Of course, I acknowledge the unlikelihood of my good fortune. I also recognize the hard work and discipline that have made it possible.
But they tied the knot, and soon afterward, in August 1955, my sister, Rhonda, was born. I followed a short 11 months later, in July 1956.
Any sense I had of contented family life came to a jarring end when my father decided to leave and move to NY when I was 4. My mother, who had dropped out of high school to pursue him, hoped he would return, a hope she nourished by sending him letters regularly.
My father sent some money once or twice a year.
My mother and sister and I occupied a smaller bedroom across from the one bathroom. It was furnished with bunk beds that took up most of the space. For a time we could double up, but eventually we had to rotate so that one of us would sleep on the floor. Whoever's turn it was for "floor night" followed a ritual: you would lay down newspapers, then a thin blanket, then a sheet, then a threadbare cover. The room's one window opened onto an air shaft and the neighbors' window 15 feet across.
We didn't know to complain. We were better off than many.
Color consciousness among black people is an ancient issue, but after Dr. King's death, the militancy in some black circles only intensified the intolerance toward African Americans who were comparatively fair. I was meek, bookish, bashful, and, in some people's view, "high yellow"--thus an easy mark. It only added to the uncomfortable self-consciousness that I carried around anyway. I just wanted to be in step and left alone. Surely there was some place where skin color was not the center of everything.
My grandparents had grown up with Jim Crow. My mother knew all too well the humiliation of poverty and betrayal. Yet in different ways, they taught me to reject the cycle of despair that had trapped so many others and to pursue opportunities that I could barely imagine.
Once a cruiser pulled up behind another student and me when we were strolling on Randolph Avenue and put on his blue lights. I took unnatural pride in displaying my card, showing I was in fact a resident. After many months of this ritual, however, my pride turned to resentment at having to show identification at all. A young, gruff officer with sunglasses swaggered over to us, asking what business we had in the neighborhood. "We're just walking up to the Curtiss Compact," I said. When he asked for identification,
As I learned the code, people grew more comfortable with me. They opened up and allowed me to see how universal the human condition really is. Despite their venerable names and magnificent homes, the men and women of privilege bore struggles hardly different from those I had seen at home.
Though I was largely accepted at Milton, true assimilation was not possible. It was as if I was encouraged to forget my past and embrace a community that would not actually let me surrender that past.
As a Rockefeller fellow, I was responsible for creating much of my own program, and that meant finding an employer. I wrote to everyone I knew with a contact in Africa, specifically in Sudan. Relief agencies, banks, universities, volunteer organizations--you name it. I sent scores of letters and received one reply. A man who worked for a UN Development Programme project in Khartoum wrote a friendly letter saying that he was not sure what I would do when I got there, but he would figure it out and I should come. I set about applying for my 1st passport.
Outside Khartoum, a freak rainstorm hit. Everything turned to mud. We went into a skid, and the top-heavy vehicle rolled over with a thud. Everybody was shaken up. A few passengers had broken bones. We were alone in the desert with our calamity. And we would remain so (mostly) for three days.
Source: A Reason to Believe, by Gov. Deval Patrick, p. 74-82 Apr 12, 2011
I had never seen such poverty. It made my own experience growing up in Chicago seem small & insignificant. Most people lived in rudimentary shelters Everything was put to use. Every part of every animal, every part of every crop. And everything was shared. The generosity of material and spirit humbled me and changed me. I surrendered to it.
Even before my year in West Africa was over, I had stood in places that I could have never conjured on my own, and I had received what I had come for: a deeper understanding of how broken, impoverished, or otherwise challenging surroundings could not defeat the resourcefulness and generosity of people.
Those lessons have served me well in the increasingly rich gumbo that is America. In the years since, I have tried to bring those lessons into my practical life, rather than keeping them as just travel souvenirs. It is surprising how contrarian they feel in today's culture. In our age of high-decibel hate-mongering and attack ads gone viral, grace and generosity are sometimes viewed as quaint relics from a lost era. But that special giving of the spirit, which I first witnessed growing up and which was then so vividly reinforced in remote villages in Africa, sustains us all.
I wore a full-length caftan from Nigeria and no shoes, smeared war paint across my face, and carried a Masai spear. I thought I looked pretty good until I walked into the party and realized that I was the only one in costume. The joke was on me. Little did I know that the surprises were just beginning.
The entire party was an elaborate scheme for me to meet Diane--to engineer a chance encounter--and I was the only one out of the loop. Diane knew why she was there and had been told all about me. I, on the other hand, dressed as a mock African warrior, was blissfully ignorant.
The light finally dawned during the pumpkin carving contest, when Diane and I were paired. The prize was a single bottle of champagne. We won, of course, but the contest was shamelessly rigged. [We got engaged after dating a while.]
That was all she or we needed right then. The time for the endless questions would come in due course.
My father inherited more than his first name from his father. Both were accomplished professional musicians. Grandpa Pat was a superb professional trumpeter who performed with and was close to Art Tatum, the great jazz pianist. Even so, my father had the real gift.
As a student at DuSable High School in Chicago in the 1940s, he studied saxophone and other reeds with the legendary instructor Walter Dyett. He was best known for baritone saxophone, for which he was routinely ranked in "Downbeat Magazine." Over the years, I saw him perform every other saxophone and reed instrument, most wind instruments, the keyboard, and the bass as well--all with ease and confidence. An intense man with great powers of concentration, he was his most engaged, his most emotionally present, when riffing a jazz set.
I have so many blessings in my own life, so many improbable gifts, that I am long past questioning whether there is an invisible hand at work in my life. To me, God is real, but my years at Cosmopolitan, and the experience of those old ladies in hats, emphasized that faith is less about what you say you believe and more about how you live. I came to see those old ladies as embodiments of the faith we were taught. They showed me how to welcome and embrace all the people who walked into our church and into our lives, from whatever station. They meant "embrace" literally--a hug, a tactile expression of oneness and support.
The case then went to trial, which was unheard of in a landlord-tenant dispute. I argued that in MA, you can withhold your rent if the conditions of tenancy have been violated. I showed how the faulty appliances, sporadic utility service, and general unresponsiveness of the landlord were chronic and justified my clients' withholding the rent. We won, and the judge grudgingly ordered the largest payment to a tenant in the history of that court at the time. My clients never collected, but they remained in their home & stabilized their lives. I will never forget the look of relief on their faces and the pride they felt in a system that would vindicate those who were most vulnerable. That, I felt, was why I was in law school.
The judge opened the hearing by asking me directly, "Now then, Mr. Patrick, don't you just think there are some people who ought to die?"
"Well, