The Dynamic Duo

Their flocks have multiplied despite past controversy. But can the Revs. Victor Curry and Richard Dunn preach politics?

The following autumn Dunn enrolled in college. Four years later he received a degree in religion. By 1966 he had purchased a funeral home on the corner of NW 58th Street and Second Avenue and refashioned it into Drake Memorial Church.

Having come from a family of ministers, Dunn was pleased to find the same shine in his grandson, Richard. The younger Dunn was an odd-looking kid, with the green eyes of a white man and, for a time, blond hair. Playground bullies called him "Albino." Later, when he'd grown up a bit, they teased him for his baby fat and acne. Richard Dunn took up football to repair his pride and headed off to Central State University in Ohio, with a tight end's four-year scholarship. At eighteen he heard the call and scrapped his dreams of playing pro football. Instead, he enrolled in the seminary at Atlanta's Morehouse College. At 24, he returned to Miami with a master's degree in divinity.

When Richard Dunn joined Drake as associate pastor in 1985, it was assumed he would take over when his grandfather faltered. Possessed of a booming baritone, the strapping minister immediately distanced himself from the liturgical constraints of his grandpa's generation. "If the community doesn't come to the church, the church has to go to the community," he would say, and he made good on the vow one Sunday in 1986 by singing hymns and passing out Bible pamphlets to the drug dealers who congregated outside Drake.

Some would say fate introduced Dunn to Victor Curry: The two met while working at Miami's chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Council, an organization that was the brainchild of Martin Luther King, Jr., the looming figure in whose shadow both fledgling pastors worked.

Like Dunn, Curry heard the call to preach early and ducked it throughout his teenage years. The youngest of six children raised by a single mother in West Hollywood, he'd copycat the preacher every Sunday, then spend the rest of the week thumping drums in his band, The Rappers, or shooting hoops. He headed off to Florida Bible College on a basketball scholarship, and won an appointment as pastor of Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist Church at the ripe old age of 24.

His talent for wringing feeling from dry verses of Scripture, his ability to tweak the Word with theatrics in the finest Baptist tradition, rendered his sermons riveting. Dubbed "Little King" by his elder parishioners, he breathed hellfire into the aging church at 6700 NW 14th Avenue. Membership soared from 1200 to 3000, the church's two mammoth parking lots suddenly too small for the standing-room-only crowds that gathered on Sundays.

The two precocious pastors cemented their friendship during the violent uprisings that followed the deaths of two black men at the hands of Miami police officer William Lozano. And though both men had once stressed a desire to emphasize the pulpit over the polling place, they soon undertook a series of high-profile protests.

In February 1989, Dunn and Curry led 1000 blacks into a Miami City Commission meeting to demand economic revitalization in the city's black neighborhoods, an end to police brutality, and the initiation of single-member voting districts. In June they lobbied for a black candidate, Athalie Range, to serve as interim commissioner when Rosario Kennedy vacated her seat to run for Congress, and successfully pressured Channel 7 (WSVN) to pull the plug on a gory nightly news segment called "Crime Check," which they claimed fueled the stereotype of blacks as criminals.

A year later, after Nelson Mandela's divisive visit and the police beating of several dozen Haitian demonstrators in Liberty City, the pair stormed more commission meetings, led community rallies, and organized voter registration drives. All these efforts were amplified by the radio show they hosted on WMBM (AM-1490). The hour-long Issue for the Day began as little more than a noonday prayer on Dunn's contemporary gospel show. But listeners soon began phoning to discuss issues of concern in the black community. Curry suggested they start a talk show and signed on as co-host. They made a strange pair: Curry thin and moody, Dunn chubby and quick to laugh. Like night and day, mutual friends agreed. But somehow sparks flew when they got together.

Issue quickly became WMBM's most popular program. Much of the show's appeal lay in the hosts' knack for tapping the vast reservoir of discontent among Dade blacks. Finally someone was willing to lay bare the padded rhetoric of the mainstream media and blast the power structure. That they did so with frequency and zeal elevated the show into something of a cause celäbre. Every weekend at 2:00 p.m. the phone lines lit up.

"You never knew what they were going to say on the air, and that made everyone listen," recalls Delphine Hannah, WMBM's community service director. "The politicians loved to hate them and we had the TV stations over here all the time. For such a tiny station, we pulled huge ratings."

Sometimes the guests were unexpected A and less than amiable. One afternoon Dade County Commissioner Art Teele huffed into the studio after Dunn had chastised him on the air. The normally calm commissioner grew so agitated that the police had to escort him out of the station. To blacks, the Dynamic Duo was real precisely because the pair worked outside the system. Dunn had quit his $30,000-per-year job as senior aide to Miami Commissioner Victor De Yurre after the Mandela debacle, and he'd left with a bang, firing off a memo that branded Commissioner Miriam Alonso a "racist" and a "demagogue."

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