College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences > Student Resources > Graduate Student Support > Graduate Student Spotlight
Darius Parker is a poet, scholar, visionary and activist based in Chicago. He currently serves as the Director of Operations for Kuumba Lynx, a not-for-profit hip-hop arts and education organization, housed in Chicago's Uptown. Darius also serves as the Resource Coordinator at Uplift Community High school where he is able to offer Kuumba Lynx programming throughout the school due to a grant called Sustainable Community Schools.
How is Darius using his coursework in the real world? Through his youth empowerment and advocacy work. Darius believes that the arts can change the world, specifically hip-hop theater. Darius uses his love for the arts and intersects his love for his program. The intersections led Darius to create his thesis script and videos, "Every Time We Get Close," a sentiment to the black struggle that no matter how close they get to liberation something always happens. Every time they take one step forward, they get knocked two steps back. It is also a reminder that no matter what obstacle is placed in front of them, they will one day be able to desecrate it. Darius's upbringing in Kuumba Lynx led him to be an organizer and truly consider the ways in which he could use his art as a tool of resistance. Through his poems, Darius shares his tales of growing up black and queer, dealing with the police and even the microaggressions that happen at DePaul, which helped inform his decision to co-author a statement on behalf of the graduate students in the Critical Ethnic Studies program alongside his cohort member Michael Rangel. A fellow student reached out to Darius and asked why there wasn't a statement from their program in regard to the murder of George Floyd and the string of global protests and demonstrations that erupted in his honor. Darius felt compelled to speak out and even more compelled to join in on the protests and cleaning crews thereafter.
Whether on the stage or in the community, in the classroom or on the frontlines, Darius credits his critical lens growth to his dynamic professors Kina, Russo, Farah, Johnson, Torres, Sternberg, Goltz, Yokota, Mumm, and an array of visiting instructors and workshop facilitators who helped inspire him.
Michael Rangel (he/him/his) is a trained and active social worker in Chicago currently working and fighting for trans and gender non-conforming people and communities across the city. Michael’s previous work in management, community building, and program development has centered around the support and healing of marginalized people. With a history of food service and labor intensive jobs, Michael is committed to breaking down barriers to employment for all workers, specifically brown and black workers, immigrant workers, and TGNC workers. Currently, Michael works as the TransWorks Career Specialist/Case Manager with Chicago House Social Service Agency Employment Program and TransLife Care Team, Development Board at Heartland Health Centers and is joining the team of Chicago Therapy Collective as a Community Representative. Michael is working to build a strong network of organizations and businesses committed to affirming and supporting TGNC folks and their rights to employment while simultaneously combatting the root causes of injustices and inequity that create these systemic and systematic barriers. His MA thesis, “De-Policing Queer Possibilities,” creates a framework for theorizing how policing influences and extends beyond the police state and into society’s social constructs and institutions that explicitly affect Queer/Trans People of Color. Michael is graduating from DePaul with an MA in Critical Ethnic Studies and certificate in Women’s and Gender Studies and recently co-authored DePaul's CES Statement of Solidarity and Fight for Black Lives. Michael graduated from Indiana University—Bloomington with his BSW and Loyola University—Chicago with his MSW and next fall plans to pursue his PhD in Social Work and begin teaching.
Zerrin’s childhood experiences within the Chicago Turkish community paved the way for not only a deeper connection with her Turkishness, but an active participation in building positive perceptions of Turks in the Chicago area. She has engaged in several Chicago not for profits including Turkish American Cultural Alliance (TACA) and Bridge to Türkiye Fund. Zerrin is currently on the board of TACA and continues her cultural bridge building in both groups. Her goal is two-fold, to deepen Turkish American’s connection to their own ethnic heritage as well as to present and promote positive interactions with Turks and Turkish culture in the Chicago area.
Zach Thomas has been working for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN Migration Agency, in man-made crisis contexts for the past seven years. Each crisis is very unique but with similar results: macro events such as political instability, economic collapse, and war have occurred in a country/region, which have put the most vulnerable people in an even more dire situation. Without ability to secure basic needs such as food, water, medicine, or shelter they were forced to flee their homes, cities, and/or countries and are dependent on host countries and international aid. Zach’s primary job has been to support liaison efforts with donor agencies such as USAID, write and edit project and program proposals and reports, and manage teams of project developers to ensure IOM has sufficient funds to meet the needs of the world’s most vulnerable migrants.
After graduation in 2013, Zach took a chance with a three-month contract in Amman, Jordan to work for the IOM. As the Assistant Officer, he started off with project development and reporting, supporting IOM mainly through his writing and editing skills to fundraise for life-saving Iraq programs. As the displacement crisis due to the takeover of much of Iraq by Armed Opposition Groups (AOG), most notably ISIL, Zach transferred to Erbil in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. For more than three years he lived in Iraq and worked in both project development and project management functions, eventually managing over 20 million USD in funding to provide internally displaced persons (IDP) with multi-sectoral assistance such as shelter, non-food items, and camp coordination and camp management activities.
Zach transferred to IOM’s Turkey Mission to establish the Project Development and Reporting Unit in an expanding Mission, which grew 6x in size from 2015 to 2020 due to many new project funds. His office in Turkey responds to two emergencies: the Syria Crisis inside Syria through shipment of humanitarian goods across the Turkey-Syria border to reach millions of vulnerable Syrians, and the emergency/resilience response for Syrians inside Turkey, which number more than 3.5 million as of 2020. In nearly three years in Turkey, his unit grew from two to nine employees, with Mission funds doubling to nearly 200 million USD to support multi-sector efforts such as livelihoods, shelter, non-food items, and protection programs.
In March 2020, Zach transferred to the IOM Venezuela Response Team in Panama, which oversees the regional response to the crisis in Venezuela and covers 17 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean where Venezuelans have fled. Venezuelan migrants sometimes walk for weeks or months on highways and back streets to reach their preferred destination in the Americas and Caribbean. He is again tasked with establishing a Program Support Unit, this time covering project development, reporting, communications, and monitoring & evaluation functions of the office. His new office coordinates the regional response, so is less of an on-the-ground role but more supporting country offices that conduct frontline emergency actions. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated vulnerability of Venezuelans inside and outside Venezuela and limited his office’s ability to reach people in certain cases. At the moment, Zach is in Reno, NV working remotely as Panama continues to impose a ban on international flights.