From Rags to Righteousness: OBU’s new assistant dean of students shares a vision of diversity

By Alena Blakley, Chief Photographer

WHERE HE BEGAN

As a young boy growing up in seven different states, assistant dean of students Jonathan Solomon saw the effects drug addiction can have in life.

From surviving in the pits of an abandoned house to living in foster care to then moving in with his sober father, Solomon experienced a reality, that to most, is unfathomable.

When it looked like the world was crashing down around him, Solomon said he discovered a silver lining.

“When I was 12 years old, I was taken into foster care,” Solomon said. “I took it as a blessing. I felt like I was being rescued. I felt like it was a new life.”

Three years later, he said his life changed again.

“When I was 15 years old, I moved to California with my dad because he became sober,” Solomon said. “The move to California was great for me. It exposed me to a different lifestyle.”

Because of this, Solomon was given more opportunities to succeed.

While the typical foster care child may not continue their education after high school, Solomon defied all odds.

“I love school,” Solomon said.

“I love school,” Solomon said. “Even when I was going through what I was going through, school was my one escape from reality. I always had free meals. Honestly I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for [free lunches].”

When Solomon was older, he said he became an advocate for students who were going through the same things he faced when he was younger.

For instance, when he lived in Michigan before moving to Oklahoma he encountered others who were enduring emotional, spiritual and physical trauma—but he said their stories inspired him.

“The lives of the kids I worked with [in Detroit] would make my life look like a joke,” Solomon said. “They are able and willing to wake up every morning and go to school even through everything they are going through.”

For him, he said, if people who were less fortunate than himself could still attend school then he believed he could excel.

Only ten percent of kids who have been in foster care will go to college, according to promise2kids.org, and Solomon was one in ten.

He said he hopes that his story can help others in turn.

“My story has helped them,” Solomon said.

“No matter what you are going through you can still make it out of that. That has always been my message. My story helps to inspire them, there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

Despite his title as assistant dean of students, Solomon said he hopes the formality of the office will not affect students’ willingness to come talk to him.

“I am not into titles,” Solomon said. “I am all about the relationships and building relationships. I am here to support students, and I want them to rely on me.”

Students like sophomore Emmanuel Adesokan have experienced the fruits of Solomon’s efforts.

“I’ve seen him take interest in all students,” Adesokan said. “He pours love on them by getting to know them and providing ways for people to interact with others they may not have talked to originally.”

He is not the only student to be impressed by the new assistant dean.

Freshman Anthony Williams has personally been impacted by Solomon.

“No matter what I may need, I feel like Mr. Solomon would find a way to make it happen,” Williams said. “I was struggling a little with my classes, and he walked with me to the Success Center and introduced me to the staff, and showed me that it’s okay to go when I need help. When I have personal problems, he is always that ear to hear and understands where I’m coming from and he will also let me know when I am wrong. I am really thankful to have him at OBU,” Williams said.

Overall, Solomon said he feels that his past experiences have equipped him to serve at OBU, and he has a vision for a more robust, diverse campus.

“OBU is an amazing campus full of loving people who share my vision,” he said.

“Our campus should reflect heaven—full of color and grace. . .and there are so many people here willing to pour into me and into that shared vision.”

HIS VISION

By Mya Hudgins, Contributing Writer

Growing up in Sunday school you probably learned the song, “Jesus loves the little children.”

Many of you can hum this tune, but in case you forgot the lyrics, they tell us “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red, yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

This song might not be Jonathan Solomon’s theme song, but it sure does go with his new job title, Assistant Dean of Students: Diversity and Multicultural Student Services.  Jonathan Solomon has a passion to see diversity in sports at Oklahoma Baptist University.

“I honestly feel like God just really drove this position into my life,” he said.

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Dean Solomon (right) featured with Emanuel Adesokan (left). / Courtesy Photo 

“I was researching schools and saw that position was posted.  I also had mentors, who have been pouring into me, looking at that position [at OBU] as well. I knew I just wanted to be somewhere I would actively be able to practice what I believe in,” Solomon said.

He heard about Bison Hill through many different people.  They all were connected by one thing: each of them was a student athlete.

When Solomon realized this, he said that fact excited him because he was also a college athlete.

“I played football at Langston for two years; I was very successful [with] that. I think the world for student athletes is really small, in terms of relationships, so I was able to meet some people who attended OBU and ran track [there].”

He said he wanted to utilize his own experiences in school in this new job to create relationships with students.

Solomon started playing football when he was a junior in high school.  Even though he was great on the field, he also was very successful in the classroom. Academia and athletics became his escape from home.

Solomon said he continued to play football in college, which impacted him greatly.

“Playing football has been great for me, like building relationships, having that family was something important to me, in the absence of not having a supportive family,” Solomon said. “I think my vision for athletics was, I wanted to play in college. It [became] more of a ‘I know I’m good enough’ to play in college, [and will] prove it to my family.”     

Solomon said he recognizes how athletics can provide opportunities and connections, and he wanted to foster that positivity in others.

“Sports give opportunities to so many students who might not have gotten [a chance},” he said.

“I have so many peers who would not have gone to college if it wasn’t for sports…they have just become better people because having the opportunity [of a college sport],” said Solomon.

While he said he has a vision for fostering connections campus-wide, he has also made a point to introduce himself to Bison athletes.

“I think it’s important for me to know the teams, so I have reached out to all of the coaches,” he said. “I’ve been trying to meet [athletes] and build relationships with them. When we are doing programing, we have to think about what is going to actually make student athletes want to come out of their circles or rooms after having practice all day.”

That sense of inclusion also applies to Solomon’s vision for an even more diverse campus.

Currently, OBU is ranked 1,182 in Ethnic Diversity nationwide, with a student body composition above the national average.

According to a diversity survey completed a couple of years ago, the campus offers 30 percent minority groups, and Solomon said he’d like to increase that number even more.

“I’d like everyone to realize how much this university has to offer, how willing everyone is to share that joy,” he said.

As he continues to build relationships with students, athletes, coaches and the teams, he is determined to unite us all as one.

“Everything I do, I do it in love,” he said.

Just as Christ loves each and every one of his children, we are called to do the same no matter what background or nationality.

Solomon’s theory hearkens back to that Sunday School song that inspired us all when we were children—both encourage us to embrace diversity and recognize we are all “precious in His sight.”

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