A model and advocate for change

smiling man standing in front of a brick wall.

Orlando Dickson ’19 knows what it takes to find one’s way in life. Now, as a newly hired lecturer in UB Law’s BA program in law, he will bring that wise counsel to undergraduate students looking for the right path forward.

Born in Chicago and raised in Las Vegas, Dickson spent most of his childhood homeless. Dickson felt he owed a debt to society for all the benefits he relied on from the state, so at age 18 he joined the Army, serving nine years including combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He earned his undergraduate degree online, and—galvanized by the acquittal of the shooter of Black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida, and what he saw as misjudgments by the prosecution—he began law school at age 28.

“I realized in law school that lawyers can do a lot of different things,” Dickson says. “There are lawyers suited to be in a courtroom, pushing judges and prosecutors to be more equitable. But there are also lawyers who should be in the room when decisions are being made, speaking truth to power when it comes to the laws, speaking truth to power when it comes to the political feasibility of things. I realized that I’m more suited to the latter. And by the time I was done with law school, I had fallen in love with Buffalo and decided to make this my new home.”

At UB Law, Dickson says adjunct professor Sam Magavern’s class on Poverty in Buffalo—“perhaps my favorite class ever taken”—focused his path on addressing the city’s problems. “I learned about the issues Buffalo was facing and about people’s ability to solve those problems,” he says. “At that point I really started to involve myself in the politics of Buffalo.” In a class for emerging leaders, he learned the techniques of policy advocacy and how to move lawmakers in the right direction. “I realized that it was very possible to change things for the better here,” he says. “I grew to appreciate Buffalo’s activism community here, it is not only active, but they know how to create change. They know these are the buttons to press, these are the people to talk to, this is how you get it done.”

Now, in front of undergraduates who may or may not end up in law school, Dickson is teaching Legal Reasoning and Introduction to Criminal Law—“teaching them how to think like lawyers, to the extent they can learn that in an undergraduate program.” He’s drawing on his experience as an assistant professor at Buffalo’s Medaille College, where he taught criminal justice, as well as courses in U.S. government and U.S. politics. “I love it,” he says of teaching. “I honestly believe this was my calling. Like I was born to teach. That light bulb moment when a student finally gets it, and you realize you’ve just imparted knowledge, there is nothing like it.”

Dickson is also continuing his advocacy work in the community, albeit, as he says, in a behind-the-scenes way. He serves on the Erie County Corrections Specialist Advisory Board, which helps identify and correct issues in the county’s corrections facilities and leads a Breaking Barriers group for Say Yes/My Brother’s Keeper, teaching civics and leadership skills to Black boys and men ages 12 to 24. The Buffalo School Board recently appointed Dickson to its Ethics Committee.

Dickson is relentless in continuing his education and professional skills development, another affirmative model for his students. In addition to a JD, Dickson earned a master of arts in organizational leadership from the University of Massachusetts. And he’s the star student in Cornell University’s professional certification program, having completed a record 18 of the school’s rigorous executive development courses, in such areas as business economics, marketing strategy, financial management, corporate communications and performance leadership.