is done with passion and integrity.”
This summer, after watching the wrenching news footage from New Orleans, Thomas volunteered for a three-week stint as an American Red Cross volunteer for the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts in Mississippi and Louisiana.
He was sent in September to do warehouse work at a dispatch and distribution center housed in a shuttered Kmart in Montgomery, Ala. He ended up as a driver distributing supplies throughout the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast.
At the wheel of a 20-foot-long rental van, Thomas went on 20- to 30-hour runs.
Thomas said he encountered his fair share of frustration-fed resentment of locals upset with delays in getting supplies and assistance to the scores of tiny, isolated and sometimes completely erased communities.
“It became apparent that unless we took matters into our own hands, we could wait a week in the HQ and not do anything,” he said. In many cases they loaded up their own vans and distributed the supplies themselves. “It was, ‘get out there and fend for yourself,” Thomas said. “We were paying for gas out of our own pockets.”
On one trip through the Gulf Coast, they jotted down the towns that were in need and the supplies that were lacking and took that information back to the distribution center, because, he said, “it was obvious that certain, African- American areas were being ignored.
“At one point we were getting gas at about 4 a.m. in Hattiesburg, Miss., and the station owner told me not to show up in the daytime because folks out there were pretty angry,” he said.
Despite the sour taste the experience left in hismouth, Thomas said he had no regrets because it gave him renewed drive to do the right thing as he sees it, and to sometimes work around the rules to get the right thing done.
Thomas, who hopes to graduate this spring, said community work will be part of his career path, wherever it takes him.
“I don’t see myself picking a career and sticking to one thing all my life but switching around, following one line for a few years, then another,” he said.
Check out Dexter Thomas’ radio show at www.kucr.org.