Donte Woods-Spikes: Activism through discourse

Erica Thompson

If you look in the window of the Family Dollar on Broad Street and Wayne Avenue, you will see Donte Woods-Spikes, portrayed with children in a vibrant mural on the wall. The artist, Richard Duarte Brown, was inspired by Woods-Spikes' work in the community, which includes reading to Ohio Avenue Elementary students and helping out in the after-school and Transit Arts programs at the Central Community House (CCH).

Additionally, Woods-Spikes, who is pursuing a degree in social work at Columbus State, volunteers at First English Lutheran Church. It was an experience at the Olde Towne East church that motivated him to establish a weekly meetup there for male teenagers in the community.

According to Woods-Spikes, an African-American teenage male was being disruptive and eventually got in an argument with the co-pastor's husband, a white male. The situation escalated, and there was danger of an altercation between young men of the neighborhood and the co-pastor's husband. The Columbus Police Department was called to the scene.

"I threw myself right in the middle of it and I diffused the situation," Woods-Spikes said. "I talked to the police officers and I talked to the boys in the neighborhood."

In that moment, he decided to create the community group. "We need to do something with the teenagers - especially the boys - because every time you hear about somebody getting shot or killed, it's one of them," he said.

His group is a safe space where young men can be heard. "Sometimes I come up with a topic, or sometimes I … see what they're talking about and I just take that and flip it and turn it into a question," he said. "I try to concentrate on things that are happening in the neighborhood, or something that's going on within the media."

Woods-Spikes recognizes the many factors that contribute to the wayward behavior he notices among young men in a community that has "very little to offer," including inadequate school systems, a lack of jobs (especially for ex-convicts) and the complications that can arise when people with "direct access to the community" - teachers, business owners, police officers - "are not a part of the culture."

Building relationships with those outside of the African-American community is important to Woods-Spikes. He became more receptive to working with the police after meeting an officer who demonstrated a willingness to help - frequently showing up at CCH, the church and the school.

"I can't play into the stereotype of not wanting to talk to the police," Woods-Spikes said. "Somebody has to bridge that gap. I'm willing to sacrifice myself. I take the scrutiny."

He also believes in the power of personal responsibility. "You've got to want better for yourself, and you've got to take the initiative," he said.

And that's exactly what the teenager at the center of the church conflict has done. With help from Woods-Spikes, he got a summer job at CCH. "I saw him do a complete turnaround," Woods-Spikes said.

Woods-Spikes encourages the young men he helps to, in turn, become mentors to younger kids. "If me as one person can make this much change within the neighborhood, imagine if I had about 10 more guys doing the same exact thing," he said.