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Dedric Doolin, NAACP Cedar Rapids branch president at McKinley Middle School in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Dedric Doolin, NAACP Cedar Rapids branch president at McKinley Middle School in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — It’s important to give young individuals of color a voice. But they can only do that if they know their history.

That’s a common message Dedric Doolin shares in his longtime efforts as an adviser and activist to black youth, particularly for young men.

“We teach them that black history is not just history, its American history,” he said. “All Americans need to know the things that have happened in black history, but unfortunately they don’t.”

Doolin is the longtime branch president of the Cedar Rapids NAACP, and an elected official with the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP.

He is also a member of the national NAACP board of directors, a position he’s held for nine years.

He also has spent many years as a youth counselor for young black men. But it’s not just about talking the talk — it’s walking the walk, too, he said.

“You have to be a living example of being able to fall down and get back up again, of blazing the trail, of being yourself,” Doolin said.

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Doolin often attempts to convey this message to young black students in a 10-week program called Unsnappin’: Multi-Generational Emotions in African Americans. It’s a 10-week program to help black male youth to “understand themselves, their culture, their history and where they come from and as the title says, their emotions.”

It’s under the African American Family Preservation and Resource Committee, which offers programs of similar objectives.

Unsnappin’ started about four years ago, and recently has begun moving into Cedar Rapids schools.

Throughout the program, role models are brought in. These role models are black men from the community who share their success stories, as well as the challenges they’ve faced and how they overcame them.

“That’s the message that we try to impress upon them. You can get beyond the mistakes you make,” Doolin said. “You can make mistakes as long as you live, but do you allow the mistakes to control your life? Or do you learn from your mistakes?”

For the NAACP official, advocacy and supporting others has always been front of mind — even from an early age.

“My original start, as I see it, started as a kid,” Doolin said. “It actually started in elementary school.”

He tried to help out students in his class who were struggling — even during tests, which got him in trouble with the teachers.

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Doolin attributes his drive and assertiveness to his parents, both of whom were active in their respective unions at Quaker Oats and Wilson Foods.

“It was interesting, because (my father) was very strong in standing up for people on the job,” he said. “And my mother did the same thing.”

That drive continued into middle school, where he discovered books such as Claude Brown’s autobiographical novel “Manchild in the Promised Land” and “The Autobiography of Malcom X,” by Alex Haley.

At Washington High School, Doolin was elected president of the student black coalition and continue to fight back on what he perceived as prejudice against students of color.

“One of the dynamic issues that we had was that there was an African-American female who was very talented in cheerleading and didn’t make the squad,” he said. “Our student union felt that was a problem.”

Doolin said he continued to experience racism as he left college and entered the workforce in the 1970s, but continue to be involved in advocacy for people of color through the local black coalition.

He became a youth counselor through the NAACP, work that has continued to this day.

“It takes a village to raise a child,” he said.

• Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

Dedric Doolin

• Titles: Cedar Rapids NAACP branch president; NAACP Iowa-Nebraska State Conference secretary; Area Substance Abuse Council senior deputy director and clinic director

• Birth place: Cedar Rapids

• Role models: His parents — his father was a union president at Quaker Oats and his mother was active in the union

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• One piece of advice: “You have to be a living example of being able to fall down and get back up again ... .”

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