By Brittany Wallace, Contributing Writer
Rick Anthony, a proud Bakersfield, California native and South High School alum, will end his near decade long career as Director of Recreation and Parks for Anne Arundel County in Maryland to return home to serve as Bakersfield’s first Black Director of Recreation and Parks.
Anthony is the longest serving department head in Anne Arundel County, and he leaves behind a more than impressive and honorable legacy. He has worked for the county government since 1993, when he worked as an office at Jennifer Road Detention Center. Anthony also poured his love of football and community into coaching youth football before helping to spearhead and merge three youth organizations, and created the most successful youth recreational organizations in the county.
In 2010, Anthony was asked to serve as the interim Director of Recreation and Parks before accepting the permanent position shortly thereafter. Anthony quickly recognized the needs of the community, and understood that it was necessary to rebuild and lead a community-facing rebrand to keep up with those needs. Anthony dedicated his time in the beginning to really listening to the community members and Recreation and Parks employees, in effort to organically boost morale and to heal pre-existing issues at the root. His approach was unlike anything the county had experienced, in that his goal was not to be self-serving, but to truly make the community and the department the best that it could be. “The first few years were about building trust, and creating teams to establish a solid department despite budget cuts and furloughs” Anthony said. “We worked hard to reorganize, and were able to create a Marketing Division that was the first of it’s kind.”
Part of his rebranding strategy included planning special events and amenities for the community, and creating a relatable social media presence. As a result, the city residents became aware of what was available to them, and other elected officials began to take notice. This led to protecting the department from budget cuts, and elevating the value of Recreation and Parks as a whole. Anthony is proud of his work and accomplishments while serving the community of Anne Arundul, but he is most proud of being able to unify the community. At a time when morale was low, and there wasn’t much trust with city officials due to the positions being used for political gain, he successfully changed the narrative and was able to build trust and relationships.
Anthony is excited to be returning to his beloved hometown of Bakersfield, and is looking forward to sharing his expertise to help enrich the city through his position at Recreation and Parks. “Bakersfield has changed so much, so it’s important that we get up to speed on trends to keep up with the growth of the city. Especially when it comes to providing amenities for the residents”, Anthony said.
In the wake of the unprecedented times that came with 2020, Anthony understands firsthand just how important it is to be close to family and loved ones. He was diagnosed with throat cancer in March 2020, and was set to undergo chemotherapy. However, due to flight restrictions and safety precautions, Anthony’s out-of-state family was unable to be by his side.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Anthony’s father, Bernard Anthony, a well-respected community member and NAACP leader in Bakersfield, was diagnosed with and recovered from COVID-19 in 2020. “It’s things like that that really make you appreciate the importance of family. And it really is what pushed me to accept the position in Bakersfield”, Anthony said.
Now that he is cancer-free and fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Anthony is ready to focus his efforts on his new role and looks forward to settling into his new and familiar surroundings.
Anthony has met with the newly appointed city manager in Bakersfield, Christian Clegg, and they both have a great vision to further enrich the city. “That’s what’s exciting”, says Anthony. “The people of Bakersfield want to see change. I like to think out of the box, and bring creative solutions to longstanding issues. I want to make things better around me, and that includes making life better. There is no industry other than Recreation and Parks that touches everyone’s lives despite race and political background”. He is grateful for the opportunity to be living in the same city as his parents and family, and wants to continue to take care of them while in pursuit of dreams and goals for the city.
This is an exciting time for Bakersfield, as two other beloved natives and football greats, Michael Stewart and Todd Littejohn, have also returned home to give back to their hometown. Anthony has connected with Littejohn, and they are looking forward to expanding their influence, and reaching the youth that the city has traditionally had a difficult time connecting with. He says, “It takes a team and coalition of public and private government to solve the problems that the city has faced for years”, and he is happy to take part in that resolution.
Anthony is set to begin his role in Bakersfield at the beginning of May, and will complete his move in June 2021.