Black History Makers: Ryan Dearbone

Published: Feb. 1, 2021 at 9:05 AM CST
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BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) - 2020 was a rough year for a lot of people, but rough times are when our community comes together and one of those people working to do that is Ryan Dearbone. He’s a former 13 News reporter, a husband, a father, the president of the Bowling Green Warren County NAACP, the Vice Chair of the MLK Day Planning Committee, he’s part of the WKU Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee, a Deacon at State Street Baptist Church, and a member of Black Leaders Advocating for the Community (BLAC).

Black History makers: Ryan Dearbone
Ryan Dearbone is the President of the Bowling Green-Warren County NAACP
The City of Bowling Green saw the first black chief of police sworn into office
Ryan Dearbone worked to help the housing authority get masks for everyone who needed one

We discussed the election of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. Vice President Harris is the first Black American and the first female vice president of our country, so we asked him what the election meant for him as the father of a young girl.

“For me as the father of a young girl, it’s exciting because it you know, you always tell you tell your kids that they can be anything they want to be, that they can be the president or the vice president of the United States and this is actual living proof to show her. I don’t have to just tell her, you can be president or vice president one day, I can actually show her. This is a model, this is a person who’s actually done it, so it’s not just words anymore, because it’s actuality and I think for me as a father, that’s, that’s probably one of the greatest things I can be able to tell her and show her: ‘Look you can be a vice president of this entire country, if you want to be, if that’s what God leads you to be, that’s what you can and will be.”

We also spoke about what this election meant for people in our society who may feel underrepresented.

“I think it’s one of those moments where it shows that we can persevere and that this can happen; a Black woman can be our vice president, we’ve had a Black man as president, we’ve had women who are running for offices, we’ve had underrepresented people making strides within our communities locally, statewide and nationally. That it is possible to overcome the circumstances of being underrepresented to where you are in a position where you can lead others and be seen as an equal with anybody else.”

Ryan is the father of a young daughter and we discussed his hopes for her future in the Bowling Green community.

“My hopes for her is that she just grows up happy and healthy and that she she’s able to realize whatever her dreams are, that there are no barriers for her, that nobody says because you’re a Black female you can’t do this or you have to be treated a different way or you have to act a certain way to be accepted by others. I want her to be who she is, I want her to grow up and have the exact same opportunities and chances and make the same exact choices that anybody should have the ability to do, to know that she is as important as any other person, she has every opportunity that’s afforded to anybody. That’s all I can ask for as a father and that’s all that I hope that she gets as she gets older.”

We also discussed his fears for her as she grows up.

“My fear is that she’s left a world where equality is not there. It’s the same fear that my mom, my grandmother and the rest of my family had for me. In our generations past that we would get handed a world where equality was not part of the deal. My fear is that when it comes time for my daughter to take the mantle, be an adult and live in the world, and start making her own way that equality still won’t be granted to her that she’ll still only be looked at as a Black woman who’s told to sit down and shut up and not be respected for who she is and for what she knows, her brain power and her ability, but to be looked at only as a Black woman as a threat as somebody who needs to be shut down because she’s a minority and she’s got too much mouth, but she’s got too much intelligence and people are fearful of that, that that’s my fear for her that she will be inheriting a country, a world that’s not accepting of her for the beautiful Black female that she is.

Ryan has a powerful message for his daughter if she feels like she’s a victim of injustice:

“I’m going to tell her to speak up, speak up and speak louder. Speak whether anybody’s listening, she has to speak up because the more that she’s silent about it, the more people are going to take advantage of that and the message will never get out there. We look at somebody like a Kamala Harris, we look at somebody like a Stacey Abrams, we look at all these Black women who are stepping out and they’re saying their truth. They’re saying this is what’s happened to me, this is what I’m seeing. They’re fighting against the grain and because they fought against the grain, this is where they’re at now. I want my daughter to always feel the ability to speak up and speak loud, even if I’m the only person that’s listening, even if her mom’s the only person listening. If other people say you know what, you just need to sit down and shut up, you’re just being you just being a rabble rouser, you’re just starting stuff, keep speaking because eventually, if you speak loud enough, and you speak long enough change will happen. People will take you seriously and people will accept that you have something to say. As long as she can do that and be strong, just be the strong female that I know she will be when she grows up, I think she’ll be fine. I pray that she will open doors for others, like others have opened the door for her.”

In 2020, social justice issues really took center stage with the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. We asked Ryan how he thought social justice issues affected political candidates:

“I think it forced them to speak on it. I think for a long time political candidates had the luxury or at least they felt like they had the luxury where they didn’t have to speak on it because there were no issues that came to the forefront. They could say that race relations were ‘Oh, well, race relations are fine, everything’s okay. There’s small incidents here and there, but there are not issues in social justice.’ I think 2020 was as much a wake up call, as we’ve seen since the Civil Rights movement. There are issues with civil rights, there are social justice issues that have to be dealt with it and it was a chance to put that light on candidates and say, so what are you going to do about it? What is your stance? How do you feel about these things going on in the country or in the state or locally? What are you going to do about it? Are you part of the solution? Are you part of the problem? I don’t think candidates for a period of years have had to really deal with that. I think that that should continue whether there’s obvious strife and fights going on or whether it’s a more calming time, we still need to put that light on anybody who plans to run for office and represent us as a people. What are your thoughts on social justice? How do you feel we can improve that? What’s out there? Are you going to be part of the problem? Or are you going to be part of the solution.”

In 2020, history was made in Bowling Green as Bowling Green Police Chief Michael Delaney was sworn into office becoming the city’s first Black chief of police.

