‘Planting trees’ in service to the community


Published June 11, 2024

Orlando Dickson.

It’s just 11 miles from O’Brian Hall to the scene of the racially motivated mass shooting that took place two years ago, horrifying Buffalo and raising hard questions about persistent racism in the city.

For Orlando Dickson, a UB Law graduate and lecturer in the law school’s BA in Law program, it’s a distance that’s vital to traverse. As the community and its East Side continue to heal from the 2022 shootings, he has become a principal in the city’s 5/14 Blue Flag Initiative. The initiative seeks to honor victims and survivors by displaying, along Jefferson Avenue, flags that were made during therapeutic workshops that took place throughout the community.

Dickson’s involvement is consistent with what motivated him most as a UB law student. “I learned about the issues Buffalo was facing and about people’s ability to solve those problems,” he has said. “I realized that it was very possible to change things for the better here.”

Dickson — who in addition to his law degree has an MA in organizational leadership from the University of Massachusetts and a bevy of certificates from Cornell University’s professional certification program — recently reflected on his year in the classroom and his work outside it.

You just finished your first year of teaching in the BA in Law program. How did it go? Did your students rise to your expectations?

It’s been an excellent first year! I love working here at UB. It was always a goal of mine. Teaching law to undergrads has been a rewarding challenge. The students are eager, engaged and passionate. They’ve exceeded my expectations in terms of their critical thinking skills and ability to grasp complex legal concepts. It’s exciting to see them develop a strong foundation in law, upon which they will go on to build great things.

Talk about your work with the 5/14 Blue Flag Initiative. What’s your role in that project, and what do you hope it will accomplish?

I am a partner and facilitator of the project. We are inspired by the blues, which transforms suffering, and by Tibetan prayer flags, which represent compassion, peace, strength and wisdom. The 5/14 Blue Flag Initiative calls for the community creation of blue cyanotype-design flags that will be hung along the Jefferson Avenue corridor. My hopes are that the project acts as a physical embodiment of remembrance. I hope it honors those we lost, allows for collective grieving and offers whatever solace and comfort we can achieve. I also hope it serves as a reminder of the legacy of those we lost and the impact they had on our lives.

You’re not a native Buffalonian, yet you’ve been very active in the Western New York community in many ways, serving on the Erie County Corrections Advisory Board as well as several others. What prompts you to do this kind of work?

“The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” A profound statement, often attributed to author Nelson Henderson, resonates deeply with my belief in the power of selfless action. While I may not be a native Buffalonian, I am committed to contributing to improving any community I am a part of. I strive to embody the change I wish to see — a world where empathy and mutual support are paramount.

By taking action for something greater than ourselves, we add depth and meaning to our lives. Community work may not always offer immediate or personal rewards, but its lasting impact is undeniable. Whether supporting local businesses, volunteering our time for a worthy cause, or simply extending a helping hand to a neighbor, every act of kindness contributes to a stronger, more vibrant community. Together, we can create a better future for everyone. I’m not so naive to believe everyone will participate in that future, but I do believe everyone will be positively affected by that future.

Do you feel you represent UB Law in your community service? And is it your sense that the law school is perceived as a beneficial force in the community — a partner for good in Western New York?

I feel a deep sense of responsibility to represent UB Law in my community service endeavors. As a law faculty member, it’s essential to educate the next generation of legal professionals and actively demonstrate our power to serve the public good. I volunteer with local organizations and encourage my students to engage in community service.

From my experience, UB Law is perceived as a positive force in Western New York as a whole, but there is always room for improvement. Our school is committed to serving the community, which is evident in our many clinics and programs that provide legal assistance to those in need. We also collaborate with local organizations, student groups and government agencies on various initiatives to address pressing social issues.

Where we can make deeper inroads is being more involved in community projects that reach outside of our legal community. We are uniquely equipped to support people through free educational resources such as “know your rights” classes and pamphlets for residents that show them where to seek legal help for common issues. We have a dedicated and knowledgeable community here at UB law school with great power to create change. And as we know from Marvel Comics, with great power comes great responsibility.