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Thomas Costello


Regional Youth Justice Consortium

25 New Center One - 3031 West Grand Boulevard
Detroit, Michigan 48202
Inspired by his Jesuit education and the Jesuit philosophy of service to others -- and deeply committed to a more just and inclusive world -- Thomas Costello ditched the private sector in 2008 to become president of the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion.
Michigan NightlightWhat does being a leader mean to you? 
Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion President and CEO Thomas Costello:I think one of the important pieces is the ability to move or motivate others to follow you. One other thing would be to lift people up so that people understand their own value and know that you value them. The third thing is, you have to be able to take that risk and think unconventionally and kind of not worry about what others think; I’m not saying take reckless risks, but if you stand in the same space and worry about what others think, you will never be true to yourself.

What is your dream for kids? 
That everyone, every child and young adult, has an equal opportunity to shine, to do their best, to show the world their tools and gifts. What we have done, in the young adult piece, we have allowed this year 40 summer interns to come in here in a safe space to be vulnerable and kind of let down their guard and get to know other people that don’t think like them, don’t look like them, and don’t worship where they do. They have a better understand of their own community around them and they’ll go back to their school, neighborhood, place of worship or rec center and carry forward these ideas of what they have learned.

What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
I think a collaboration of our efforts. I have been in this role about four and half years, and came from the corporate community for 24 years; I see a lot of different people doing the same thing. If there was more of an effort to collaborate and consolidate resources and energy we could be more effective. Foundations could be the bad guy, and say “if you want to be funded this is what you need to do.” We could get a lot more done if we work together. At least since I have been here, that has always been one of our approaches -- I
I know we’re making progress if those structures and institutions that have historically marginalized people are changing.
don’t care if we are the lead on something or the worker bee. We don’t mind as long as the work gets done. Sometimes you have to check your ego at the door.
How do you know you’re making progress?
From our point of view, where we try to help citizens and communities create a more inclusive and welcoming space -- we call it a racial equity scan -- we look at factors like education, law enforcement, housing and healthcare access, and what are those markers showing. To use an example of the work we have done in Plymouth-Canton schools, they have the three high schools in a park and they have over 6,000 students and had no teachers of color at all; we worked with them and the following summer they had a hundred new hires and 25 of those where nonwhite. Those kind of markers are how we judge progress. You can’t have a richly diverse community and have a police force that is male and all white. I know we’re making progress if those structures and institutions that have historically marginalized people are changing.
What are you most proud of?
The staff here has changed the work and the mission of the Roundtable to move from more of the human relations piece of approaching racism and diversity and inclusion, to one where there is a critical lens looking at structures and institutions that marginalize people of color, the LGTB community, and certain religions. We’ve made a turn from what people think of as more of a charity or justice work to a critical lens, and I am most proud of what staff has done here in the last four and a half years around that.
The spatial racism is just pathetic here. Kids that live in the city and in the suburbs have never been around people that don’t look like them.

I look back, and I graduated from high school in 1971, and lived in Southfield. When my dad sent me to University of Detroit Jesuit High, he made me work in a Ford Motor plant for couple summers, and I parked cars at Carl’s Chop House -- all that was to get me outside my little comfort zone. I don’t know if a lot of parents do that. The spatial racism is just pathetic here. Kids that live in the city and in the suburbs have never been around people that don’t look like them.
What originally drew you to your current profession?
I come from a really strange background. I’d been a lawyer, general counsel, at Compuware. I can only say two things: the Jesuit social responsibility teaching, being a man for others; and, from a professional point of view, I always heard all this talk about race relations and segregation, but I did not see a lot of action taken. I had been on the board of the Roundtable for about four years before I became the president. Former president Dan Krichbaum was leaving, and I said to him that I’d always wanted to do this job. I blame the Jesuits, and my own persona jihad, which means struggle, not some terrorist attack. This is harder work than what I was doing before.
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Program Profile


  • Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion
    We work to address inequity throughout our region through a process of recognition, reconciliation and renewal. We strive to build relationships that create social justice and build sustainable inclusive communities.


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