"How can we help the people? What can we do to make sure we can make somebody else’s life better than ours? It's what has been ingrained in me....and it has given me the urge to go outside these four walls."
I am Toris Phinnessee. I am 27 years old, and I work for The Ridge Project - we go into halfway houses and prisons in Richland County, and I teach TYRO classes to the inmates. It’s a 5 week program, and once inmates complete the classes, we provide them with a career path. Our goal is to help this population have a better life. When these people come out, they have nothing. No one, no resources. It is my duty to help make sure they have a smooth transition from incarceration to society. We have to not be judgemental and we need to not put labels on those who are being brought back to society. Everybody deserves a second chance. I normally tell my clients, everybody in this world probably deserves some time in jail or prison. It’s just a matter of some people got caught and some didn’t. We are all guilty of something. We have to help them and accept them and make sure that their transition back into society is smooth. We have to make sure they know that they are loved and considered a human being.
I’m also involved in The Black Professional Conference - it’s like an annual state of the union for the black community. We select a handful of individuals who’ve been making excellent strides in the community with their business or community work, and we recognize them and give out awards. And, we have a lot of guest speakers come in. For example, we had Officer Sgt. Williams come in and brief the community on behavior conduct when pulled over by police. We even had a former NFL player come and give his story on how he was able to become successful despite his upbringing in the ghetto.
NECIC was actually my first job I ever had! They had a summer program called WIOA, which recruited a lot of young individuals from the inner city, and hired them to do different projects within the area. Our job was to beautify the community - cut grass, plant gardens, plant flowers - especially for the elderly in the North End.
I went to Mansfield Christian, and then I was recruited by Ohio Christian University in Circleville to play basketball, graduating with my business administration degree. I didn’t even want to leave Mansfield for college, but I couldn’t give up the opportunity to play basketball. So I went, but I just knew I had to come home. I love Mansfield. With every city, you're going to have trouble. I try to look at the positive things that are going on in Mansfield, and I try to avoid the negative talk. Negative talk gets us nowhere. We need to learn how to, instead of expressing the negative talk, find ways to MAKE life better. We need to come up with opportunities and plan, and then let's brainstorm how we can turn what we see as a negative into a positive. I try to always keep my mind on what's good.
My grandfather, David Dennis, was definitely my mentor and someone I try to model after. He was the founder and pastor of the New Jerusalem Church of God in Christ here in Mansfield. He started the annual street fair, and we’ve been continuing it for the past 25 years. He was very active, and very concerned with the people. I think that’s exactly where I get my drive and passion for the community.
I grew up in the church, been there ever since. What they teach is, how can we help the people? What can we do to make sure we can make somebody else’s life better than ours? What can we do to assist the community? It’s not all about us. It’s about helping that individual in need. And that’s what has been ingrained in me. It's all I heard from birth up till now, and it has given me the urge to go outside these four walls, not just stay in the church but to do something. We have to get out and do what we are taught.
If I had the chance to tell the people of Mansfield one thing, it would be this:
In regards to the African American community, the message I want to get across is “unity”. We have to be able to support each other without being jealous of one another. That’s the only way we are going to succeed, is if we push and motivate and encourage each other. Whether it’s in business or anything else, unity is the number one thing that I see that we need.