Interview by Sarah Shumick
At 22 years old, Michael Corey had two distinct goals: ending the resegregation of public schools and more equitably funding public schools. Although he wasn’t quite sure how to get there, his journey took him through graduate school and law school, then to a local law firm and eventually, to the Human Service Chamber, where he currently serves as Executive Director. Of his journey to his current role and organization, Corey says, “The shorter version is that I’m an attorney with strong feelings about the state of things, and that it took me a dozen years to become ready for the incredible opportunity to lead the Human Service Chamber.” But there is so much more to his story.
Give us a snapshot of your career path, including past employers and positions: The shorter version is that I’m an attorney with strong feelings about the state of things, and that it took me a dozen years to become ready for the incredible opportunity to lead the Human Service Chamber where I have been able to turn my feelings into action.
The longer version is that starting as an undergraduate, I had two goals: Ending the resegregation of public schools, and more equitably funding public schools. I had no idea how to pursue this as a 22-year old, but spent the next seven years oscillating between work, graduate school, work, and law school, until I started as an associate at Bricker & Eckler in 2012.
My hope was to tackle those two goals as an education attorney. However, Bricker asked me to join its healthcare group, and I accepted. I worked for great people and great attorneys, and the firm was an invaluable education for me, with the added bonus that my best friend since Kindergarten was an associate there as well. I gave the firm everything I could for three years, then made a transition in the fall of 2015 to the Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio, where I served as a policy analyst. This brought me closer to pursuing my original goals, but it also broadened my exposure to–and understanding of–the causes and depths of inequity beyond just access to a quality education.
A year later, my priorities broadened further, drawing me to a new role as an Ohio Regional Voter Protection Director on a presidential campaign. I knew that I would be unemployed the day after the election no matter the vote’s outcome, and that I would be starting a sabbatical of sorts accordingly. The five months that followed were a true inflection point for me. I was determined to find a role responsive to the inflection point I believed we were at as a country; I believe I found such a role at the Human Service Chamber.
Tell us about Human Service Chamber of Franklin County. What should we know and how can we get involved? The Human Service Chamber provides advocacy and member services to help our nearly 80 member agencies unleash the power of human potential for each and every person in Franklin County.
We are one voice on behalf of our sector, which provides a range of services to hundreds of thousands of people in our community. Our job at HSC is therefore to help the helpers, whether we’re working on their behalf with local, state, and federal elected officials, or whether we’re helping our agencies collaborate with one another or across sectors to resolve urgent and long-term issues. We’re one of only a handful of like organizations across the country. Our tenth anniversary is next year, our longevity owed to our members and our Board that have worked so hard to ensure an entity like ours exists to bring our sector together to fight for our agencies and the people that they serve.
To get involved with HSC, you can contribute to our collective voice in advocacy: We’re frequently calling on readers of our e-newsletter or of our social media platforms to help us by submitting public comments, by reaching out to elected officials, and by offering support to our agencies. You can sign up for our newsletter at humanservicechamber.org, or follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest.
What gets you up in the morning? And what gets you through the workweek? I wish I could work all the time. The urgency of the needs in our country is enormous, and yet pale in comparison to the needs that I believe are forthcoming when a recession comes, and as federal support for our agencies and the people they serve continues to wane. How do we fight tragedies like childhood hunger while also fighting tragedies like racism? That’s the range of challenges are agencies are tackling, and so must we. I am grateful for the opportunity to be apart of this work.
The chance for our sector to elevate its leadership, leverage its expertise, and drive systemic solutions is what excites me most, however. Yes, we have to play defense every time a new obstacle emerges, and we can be a leader in bringing our community together to overcome those obstacles. We can help prepare our community to meet its immediate needs, and we can shape it over the next century.
What advice or mentors have helped guide you along the way? I’ve been very privileged in mentors, but wouldn’t want to besmirch their good names without their permission. I’ve been pushed and supported more than I deserve at every stage of my educational and professional careers, which I try not to take for granted, and try to pay forward. At the beginning of my senior year of college, my dad was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He died six months later. My father, along with my mother, had been my most treasured mentor—and still is.
I had a collection of professors that made sure I learned from and grew through my grief after he passed away. Part of that grief was figuring out what to do next. I had already decided to pursue educational equity through policy rather than journalism, but I had no idea how to begin. One of my professors, Ariel Dorfman—a Chilean playwright and novelist who had done more to help me find catharsis than anyone else—told me on my graduation day to pursue my passions and everything else would follow.
I have done that with varying degrees of success, but have never felt more successful in pursuing my passion than in my current role.
What do you do or where do you go to unwind? I like doing anything and everything with Lori, my wife; with my mom, Georgeann; and with my friends, and family—and with our rescue schnauzer, Ruby. Beyond with whom I love to spend my time, I love to read and write, though I read too little and tweet too much; I love running, though I run too little and rest too much; and I love traveling, though I am not well-traveled and stay put too much. I love listening to music and eating, and have no problem doing those in excess.
My wife and I are expecting our first child this November, and I am indescribably excited and grateful for all the good change that will bring to our lives, and hope the joy we feel can be experienced by all wishing to become parents.
If you could have a superpower, which would you choose? I wish I could alleviate suffering. I think that’s a superpower that our agencies wield all the time, often unnoticed, often unappreciated—except by those whose lives are improved by the case workers and social workers that ensure someone has a place to sleep or has a job or has the healthcare they need. Solving this systemically is the superpower I wish I had, however. I think about how we can answer this question, posed by one of my favorite poets, Adrienne Rich:
What would it mean to live
in a city whose people were changing each other’s despair into hope?
You yourself must change it.
What would it feel like to know
your country was changing?
You yourself must change it.
Though your life felt arduous
new and unmapped and strange
what would it mean to stand on the first
page of the end of despair?
What are three things you think Columbus needs (or wish Columbus had)? Columbus needs a multimodal, innovative, sustainable system of intra- and inter-city transportation options. This will make our city more accessible for folks that live within 270, and folks that live within 270 miles of Columbus. These are both needs that are critical to Columbus becoming the city we all hope it can be. Columbus needs to embrace environmentally thoughtful infrastructure and regional planning. What our city has done in resuscitating the Scioto River from OSU’s campus through downtown, while concurrently adding beautiful public spaces for people to come together, was a wonderful example. But there is so much more that we can and should be doing. Columbus needs a superlative education system. We owe it to every single child to make this a top priority, from childcare to preschool, through high school and higher education. Collectively, this will help us integrate and diversify our communities, build a modern culture and economy, and develop a more equitable and enriched society for all.
Tell us about an initiative(s) or organization(s) you are most passionate about and/or involved with: I’m most excited about each of our member agencies and the work that they are doing in service to hundreds of thousands of people in our community, from our CEOs to our social workers. They’re navigating some of the most intractable problems and operating some of the most complex businesses and achieving some remarkable victories, and they’re doing so without the resources they need to be successful. But we have to do more and achieve systemic wins if we’re going to shape this into the community we want this to be.
If someone were to ask you what the “pulse” of Columbus is, what would you tell them? Hopeful.