Memphis Business Journal Features Rico in ‘Business of Pride, Outstanding Voices’

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Originally published in the Memphis Business Journal
By Greg Akers

Ray Rico
Principal and owner of Ray Rico Freelance;
Publisher of Focus Mid-South and Focus Middle Tennessee

Ray Rico has worked in media, in one capacity or another, since high school; on the newspaper staff there, he learned how to “do layout the old-fashion style,” he said. He also learned the new way, of putting together digital layouts, which helped him land a job right out of school as a graphic designer for the Dyersburg paper, in 1998.

The Commercial Appeal hired Rico at age 19 to use computer layout programs to improve the production process. After eight years of “being passed upon multiple advancement opportunities within the CA,” he decided to risk it all and go out on his own.

Rico bought his first Mac with a loan in 2007 and started freelancing out of his one-bedroom duplex. He built a reputation and a portfolio of clients, and, in 2012, he opened his studio office in Cooper-Young, where he remains today.

In 2015 after marriage equality was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, Rico saw a need within the LGBT+ population and launched the media company and publication Focus Mid-South, along with the Focus Awards and a Nashville outlet. He recently began On-Demand Drop-Offs, which delivers free publications for free local print media to more than 500 locations. And, this year, he is helping launch a gourmet hot dog restaurant, The Doghouzz, near Crosstown Concourse.

When he’s not working, Rico serves as the community board chair of Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi; as board chair of Friends for Life; and as a board member and planning committee member of the Cooper-Young Business Association and Cooper-Young Festival, respectively.

Pronouns: He/him/his

Where are you from? Originally from Colorado

How long have you lived in Memphis? Since 1999. I consider myself a not-so-native Memphian

Educational background: Studied communication design at the University of Memphis.

Yardstick of work success: The lives I touch doing the work I do

Word that best describes you: Passionate

Three greatest passions: Travel, pets, and new experiences

What TV shows, books, and podcasts are you into lately? TV and books: “Tales of the City,” past and present series. Such a great queer show! Rereading all the books, too. Armistead Maupin develops such great characters; podcasts: “Re:focus,” the official podcast for Focus Mid-South that covers LGBT+ life in Memphis, hosted by Goldie Dee and Allysun Wunderland

How has working in your profession helped you better advocate for the LGBTQ community? In my early years, I volunteered my time and graphic design services most times for free so I could use a skill I had to give back. That still rings true today. Doing so has made me fortunate enough to get paid back by landing clients for whom I might have done something in the past or gain the interest of an advertiser because of the impact we are making with Focus Mid-South. It has introduced me to folks on different paths in life, too.

Is there a story or an instance that inspired you to be more vocal on issues of LGBTQ rights? Every year, we sponsor Mid-South Pride, and as much work as it is, I had an a-ha moment there once that let my heart know I was doing something meaningful. While setting up our Focus Mid-South booth, I had music playing, and a young person came up and was enjoying the music. I noticed him and went to talk to him. I learned he had just come out to his family that week and his (confused but accepting) parents, although a little out of their element, were there to support their son. I told them that the world needed more people like them. Even though they weren’t fully understanding of who their son was, they were making an effort to be with him and surround themselves with who he was. To this day, it still gives me chills. I’m happy to say that just about every year, I see this young man with his mother and father, and they still come up to me and say hi. It’s heartwarming to see how he has matured as a young man with a positive support group and how his parents have embraced him.

How would you characterize the connection between the business community and the LGBTQ community in the Memphis area? We in Memphis are fortunate to have businesses that embrace our culture not just for our money but for who we are. I celebrate those businesses every chance I get by referring people to them or patronizing their establishments. It’s just good business.

What can local businesses and leaders do to better support the LGBTQ community and promote an environment of inclusivity? Celebrate diversity and inclusivity every day, not just in June [during LGBT Pride Month]. Don’t be a company that changes your social media icons to the rainbow in June just to get likes. Be one who has a clear dialogue with your team and sets the precedent for others. Just be a good leader and treat others with the respect they deserve all year round.

What would true LGBTQ equality in the workplace in Memphis look like to you? Be accepting. Stand up for what is right. Talk to each other. Advocate for policies that protect the natural-born rights that all people deserve, no matter whom you love or how you identify as a person.

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