“It was great to see it. Stuff like this is not lost on me that there are so many people that fought and died and push to get to a point where we can have a Black police chief in Bowling Green. It’s not lost on me that there are people who would love to be here right now to be able to see the fruits of their work, so to be able to witness it with my own eyes, I think it’s an amazing feat and I’m glad that it happened. Now, I don’t want this to be the last one. I don’t want us to say after Chief Delaney has retired that we’ll never have another one or 30 years from now. When my daughter’s in her 30s they’re like, well, we had one, but we haven’t had one since. I want this to be a rolling ball that we have Black, Hispanic, we have female, we have a diverse array of people who we can look to and say that they are they are chiefs and they are higher ups within our community.”

After the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the Bowling Green Warren County NAACP, local community leaders, and law enforcement came together in a show of unity.

“I enjoyed being a part of it and I think it was necessary because I think in a time like that we needed to talk to each other. We didn’t need to throw those assumptions at each other or throw blame at each other because what happened in those communities happened in those communities, we needed to stand up for our community, and make sure that if we’re talking to each other and if we’re working together and letting the community see that, that that they will know that we are trying to prevent those things from happening here. Now, it’s one of those things where we are working together, we will hold each other accountable, we will make sure that if we can stop something like this from happening, we will, so I think it was a watershed moment for us as a community. NAACP and law enforcement came together to start having those conversations about what can we do to make sure that these things don’t happen here in Bowling Green and Warren County and if they do, how can we work together to help the community heal over everything, we’re seeing. 2020 and all these issues, they were tough on everybody, so we want to make sure we can be part of the healing process and the growing process together for our community.”

In 2020 COVID changed everything: masks have become a daily part of our lives, words like self isolation and quarantine are now a part of our daily vocabulary. In the summer, Ryan was out in our community helping to deliver masks to people who needed them:

“Some of the people in the NAACP thought about what could we do because we’re all trying to get masks and there was a time where masks were not as easily accessible as we would have liked them to be. We tend to forget about the people who may be elderly, maybe live in lower income areas and they need masks too and just having just one mask maybe isn’t enough. We got together with local law enforcement, the Housing Authority, First Presbyterian Church, and said, ‘What can we do?’ We got together, we got some masks and we went out and hand delivered them to people in the Housing Authority area. I tell you this, it was great to see the people, to actually be around them and to have them say ‘Thank you. Thank you for bringing us these masks because either I only had one or I didn’t have any, or I just didn’t know. It’s good to know that you guys were thinking about us.’ That was that was the entire goal of it so that they knew that somebody was thinking of them during this time because we got so much going on social justice issues, we’ve got the virus going on and a lot of times people aren’t always thinking that you’re thinking about them, so being able to connect with them and give them masks and let them know, ‘Hey, we are thinking about you. We just want to let you know that .’ I think was a was a beautiful thing and I’m glad that we were able to be a part of that.”

Ryan was also encouraging people to vote and to make their voice heard in the 2020 election with ‘Souls to the Polls’.

“I think that was important to me because the right to vote is something that no one should ever take for granted. It doesn’t matter who you’re voting for, what side you’re voting for, everyone should have the right and the ability to vote. Having the ‘Souls to the Polls’ initiative was great because we were able to connect a lot of different Black organizations together: NAACP, BLAC, the Divine Nine Greek fraternities and sororities, churches, we were able to come together as one and find and find a way to work towards the greater good of getting people out to vote. With this being a pandemic year and having to do more mail in ballots, not everybody was aware of what needs to happen or able to get out to the polls or have that type of interaction. We were like, if we can come together, work as a group to get people registered, to get people out to the polls or at least give them the information they need: when to vote, where to vote, then we can do our job to make sure that everyone’s vote is counted. In the end if we don’t vote and if we don’t express ourselves through the ballot box, we are not a free and open society and that’s the biggest thing that we needed to do. I think it went amazing; we had so many great people working on it; it was it was a complete success and it’s one of the highlights of my year for 2020, that we were able to come together and make this happen.”

We just celebrated the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, so we asked Ryan if he thinks America going in the right direction when it comes to equality and what more can be done.

“On some level, in some ways we are going in the right direction because of the fact that we are seeing inroads where we have a female Black vice president, where we see more Blacks being involved in higher level positions in jobs and being able to be more expressive about who we are and why. We matter just as much as anybody else, so yes, in some ways, we are making strides towards equality. On the other hand, we are not because the mere fact we still have to talk about equality. After all these years, after so many different fights and losses of life, the mere fact we still have to talk about it tells me that we’re not there yet. The mere fact that for every person that’s excited about Kamala Harris becoming a Black vice president, there’s somebody in the back seething and hating the fact that a Black person has made it to that office. That’s, that scares me that we’re still not there. What can we do to make it better? I don’t know that there is one answer. It’s about changing the hearts and minds of people who don’t believe in equality, that’s the first thing. If we can change the hearts and minds of people who don’t believe in equality, show them that there is nothing wrong with having a diverse culture, there’s nothing wrong with having Black leaders, Hispanic leaders. Once we can get to that point where people can see that it doesn’t matter, it’s not going to harm you to have a Black president, it’s not going to harm you to have somebody who’s different than you in a position of power or even living next door to you. If you can get past the fact that they’re different and they live next door to you, then we’ll be on the right path. We just got to get to that point. How do we get to that point? There is no silver bullet answer. All I know is we’re going to keep talking, we’re going to keep trying, we’re going keep trying to show people in the face of all the issues that are going on that we’re all brothers and sisters, we’re all neighbors, we all want the same thing. We just all maybe have different ways of how we get there. That’s the beginning steps to creating a more equal and balanced and fair world for all of us.

For more information about the Bowling Green Warren County branch of the NAACP click here.

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