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March 2018 Newsletter: Employee Spotlight—Karen Dunbar

Karen DunbarFor newcomers to Shaker Schools, Karen Dunbar often is their first point of contact with a District employee. Mrs. Dunbar, a 13-year veteran at the District, is the Administration Building Administrative Assistant. You'll hear her voice when you call the District’s main number and see her seated at the reception desk when you enter the Admin Building. 

Although Mrs. Dunbar’s days as an official student are behind her, that hasn’t tempered her curiosity or her love of history:when she’s not busy directing callers and visitors, you can find her in the Admin Building break room reading a book, a newspaper or a magazine. The IB world would label Mrs. Dunbar as an Inquirer, a Thinker and Reflective, for sure. 

Learn more about Mrs. Dunbar in our Employee Spotlight Q&A.

Since you’re such a fan of history, tell us a little about yours.

I spent my early years in Youngstown—my father was a professional jazz musician who played the upright bass, piano and all the woodwind instruments. He led the Joe Cooper Trio and would play here in Ohio, but my father was also part of Duke Ellington’s orchestra. In fact, when I was little, I met all of the famous jazz musicians—Pearl Bailey, Lena Horne and Cab Calloway. Back then, if you were African American, you weren’t allowed to stay in a hotel. So whenever famous musicians would come to town, they would stay with my grandmother or my godmother and I’d get to meet them. When we moved to Cleveland, my dad would play for musicians like Johnny Mathis wherever they were performing.

Also, when I was a child, we would visit my grandparents in Salem, Ohio and when I’d go down into their basement, there was this scary tunnel. I learned from my parents that the house had been part of the Underground Railroad. My grandfather was originally from Maryland and was reported to be a first cousin of Frederick Douglass. The Quakers brought him to Salem in the late 1800s to be a Methodist minister. 

Do you think having these personal connections to African American history influenced your own passion for it?

I grew up in the 1960s Civil Rights era, so I really felt like it was important to educate people that people of African descent—not just African Americans—have made significant, important contributions to society in the US and around the world. 

Every February, you create a bulletin board that commemorates black history. How long have you been doing that and how did it come about?

I had the idea back in 2010 and I shared it with my supervisor. He thought it was an excellent idea, so I ran with it. I love doing it because I’ve also learned so much. This year, I researched Lincoln Alexander, the first black member of Canada’s Parliament in the House of Commons and Michaëlle Jean, a Haitian refugee and former journalist and Governor General of Canada. In the past, I’ve done the ladies from Hidden Figures, male and female African American military generals, astronauts, Alexandre Dumas, Alexander Pushkin, African American Arctic explorer Matthew Henson, the first woman to charter a bank named Maggie L. Walker and so many others. I remember the first time I started doing it, I was looking up information on the Internet and it was overwhelming—there was just an encyclopedia of information filled with contributions by people of color.

What have you learned from all your own research?

I’d love to learn more about all people—Native American, Asian, every nationality. Because once you look into something, you learn so much. The more you learn, the more you know.