by Thomas Hochman
A couple weeks ago, I received an email from an OES domain name that I didn’t recognize.
The email was from Dominic Kukla, a new OES employee working in the extension school.
Underneath his name I found links to two local organizations, his blog, and, most notably, his SoundCloud.
After asking around and realizing that the Upper School faculty and staff knew little to nothing about Dominic’s involvement with the school, I knew that I had to sit down with him to get his backstory — from the links on his email to his position at OES.
First off, Dominic explained his involvement with Helpers United and Portland Forward. While both are comprised of a network of Portland locals, Helpers United is dedicated to bringing five different speakers from a different background to a monthly gathering, while Portland Forward is purely for Portlanders interested in political activism.
Portland Forward was started about a year ago by Bing Sheldon, a local civic activist in Portland who wanted to bring people together to plan for the future before he died.
Dominic explains that when Sheldon died he left the group at Portland Forward with an unclear goal and few instructions in how to proceed. He says that although this can sometimes be frustrating, the organization was his first foray into local politics.
Since then, he’s appeared on local radio stations, testified (in rhyme scheme, no less) on Multnomah County campaign finance reform, and more.
Rapping under the pseudonym “Pravda”, (“truth” in Czech) Dominic told me that music was an early medium by which he could express himself.
“I always thought I could rap,” he says. “I used to do it with my friends in Portland. I wrote my first song two years ago, in which I pretty much wrote out all the best concepts that I could think of. I’m working on an EP that will be out in April.”
“I started rapping first and then studied it later,” he explained when I asked him about his music idols, “but I grew up on guys like Eminem and Immortal Technique.”
He added that his favorite rappers at the moment are Kendrick and Logic.
Dominic seems to have dabbled in a little bit of everything. “I dropped out of school to start a business and it never took off,” he says. “Afterwards, I decided to get a day job working at a restaurant, but I didn’t want to be there for longer than a year. I felt like if I wasn’t going to have my dream job, I should have at least been somewhere that I could learn.”
So why — and how — did Dominic come to OES?
“I have this job for several reasons,” he explains, “and they are all in line with the rest of my work.”
“First of all, I think this work is extremely important. There is no limit to how big of a positive impact I can make by devoting my time and attention to these little humans. Additionally, this work is energizing, rewarding, and even healing. I learn a lot about older people, myself included, by paying attention to these simpler people. I really believe I’m in a place with unlimited personal growth potential for me right now.”
“I should also add that this is the best run organization I’ve been part of, and given my role in helping run Helpers United and Portland Forward, there’s a lot to learn in observing this institution work.”
“It’s not about the money,” Dominic finishes, “I could be making bank as a sales guy. The free time to work on my art — rapping, writing, etc. — is key though.”
At the very bottom of the email, below the links to his organizations, music, and blog, there was one italicized quote scrawled across the screen.
“We become what we think about.”
I think if there’s one thing I took away from talking to Dominic, it’s that there’s still plenty of opportunity for young people to do what they’re interested in. What they “think about,” what they set their mind to, can at least be attempted if not achieved.
Dominic wanted to start a business, so he did. He wanted to rap, so he got to work. Politics? He got involved. Blogging? You betcha.
So while success was not and still is not guaranteed, he continues to go for it. And I think that there’s a lot to be learned there.