Decatur man travels U.S. as part of Golin ‘unternship’

As internships go, this one may be for the books.

Akinbola Richardson, of Decatur, lived with the Amish in Ohio, snorkeled with 100-year-old giant sea turtles in Maui and participated in a 10-day Vipassana meditation silent retreat in California.

It gets better.

Someone else picked up the tab and he will have a job when he finishes.

The “unternship,” as it’s called, is part of an initiative in the U.S. offices of Golin, the global public relations and communications firm, to find unconventional and creative employees. Stuffed shirts need not apply.

Golin has its Atlanta office in Midtown.

Richardson, 22, for instance, began the essay portion of the application by writing in gibberish. (Generally, those who like the idea of a regular paycheck may not want to do this.)

“Who would start off an essay with gibberish?” he wrote. “I would.”

He went on:

“I dance in the rain, I talk to strangers on the train and I leave dollar bills with smiley faces drawn onto them in my Zipcars just to know I am making someone smile. Being uncommon is not being different, being uncommon is just simply being yourself, with passion and confidence.”

Richardson wasn’t sure his approach worked, but “their vibe was all about being yourself.”

A month later, he got a call from the Golin office in Chicago.

Two hundred people applied. That number was pared down to three, then one. The final three applicants were asked to do something unique. One applicant videotaped herself riding the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier in freezing weather. Another persuaded a pizza shop owner to let her make pizza. Richardson spent time with a homeless man and helped him raise money. He also talked a Chicago taxi driver into letting him drive around downtown.

Richardson “had a sense of bravery about him,” said Fred Cook, CEO of Golin. “This is a fearless kid with a lot of ideas. … He blew us away.”

Cook said the agency wanted to create a program that would allow it to find more unconventional people while at the same time giving people an opportunity to gain life experiences. Those experiences, he said, could then help that individual bring “new ideas and a fresh perspective” to the agency.

Basically, for three months, Richardson, who majored in film with a psychology minor at Howard University, had a budget of roughly $20,000 “salary” for that time period and decided how it should be used, Cook said. Travel and other expenses were deducted from that amount.

Experiences were limited to the United States, and Golin staffers helped refine his idea. At the end, the Grady High School graduate and the other two finalists will work for Golin. Richardson has decided to work in the Dallas office.

The firm plans to offer the unternship again in 2016.

Richardson’s travels took him to nine states, as well as Washington, D.C.

Immersing himself in different environments and situations is nothing new for Richardson, one of six children. For two years, he attended a Sikh boarding school in India, and he started his own video marketing business in 2013.

He blogged about his experiences.

Living in an Amish community was a life-changing experience, he said. “The people are really beautiful and have really rich personalities. Life is so simple and beautiful,” he said. The biggest challenge, perhaps, was spending time in silence with no access to technology.

The first day was the hardest. “You don’t know what to do with yourself,” he said. “Meditation forces you to just go into your life and break down everything you’ve done. You detach — a lot. You quiet your mind and find peace. “

Richardson enjoyed his “unternship” so much, he said he would do it all again. This time, though, he would like to take his whole family to the meditation retreat.

His father, Dr. William Richardson, noticed his son’s growth.

“This has increased his capacity to think outside the box, which will ultimately make him a more valuable worker and in his own personal movement in his career,” he said. In turn, Golin “will be rewarded with a person who has been on a mind-expanding, consciousness-raising experience.”

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