In a former life, card dealer Tshombé Brown is preparing in the back for his shift at the casino. Just before walking onto the bright floor, he looks into a mirror that, above, reads ‘It’s show time!’
Brown enters the floor with his signature high-wattage smile and contagious laugh as he brings the vibrancy for those coming to his blackjack table.
For the past four and half years, Brown has been at UP as the Program Manager of Community Partnerships at the Moreau Center. The same energy Brown recalls from the casino translates to much of the work he does now through organizing trips and immersions focused on service and justice within the Moreau Center.
He’s bringing his high spirit to his new position as hall director at Schoenfeldt Hall, effective Dec. 1.
“I bring a more mature (background) in all these thousands of experiences that I think will be of value to Schoenfeldt as an all-male dorm,” Brown said.
Those thousands of experiences took shape with the wide variety of jobs he’s had, ranging from being a human resources manager to a wedding consultant.
Brown eventually worked for a nonprofit called the Portland Fruit Tree Project. The program focuses on increasing equitable access to healthful food and building community through their harvests, something that Brown found inspiring.
Brown’s time at the Portland Fruit Tree Project led him to eventually meeting Laurie Laird, the director at the Moreau Center for Service and Justice. Through his connection to Laird, Brown applied for an open position at the Moreau Center where he has worked ever since.
“I look up University of Portland and teaching and learning, faith and formation, I’m all about all of this,” Brown said. “I apply, and the next thing you know, I’m working here.”
He personally connects the job opportunities he’s had and the versatility of his mind to the poem “The Way It Is” by William Stafford. Much like the thread in the poem, Brown sees a spiritual thread in his life as something that can’t necessarily be seen or tracked.
Brown’s strong religious journey also assisted in his development of better understanding the values and beliefs of those around him.
Growing up a Jehovah’s Witness, Brown took interest in studying the Bible. This was another significant factor for Brown when he later completed the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) and became Catholic in April 2019.
“(I) have an affinity for studying the Bible and researching in general,” Brown said. “I really loved doing one-on-one free Bible studies with people of various ages, younger to older.”
Experiences like these continued to expand Brown’s care for his community members.
“I just took an interest in people’s stories and hearing them,” Brown said. “I found it fascinating that if people (were) felt or heard or seen, then that itself was curative in many ways.”
Senior Meghan Potter, who has worked closely with Brown in the Moreau Center, was quick to recognize the same level of empathy and care that he demonstrates.
One of her most memorable moments with Brown occurred during her time doing the Plunge Into Your Neighborhood (PIYN) experience.
“I remember so clearly how appreciative he was for me and my other co-coordinator at the end of the whole experience when he was thanking us,” Potter said. “He was so grateful for the work that we had put in and I was so grateful for the work that he had put in.”
Brown’s interests in stories and people further factored into his decision to apply and interview for the vacant hall director position at Schoenfeldt Hall. He hopes to foster the dorm’s community by assisting and engaging with Schoenfelt’s residents.
Despite him leaving the team he works with on a day-to-day basis, Brown is confident there won’t be a disconnect between his experience at the Moreau Center and the students he will continue working with in the future.
“I don’t see a divorce from Moreau Center,” said Brown. “Service and leadership are part of our core mission. I would hope that everyone graduates knowing and learning how to engage in the community and know the history and context of where they live.”
For close contacts such as Laird, while she will certainly miss his lively personality, there is also joy for his future as the hall director.
“I’m certainly going to miss him so much,” Laird said. “I’m excited for him. I think Tshombé has fallen in love with UP and with our Holy Cross mission and I think that being a hall director is going to allow him to explore new ways of living that out and supporting students.”
In response to Brown’s transition from his current role, there will be a search to fill the vacancy at the Moreau Center.
Michael Lang is a reporter for The Beacon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org