He was known as “Old Folks” Dawkins, a term of endearment earned in his youth for being wiser beyond his years. A pillar of the community in adulthood, Robert Dawkins was content to remain in the shadows even as he worked tirelessly to recognize the trailblazers he felt went unheralded. On Nov. 16, the founder of the Alexandria African American Hall of Fame died following a short illness. He was 83.
“He did so much in furtherance of recognizing others and never took credit for it,” said Dawkins’ brother the Hon. Nolan Dawkins. “That was one of the most important parts of his life. In many ways he was very aggressive in life but also very humble at the same time, which is an oxymoron.”
Born on Nov. 9, 1940, to Curtis and Mattie Dawkins, Dawkins grew up in Alexandria attending segregated schools including his beloved Parker-Gray High School.
“Robert had a gift, a vision of preserving the African American history of Alexandria,” said Julian “Butch” Haley, chairman of the African American Hall of Fame. “He loved the city, loved the community and wanted to make the community aware of the rich African American history of Alexandria. He had the vision to highlight, acknowledge and showcase African Americans who meant something to the city. These people succeeded against all odds and excelled in their careers and he wanted to showcase that.”
In founding the Alexandria African American Hall of Fame, Dawkins wrote, “Alexandria is a community full of significant African American history. Sometimes extraordinary people, often from humble beginnings, have endured decades of frustrations, have been embedded with unimaginable psychological scars, and in the end have not been adequately recognized for their accomplishments and contributions to local and national history. Their history is far greater than one can imagine.”
In addition to the African American Hall of Fame, Dawkins founded the Hoop Academy.
“This was a testament to his belief in the power of sports to inspire and mentor the next generation,” said his niece Ashley Dawkins. “Through this foundation, he taught the skills of the game but also instilled values of teamwork, discipline, and perseverance that extended far beyond the basketball court.”
Dawkins is survived by his wife Romaine, brothers Nolan and Arthur, sister Betsy, children Adrian and Curtis Dawkins, great-grandchildren Abby and Saint, and grandchildren Antoine, Jordan, James, and Brian. He was predeceased by grandson Julian Dawkins.
A memorial service will be held Dec. 2 at Heart of God International Church, 7323 Steel Mill Drive, in Springfield. Viewing from 9-11 a.m. with service from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. A repass will follow at the Nannie J. Lee Center, 1108 Jefferson Street in Alexandria.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Alexandria African American Hall of Fame, P.O. Box 1051 Alexandria, VA 22313 www.aaahof.org
“He was a mentor, father figure, educator,” Haley said of Dawkins. “I am a better man today because of Robert Dawkins.”