Leo DiMaio: A remarkable man who, for two decades, was the face of a program that still fights for social justice, one student at a time.
A celebration of DiMaio’s work is planned for October 18. All are invited; details will be publicized early in the fall. Donations in his honor may be made to the DiMaio/Forleo Endowed Scholarship at the URI Foundation.
We want your tributes to Mr. D.! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The year was 1968. It was a riotous year marked by colors: black, white and red. It was a time of rallies, civil disobedience, war and death. On April 11, just one week after Martin Luther King Jr., was killed in Memphis, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a historic act, saying: “In the Civil Rights Act of 1968 America does move forward and the bell of freedom rings out a little louder. We have come some of the way, not near all of it. There is much yet to do.”
Yes, there was much yet to do.
The message was heard in Rhode Island. The University—and much of the society around it—was riven by demonstration and dissent. Social change was happening at an unprecedented pace; students wanted to see a better life, in their lifetime. Expanded access to higher education became a focal point for a vast social movement. And URI’s Talent Development Program (TD) was born.
TD Nation: Factsand Figures
46 At 46, Talent Development continues to aggressively recruit Rhode Island students from a variety of backgrounds who show promise but whose overall academic profiles make them ineligible for admission through regular channels.
6 Students receive academic, individual and social mentoring, beginning with an intensive six-week summer program. Most also receive need-based financial aid.
70 About 70 percent of current TD staff are graduates of the program. Leadership is well attuned to the strategies, cultural awareness and personal support needed to help students whose hopes of graduation, without program services, would be fragile.
’07Many program graduates participate in the Alumni Association’s Alumni of Color Network, founded in 2007. The network provides professional and personal development, networking, advocacy, and community-building opportunities for members and current students.
1,300 This year, a new class of 600 students was accepted, bringing current enrollment to its highest number to date: 1,300.
Harold V. Langlois ’67, then 24 years old, had returned to his alma mater with a big dream. With a budget of only $56,000, he founded a six-week summer program that would open the doors for students who wanted to pursue a college education but were in some way unable to gain admission or attend. That first year, 13 students attended.
The program “didn’t have to do with color…it had to do with justice. It was a responsibility to represent the unrepresented,” he said later.
Langlois made two key hires: The Rev. Arthur L. Hardge, a noted civil rights leader who served as the first director and is commemorated in a statue on campus; and Leo DiMaio Jr., a former prison educator. Known universally as “Mr. D.,” DiMaio was already an integral part of the program when he took the reins as director in 1980, leading it until his retirement in 1998.
DiMaio died at home on February 20, and URI is in mourning.
He was blessed with energy, humor, ease of manners, and a singular, unabashed yet unsentimental warmth for the students he worked with. He helped cement a legacy that program graduates affectionately refer to as “TD Nation.”
DiMaio had a talent for lasting relationships and was a loyal well-wisher to an unfathomably large and diverse group of people, from all walks of life and in all corners of the globe. His motto was “A friend is a friend is a friend.” In retirement, he created a program called “College Readiness” to provide educational opportunities to a new generation of marginalized youth.
There is much yet to do.
Remembering Mr. D.
“You are the soul of this nation. You are our future. Keep going by the way. I need my Social Security.”
—Leo DiMaio, addressing the first class of DiMaio Scholars
“If I was in Bangkok, Thailand, and someone heard I was from Rhode Island, the first question asked would be: ‘Do you know Leo DiMaio?’”
— Frank Newman,former URI President (deceased)
“Talent Development was born out of struggle. There are a lot of people, like Mr. D., who made it possible. TD changed my life and I urge the University and alumni to continue support for this valuable program. It is truly transformative.”
—Domingo Morel ’98, who just received a doctorate in political science from Brown University
“Talent Development and the coaching that was given to me empowered me to move forward, and everything that I am right now, I owe to them. So that’s a big shout-out to my TD family.”
—Sixcia Devine ’99, founder and CEO of SIXCIA Business Inc., an international business consulting firm, and a student under DiMaio’s leadership
“I was not doing so well my sophomore year, and I found myself summoned to Mr. D’s office. That conversation changed my life. He energized me to be my best, he gave me the support and encouragement I needed, and in typical Mr. D. style, he put the fear of God in me. I was going to improve, I was going to graduate college and I was going to succeed. TD changed my life and my family’s trajectory.”
—Victor Capellan ’92, M.S. ’96, M.Ed. ’02, deputy superintendent of schools for Central Falls, R.I.