We had the good fortune of connecting with Ricky Pope and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ricky, where are your from? We’d love to hear about how your background has played a role in who you are today?
I moved to San Diego in second grade after spending three years living in Japan. Mother is my hero as she spent 13 years of her life protecting our country as a Corpsman in the U.S. Navy. Currently, she works in the healthcare industry and has spent over 20 years serving our local community. In her current role, she works as a health care director, and one of her tasks has been responding to the COVID-19 crises in San Diego County.
My background and upbringing have often shaped my lived experience, leading me to feel as if I am not supposed to be here. I am a Black male from a single-parent home. In eighth grade, I was held up at gunpoint. In my junior year of high school, gang members shot at my car. Yet, it was not random acts of violence that almost jeopardized my future; instead, it was flawed institutional practices combined with lowered expectations that robbed my ambition, assaulted my sense of somebodiness, and ultimately led me to drop out of high school. When I decided to enter the workforce as a young adult, I encountered several microaggressions, and I realized that I could only go so far without a GED and a college degree. It took substantial encouragement from my mother to believe I could succeed in college, as my experience in secondary schooling led me to doubt my potential. I was surprised when my intellectual abilities were recognized, nurtured, and valued at community college. This support led me to participate in Psi Beta at Mesa College, an honor society in psychology. While in Psi Beta, I earned a grant to attend the annual American Psychological Association (APA) Convention. Attending the conference allowed me to meet Black Indigenous psychologists of color. Meeting psychologists who looked like me was foundational in believing that I could one day become a psychologist.
My goal of becoming a psychologist became increasingly evident when a friend invited me to participate in encounter groups at the Multicultural Community Counseling Center (MCCC). I experienced firsthand the power of authenticity and the space created that allowed me to be vulnerable with myself and others. My time at the MCCC led me to pursue a master’s degree from the Community Based Block (CBB) program at San Diego State University (SDSU). While enrolled in CBB, I attended my second APA convention that just happened to be in San Diego that summer. I recall walking around the convention center interacting with students and psychologists. Then I randomly met Dr. Lonnie E. Duncan, who saw my potential and encouraged me to apply to the counseling psychology doctoral program at Western Michigan University. Some call random encounters such as meeting Dr. Duncan planned happenstance, which is a theory that suggests we can tap into our aspirations and manifest opportunities to advance our careers.
Growing up in San Diego, I had never seen snow, but that changed when I moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan, and had to scrape ice off my windshield most mornings. Also, it was suggested to keep cat litter in the car if one’s tires ever became stuck in the snow. I recall the first year when I flew home to San Diego during winter break, and I was able to wear shorts in December! Living in the Midwest reinforced the gratitude I have for 70 degree days in San Diego. Although, there is nothing like the few weeks of autumn in Michigan, a full deep breath of brisk morning air, and the first bite into a honey crisp apple that you can pick fresh off the tree. Pure Michigan. However, when I found out that I was moving back to California for an internship, I threw my Ice scraper and cat litter away and drove 3000 miles back to California. I also buy my honey crisp apples at Costco and have learned to be okay with the tradeoffs. I successfully graduated from the doctoral program in 2018 and then began a postdoctoral position in 2018 at a psychiatric hospital in San Diego. I was thrilled to return to SDSU in 2019 as a double alumnus to work with students as a Psychologist in Counseling and Psychological Services.
In my role as a university counseling center psychologist, I engage in outreach and support across the campus, foster academic readiness by teaching a Bounce Back course, and providing individual and group therapy. I enjoy working with emerging adults, exploring identity concerns, treating depression and anxiety, addressing men’s issues, and supporting first-generation students to persist toward degree completion. The foundation of my therapeutic approach is humanistic. I incorporate humor, cognitive-behavioral therapy, multicultural, social justice, and mindfulness-based approaches in therapy. I also have been privileged to work as a wellness coach for the SDSU Guardian Scholars (GS) Program, which is a holistic support program committed to serving students who identify as current or former foster youth, wards of the court, and unaccompanied homeless youth to support their transition into SDSU and ensure they are successful upon matriculation. As a first-generation college student, I am aware that higher education, whether it is undergraduate or graduate school, can be a challenging yet rewarding time in life. I take great pride in assisting students in identifying existing strengths, bolstering growth areas, and locating resources to actualize their potential. As a psychologist, I engage in individual and group therapy, and working on a university campus allows me to also engage in program development. I have been privileged to work with a dedicated team to bring The Young Men of Color Alliance (YMoCA) to SDSU’s campus. YMoCA is an academic success initiative created to empower and support young men of color at SDSU. The program was designed to recruit, retain, and promote young men of color to pursue degree completion. As our world is increasingly interconnected and interdependent, I believe we need a generation of leaders prepared to work together to solve global problems. Programs like YMoCA will allow us to cultivate a community of leaders who understand and appreciate the specific cultural differences between themselves and others.
My background, upbringing, and lived experience have led me to understand that all need a sense of somebodiness which I define as dignity, purpose, and meaning. As a psychologist, my goal is to create conditions that allow students and clients to gain awareness and live full, meaningful lives.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
As a trained counseling psychologist, my objective is to facilitate human development and functioning across the lifespan to increase the sense of health and wellness in our local community. As a professional, I am guided by ethics and standards that inspire me to respect all people’s dignity, worth, and right to self-determination. What most excites me about my career is the time that I spend helping students and clients figure out what they want to do with their time on the earth while also creating the conditions that allow them to believe they can achieve their wildest dreams. Every goal starts with a belief. My professional journey was wrought with challenges but the support of my family, friends, and numerous mentors allowed me to move from a GED to Ph.D. A key lesson that I learned was in my first college course at San Diego Mesa Community College. It was a philosophy course where I learned about Aristotle and the Nicomachean ethics. The central theme of the class was living a life of excellence in accordance with reason. For me, a practical application was to find a career that would allow me to do just that; to give myself to the world which I believe is the highest good for human beings. During lectures, I always felt like the professor was speaking directly to me as he said, “If you really want to be happy, find a job that you would do for free.” That summer I took away more than just a grade, I had the tools of self-reflection and a renewed belief in myself. As I learned about Eudaimonia and achieving the greatest good, I realized that I possessed the necessary inner tools to find happiness. I could work to support my sense of social responsibility and pursue a career in the helping profession. I want the world to know that when you endeavor to unlock your potential you will be supported and also challenged. You have to persist in the face of adversity.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
The best part of San Diego is the beaches. The ocean and the waves are soothing, and a day at the beach can be a great way to reset and recharge—the Mexican food, of course. San Diego has so many diverse food options it is hard to name a favorite. I like to walk at the Bay or other hiking trails. Also, the many options for golf. Balboa Park and the Waterfront Park are fun spots as well. Since there is so much to do in San Diego, I usually take a spontaneous approach and pick an area to explore.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
So many people have helped me reach the goal of becoming a psychologist. At this moment, Dr. Lonnie Earl Duncan comes time mind as he saw my potential, and he was instrumental in supporting my development as a Counseling psychologist. He passed away from a heart attack on January 1st, 2014, while preaching at church. He was a husband, father, and he also sat on the board of education. He was the heart of our department. I remember that he treated everyone with dignity and respect, and if he caught you in the hallway, he genuinely wanted to know how you were doing that day. As a psychologist, I know the power of listening, and it is a true gift when someone takes the time to connect with you. Dr. Duncan was a gift.