PR Legend: Ofield Dukes*


This post is part of The Plank Center’s Legacies from Legends in PR Series that was begun in recognition of the 40th Anniversary of the Public Relations Student Society of America in 2007.Ofield-Dukes

President of Ofield Dukes & Associates. Named recipient of the 2001 PRSA Gold Anvil Award following careers as journalist, public relations executive and public relations educator. Inducted into the PRSA College of Fellows (2001) and the Public Relations Halls of Fame in Washington, DC and the Commonwealth of Virginia. In 2005, PRWeek named Dukes one of the five most effective communicators of the year. Served as an adjunct professor at Howard University and The American University.

President John Fitzgerald Kennedy said, “The new frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises – it is a set of challenges.” The English historian Arnold J. Toynbee traced the development of ancient civilization to his theory of challenge-and-response, which demonstrated how men generally made a more positive response to adversity than to “easy” conditions.

Challenges have proven to be steps on my ladder of success. The circumstances of my parents being sharecroppers on a farm in rural Alabama where I was born became an early challenge of walking miles to a one-room schoolhouse with bare educational resources. Then there was the challenge of moving to Detroit at the age of nine and living in a rigidly segregated city.

In high school, there was the haunting challenge of not having a vision beyond the long, dark shadows of Detroit’s ghetto. Upon graduation, with a very “soft” high school education, I took the entrance exam to attend Wayne State University, flunking it not only once, but twice.

While attending Wayne State at night as a non-matriculated student, I qualified for a job at Sears, Roebuck & Company. That job was in the maintenance department, as a porter, because Sears, like other retail stores then, had a “social policy” of only hiring people of color for maintenance jobs. Negroes were not hired as stock boys, elevator operators or even to change tires at the service station. So, this was a challenge about one’s self-worth at a time when Negroes were treated as second-class citizens.

The Korean conflict and its mandatory military draft rescued me from Sears, and I found myself in the front lines of a war. In Korea I became introspective about my direction in life, and I developed a vision to return to America and become a journalist.

After discharge from the Army, I returned to Detroit and entered Wayne State University as a journalism major. For four years, I accepted the challenge of working hard in preparation for a career to be a journalist. Just before graduation, my advisor called me into his office and said, “Ofield, I have found jobs for six of your classmates a the Detroit Times, News and Free Press.” Then he paused and said, “But I don’t have any contacts at Jet or Ebony Magazine.” Again, I faced the challenge of the times–daily newspapers in Detroit didn’t hire people of color, not even as copy boys or delivery truck drivers.

An essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson on self-reliance provided a psychological buffer for me. Emerson wrote that the genius of Beethoven, Mozart and Plato was that unfaltering faith in their ability to deal with adverse challenges and then move on to excel. This essay highlights a challenge we all face; faith in our ability to meet and deal with adversities in life and not break stride to achieve our goals.

When I opened my firm in Washington, D.C., I got up every morning with passion to be excellent, a determination to preserve my sense of integrity, a commitment to practice the Golden Rule of treating others with dignity and kindness and not allowing anything to disrupt my inner peace.

And these are the challenges common to us all: Seeking to be excellent, maintaining our integrity because your reputation is like a whistle and its echo, practicing positive interpersonal relations in a highly multicultural America and following the sage advice of the late Dr. Richard Carlson in his book, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.”

There were many other challenges in operating my own public relations firm in the communications capital of the world. One hot July day I received a surprising call informing me that I had been named the winner of the 2001 Public Relations Society of America’s coveted Gold Anvil Award! I said of prayer of thanksgiving, took a deep breath and said to myself, “The challenges, as tough as they have been, have brought me to this mountaintop experience in public relations.”

Dukes Sig

Published: 2007
* Deceased (1932-2011)

More from Ofield Dukes: