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Helping People, Building Community

Alum Matthew Kirk ‘14 shares his Bethel story.

I’m a retired professional roller skater. For some reason that’s just been in the family. My dad grew up in the skating rink. That’s in Ohio, so it’s a lot different than Minnesota. Ohio was a skating state. Going to the skating rink was the social thing to do. Moving to Minnesota, there’s still roller skating, but it’s just not the same. There isn’t the same passion. So I put it to rest and moved on.

Now I DJ for churches and Christian groups. I only DJ Christian music. Before, when I’d DJ skating rinks and things like that, my goal was to play the hottest music out there regardless of what age I was DJing for. Everybody knew the music, so I was popular. But it was hurtful to see 10-year-old girls dancing like they were adults. Just seeing the influence that music has on a generation. And I was feeding it into their souls, into their whole makeup.

Then one day I heard a sermon, and I felt like I was released from secular music. So I threw all my music away. I didn’t start DJing again until 5 or 6 years later.  Now I DJ for a church on a regular basis in a worship setting. So I’m more like the band in a sense. It’s more than I ever thought it would be.

I started drumming when I was 9, in drill teams and drum corps. A passion of mine is to have my own youth drum corps.

One of my end goals is to have an after school youth program targeting that afterschool hour. That’s usually when trouble presents itself. Some students don’t have homework, and with nothing to do…I really want to have a center where students can go focus on the arts and have that as an outlet. Theatre, music, dance. When I grew up there were three different drum groups in my neighborhood. Nobody’s being offered that here. It would be a mentoring program. That mentoring aspect is key. If there are passionate teachers and drummers who go out on the corner and start drumming, the whole neighborhood of kids will flock and want to join.

I grew up in North Minneapolis. A lot of people look at that and say, ‘You grew up in North Minneapolis? How did you survive?’ It wasn’t as bad as the news makes it seem. But I can definitely say I was heading down a road of mischief. Because of boredom, and lack of things to do after school, I was just into stupid things. I was going down a path that wouldn’t have led to anything healthy, as far as lifestyle.

So my parents decided that I should move to Ohio with my dad when I was 15. That’s when I got into theatre and acting. That was great outlet for me. Drumming and marching band and those things helped too. They helped me get through high school.

Then my sister, who was an admissions counselor at Bethel at the time, told my dad that Bethel was a great opportunity. I didn’t want to come back to Minnesota, didn’t want to go to Bethel. I was just feeling the theatre scene in Ohio. I felt like I had a career going. And my dad basically said, ‘You’re gonna go to Bethel.’ And whatever he says goes. So I came here, and fell in love with it right away. I’ve been in Minnesota ever since.

My dad’s a pretty cool guy. He’s always encouraged me. And he also knows how to give that kick in the butt to say, ‘You know what, this isn’t what you need to be doing. You know what you need to be doing.’ Everyone needs a person who will tell them when they need to be doing better.

When I came to Minnesota, I didn’t even want to think about picking a major. But when I found out there was theatre, I jumped in. That meant I could continue acting. I was in a play, a couple of skits and things. That’s when I met my wife. I took some time off and we started our family. Then through the years, it’s not that I lost my love for theatre, it’s just that having a family, I had to think of something more career oriented.

I came back to Bethel as a psychology major. I wanted to be a high school guidance counselor. And I wanted to have an after school youth center. But I wasn’t feeling focused.

So, through a bunch of coincidental things, I switched to social work. When I first got into the major, I didn’t know what social work was. I just knew that there was a lot of opportunity. The first day of class, it just felt right. It felt like preparing for a career.

Everything was tied into working with people. It wasn’t about solving people’s problems. That’s not what social work is. It’s more helping people in their journey of life. I love that. I’m not a problem solver, but I love to help.

I got my first internship as a junior. I was working at a high school. It was great. Everything I learned in class, I had to apply in the internship.

I never wanted to work with adults. I couldn’t imagine giving somebody older than me advice. But my senior year I got an internship at the Salvation Army. One of my professors encouraged me to find an internship that would hire me when I graduated. It was really intimidating. I was working with adults, mental illness, a homeless population. But I’m really glad I did it. It stretched my comfort zone. It stretched my feeling of competency.

They hired me as a case manager before I graduated. So I had a job, doing what I wanted to do, before I was done with school.

My wife and I have 4 daughters. It’s definitely been the hard part. It was a challenge with me going to school. There were many times when I wanted to say ‘That’s it, I’m done. I can’t go any further.’

But there were so many people who encouraged me to keep going. Financial aid counselors, people in the AESC office, my professors and advisors, people in Campus Ministries, cashiers in the Royal Grounds. Anywhere I’ve gone I’ve had that encouragement.

One of the things I’ve learned is that engaging in diversity is a process. And it’s not black and white. Just because I’m a person of color doesn’t mean I already have cultural competency. It’s not something that only non-persons of color struggle with. It’s not something that is a quick fix.

That’s been a joy of mine, being at Bethel. I love being in positions where I can have those conversations. These conversations need to happen. I feel like, racial diversity, competency, awareness, it’s a process. It has layers. It has to be torn down on a massive scale, from the media, to personal thoughts, to assumptions.

I think Bethel has a great heart at attempting to address some of those things. Not all classes are meant to address racial disparities or racial reconciliation. I shouldn’t expect to have that kind of conversation in Math in the 21st Century. But in classes where that’s welcome, especially in social work, they really emphasize engaging in diversity. Recognizing that your mindset isn’t the only mindset in the world. There are cultural differences we need to be mindful of when we’re working with people. We jump into conversations that talk about where social injustices are. And it’s not like we only have one conversation. We have a whole curriculum. There’s a time and place for everything. I’m learning that I need to take it upon myself sometimes to engage in diversity, to draw people into having those conversations. I appreciate the forums that are out there at Bethel.

More info about Matthew

Graduation Year

Social Work

College of Arts & Sciences

Columbus, OH

Acting, Gospel DJing, drumming, roller skating