Richard Dunn Sr.
Rick Dunn, Sr. is the type of person that you could sit and chat with for an entire afternoon. Even by phone I knew he was a man who exudes warmth, wisdom and great character. Much like his hero, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rick spent his career serving others. His roles within our community focused on working with youth and his impact on them is immeasurable. Rick views his retirement as an extension of his career and continues shaping the minds and opportunities for Athens’ youth. We are so lucky to have such a remarkable man living within our community and as a supporter of ACCA.
Tell me a little bit about your background:
I was born and raised in Washington, D.C. Originally went to Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, to major in journalism. At the end of my freshmen year, I interned here in Athens, Georgia, at WGTV, the public television station. At that point I was recruited from the University of Georgia (UGA) to transfer in. The college found out I was on campus and that I met the criteria to transfer in and I stayed.
What was your favorite part about attending University of Georgia?
I would say being on the Red & Black staff. I was the photographer so getting to go and cover the Georgia games. At that time, back in 1971, they only had 100 black students on campus and the staff at UGA – the cooks, the janitors, all the service people – they looked out for us. They invited us to their homes for dinner, to attend their churches, they just became like an extended family. I feel indebted to the Athens community because of what they did for us.
Would you say those UGA staff members became mentors to you and the others?
There were certainly some that turned out to be mentors but mostly it was people in the Athens community itself who we met through the staff members. We would go to church locally and there were some ministers and retirees we had met. A gentleman by the name of Sampson Edwards – I will never forget Mr. Edwards, he became like a mentor.
Did you stay in Athens after graduation?
I moved to Tuskegee, Alabama, in 1976 and worked on a newspaper there for two years before coming back and working in Atlanta. At that time, we were journalists, photographers, ad salesmen, we even distributed the papers – we did everything!
In 1979, I became the National Communications Officer for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. I worked with Joseph Lowery and that was quite an experience. Growing up, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was my hero and to be in the building that he had been in, to sit in chairs he had sat in and to work with the people he had worked with that was an awesome experience.
I went back to Athens in 1982 to try and start another newspaper and I have been here ever since. I worked at the Northeast Health District running teen pregnancy prevention program called the Male Awareness Program. In this program we were teaching young men how to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. I worked at a few others including the Department of Family and Children Services and UGA before going to work for the Clarke-County School District which is where I retired from.
You must have had a great impact on the lives of many young men and students throughout your career.
Most of the work I’ve done and have probably enjoyed the most was working with the youth. It was so fulfilling to work with kids and help them see their potential and help them understand the importance of delayed gratification and what they risked losing out on by participating in risky behaviors.
Now that I’m older, I’ll run into them now and they are adults and I’ve worked with their children or grandchildren. It’s been so rewarding and I’m thankful for the opportunities.
You created MEURadio-Athens that stands for Music to Educate and Uplift – tell me about the important premise behind this.
This started back when I was still with the school system about 11 years ago and we were trying to come up with ideas to address the issue of kids not graduating high school. We started a program called Education Matters and we recruited teenagers to train them in the field of broadcast journalism and produced a weekly talk show that airs on WXAG.
But I didn’t think that one show gave youth enough of an opportunity to express themselves or have a voice, so we launched MEURadio-Athens. It has enabled us to work with even more kids who might be interested in broadcasting and to give them more of a voice.
Our tagline is “The Official Voice of Youth” and has given these kids the opportunity to challenge and to voice their opinions on initiatives that grown-ups have put into place without ever asking the youth how they felt about them. It has given them a platform to question politicians, school board members, school superintendents and police officers.
What advice would you give to the younger generation?
Be receptive to learning. Use your head to listen, close your mouth long enough to take it all in and don’t be argumentative. But at the same time, for older people there is a lot we can learn from youth. Learning is a two-way street. When I was younger and working in health education, I would tell my students that I was going to learn as much from them as they would learn from me. When you have that level of respect and expectation it flows a lot better. There used to be a saying “the more you learn the more you earn” but it really is the more you learn, the more opportunities you open for yourself the more knowledge you have. Being well-rounded and being educated is so powerful.
How did you become involved with ACCA?
My grandmother used to go to the Adult Day Health program, so that is the first time I experienced ACCA. My grandmother lived to be 105 years old. When our Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity set up a foundation where chapters could give grant money to do community projects, I thought that would be a good partnership between our local alumni chapter and ACCA. It has worked out well, we have so enjoyed the opportunity to serve your clients and put the word out that you exist and help with the issues seniors face like social isolation and food insecurity.
What inspires you and keeps you motivated in retirement?
Like I said earlier, Dr. King was my hero and one of my favorite speeches of his was the drum major for justice speech where he talks about service and we are here to serve. So, as long as God gives me the breath, the energy and health to do so, I’m supposed to serve.
We are in a time now where the news can be so depressing to watch. Whereas the smiles you see on people’s faces when you help them or when kids finally catch on to something you’ve been trying to teach them and see them get excited about their accomplishments, that is so rewarding. And you’re not doing it to get rewarded or have people sing your praises, you’re just doing it because that’s what you should be doing. We should all be helping each other. We should intentionally be putting smiles on everyone’s faces.
How do you age and live well?
I think hanging out with kids keeps me young! I have to stay in tune with some of the language! I’ve been on Twitter and Instagram but haven’t been bold enough to get on TikTok yet!
I have a chronic medical condition where my body stays in pain and it gets stiff. Staying active helps so I go to the YWCO for arthritis classes, I go swimming and I walk. I do all those things necessary to keep my body in motion. The more I move the better off I am.