Finding Purpose in Adversity
Cookeville’s Most Influential People – Class of 2022
Damon “Dee” Prince has not only faced adversity during his lifetime, but he has also managed to succeed and thrive in the face of it. When his late wife was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer in 2016, Prince found strength in her steady demeanor and her legacy continues to drive him every day.
The Tennessee Tech graduate did not have a traditional path to success. “There were several periods of time that I was in school, and periods that I was not,” said Dee. “When I started a family, I left for a while then eventually came back and finished my degree.” While he was on campus, he was active in college life and became a member of Man Up. “One of my mentors at Tech and still to this day is Robert Owens,” Dee said of Tech’s Chief Diversity Officer. Robert started Man Up; a forum so influential people can mentor young black males on campus. “There wasn’t much diversity when I was a student at Tech so finding a way to relate could be a struggle,” said Dee. Without programs like Man Up and Robert Owens efforts, the university would not be as inclusive and diverse as it continues to be today. “I want to aid in those efforts, so now I go back and speak at Man Up meetings, hang out and play football with the students.”
Now the Human Resources and Benefits Manager at the Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency and the Upper Cumberland Development District, Dee was instrumental in securing $25 million dollars in funding that will go directly to families in need in the 14 counties in the Upper Cumberland. “We have to make sure to budget and allocate the funds correctly over the course of three years,” said Dee. When asked if he thinks pulling people out of poverty will be successful, Dee explains, “It is going to be incredibly tough, but our approach will be successful if we try to change mindsets instead of situations. We are going to be realistic with these families on what they should reasonably expect with employment and how they can adjust their lives accordingly.” With a goal to provide to more than 1,600 families, Dee has high hopes for the program. “We won’t be throwing money at the people chosen, they have to go through steps in order to receive the funding,” explained Dee. By tailoring the program to each family and their specific situations, the families will have a better shot of breaking out of generational poverty.
On top of the groundbreaking work he is doing at UCHRA and UCDD, Dee has an active presence in the Cookeville community. He has served on the Cookeville Multicultural Board, a program created by former Mayor Ricky Shelton and County Mayor Randy Porter that advises city leaders on how to navigate cultural issues. Dee also served as the Vice President of IMPACT Cookeville, an organization that seeks to positively impact those who are socially marginalized, serves as a mentor at Teens Need Training, and has worked as the Director of Court Appointed Special Advocates, a Child Advocacy program. One board position near and dear to his heart is his involvement with the Cookeville Regional Charitable Foundation. “They do so much great work helping people with medical issues and with financial assistance,” said Dee.
The father of eight also finds time to coach youth sports, a position he has held since he was 21 years old. “I coached kids when they were 10 years old who now have kids or even grandkids who I am coaching,” said Dee. “I love being a positive and uplifting influence in their lives.” When his former players look back on mentors in their lifetime, they will undoubtedly include Coach Dee.
Before Dee’s late wife Heather Kernell-Prince passed, she launched a charitable foundation entitled Legacy XI. Her goal was to raise awareness for metastatic breast cancer in the Cookeville community and Dee continues to oversee the organization in her honor. “It was a tough time when my wife passed away,” said Dee. “She was my best friend. she pushed me to be my best and wanted me to do great things. My kids are the reason I was able to move forward, and now I have got to prove that my wife was right.”