D. Dontae Latson, 2017 Community Service Leadership Award Recipient
“Passion and commitment” are the hallmarks of this year’s MCLP Community Service Leadership award recipient, D. Dontae Latson.
“Dontae inspires us all to see the world as we wish it to be, and gives us the inspiration and determination to make it happen, together,” said Rickilee Bennecke, the MCLP alum who nominated him. “He doesn’t even know that he is a role model to me (and countless others I am sure), because his true compassion shines through, brighter than even his trademark smile. His love for people and his dream for a better world inspire us all.”
In less than four years in Bloomington-Normal, Dontae, CEO of the YWCA of McLean County, has become an outspoken proponent for human rights and social change. Besides his leadership role at the YWCA, Dontae is active with Not In Our Town, Central Illinois PRIDE Health, League of Women Voters, Indivisible and other efforts. He’s become a “go to” source for local media, seeking insight on human rights issues. Under his guidance, the YWCA sponsored a Humanity Summit last November, opening eyes to numerous issues and creating a welcoming climate for diverse people.
After a rough childhood in his hometown of Seat Pleasant, MD—where he lost several friends to street violence, including his god brother—Dontae went on to complete an education at Morgan State University in Baltimore and a master’s degree in Social Science Administration at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH. Reflecting back on those years, he notes that “I went from being an angry young man to someone that believes in the power of the indomitable human spirit, the beauty of community, and the inherent strength of intersectionality.”
After college he worked in Charlotte, North Carolina as an executive leader in local government and hospital administration work, before accepting the YWCA position here. When Dontae is not engaged in community work, he is spending time with his wife and five children, creating a nurturing and positive environment for them.
His caring shines through not just for large issues, but in a welcoming, personal presence with people and the McLean County community. Rickilee noted, “Dontae immediately has a warm embrace for all, a slap on the back or a kiss on the cheek, he shows love to all. His impact on others is to strengthen and empower, to encourage and uplift. He leads with his integrity and generosity. He is one that truly cares about all of us.”
MCLP Board President Kari Sandhaas said that D. Dontae Latson is a wonderful example of a leader who brings people together across boundaries. “Dontae did not wait to establish himself in this community – he immediately began searching for friends and allies who share a vision of caring and compassion. In that, he has emerged as a real leader for inclusion and a courageous ally for our local community.”
Tejas Jani, 2017 Alumni Community Service Leadership Award Recipient
A caring father and committed leader is Tejas Jani, this year’s MCLP Alumni Community Service Leadership Award winner. Tejas graduated MCLP in the class of 2014.
Since then he remains active in For a Better Tomorrow (FBT), the Community Health Care Clinic board, and the Baby Fold’s Development committee. He volunteers as a “Human Book” for Illinois State University and speaks to ISU classes. He is a founding member of Youth Global Citizen, a leadership and development effort for high school students. He is the lead organizer of For a Better Tomorrow’s major annual fundraiser, the Kite Festival—which financially assists not only FBT, but also other community organizations. Last year funds from this effort assisted Labyrinth Outreach Services for Women and Project Oz.
Emily Vigneri, the MCLP alumni who nominated Tejas, said, “Tejas is a role model to those of us who serve with him on nonprofit boards and within other community service endeavors. He is always willing to help a friend or colleague in need and to take on a task that will help lighten someone else’s load.”
Tejas said he was “shocked and humbled” when he learned of the award. MCLP opened doors for him to connect with his community. “You don’t see this in the big metro areas,” he said. “I’m very thankful for MCLP starting me on this journey. I wanted to give back and didn’t know where to start.” He also credits MCLP for helping him better understand himself, and the excellent role models he found in Sonya Mau, Phani Aytam, Willie Brown, Paula Mitchell, Deanna Frautischi, and others who helped launch MCLP. He especially appreciates his mentor and now friend, Sean Wells.
As a devoted father to his son Avee, Tejas models community involvement and brings first-hand experience with service to his young charge. At Colleen Hoose School, Tejas is the coordinator for the School Carnival, which not only raises funds, but also brings families together at the school. Tejas said, “I want to be a good role model for my son. He’s nine-years-old, and he goes everywhere with me.” He noted that the school principal recently asked for volunteers to clean the cafeteria tables after lunch. Avee’s hand went up and he enthusiastically committed himself to a six-week volunteer stint. “To see his enthusiasm,” said Tejas, “told me it’s coming around.”
Within MCLP, Tejas has volunteered as a facilitator for the class of 2015. He has convened other MCLP alumni with Leadership lecturer Rick Owens to continually challenge themselves and polish their skills.
“I am so lucky to be recognized,” Tejas added. “There are so many servant-leaders doing so much good in this community. I am very, very humbled.”