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By: Leila Ugincius

Last year, Thomas Chatman was selected to speak at a reception for Michael Rao, Ph.D., president of Virginia Commonwealth University. It was the information systems major’s proudest moment at VCU, though not because he was speaking in front of the president.

It was a chance to deeply consider how far he’d come while a student here.

“It was really awakening for me because I was able to just sit, reflect and share my story,” Chatman said.

Chatman’s accomplishments include making the Dean’s List, starting an exhibition to help artists in Western Africa, landing an internship that led to a full-time position — and not dropping out of college.

As a sophomore, Chatman didn’t feel like school was the right place for him.

“I was in a really interesting place … trying to figure out who I was and what I wanted to do,” he said. “It was weighing on me a lot.”

He called Carlton Goode, Ed.D., who had taught “easily the most impactful class that I’ve ever had,” Chatman said, and told him he didn’t know if he could continue at VCU.

During Chatman’s freshman year, Goode had led the “Dynamic Principles of Professional Development: Men of Color” course, which is part of VCU’s First and Second Year Experiences program that supports student success. Goode, who also serves on the universitywide task force for the Men of Color initiative and is faculty advisor for the Developing Men of Color student organization, provided Chatman with resources and encouraged him to become more involved with the DMC.

“I trusted him,” Chatman said. “What DMC offered for me from that point was a space. They met me where I was at. It wasn’t like an organization where I had to come in with these prerequisites or I had to be ready to take on a lot of different things. They met me where I was, and that was someone who was ready to leave. And they gave me an opportunity to find myself and also an opportunity to work on my passion and figure out how much I enjoy giving back to the community.”

Chatman’s passion includes the art business he started after visiting his aunt in Senegal three years ago.

“She asked me to come out there and take some pictures and display what the culture is like in Senegal,” he said. He was struck by the rigors of what he saw.

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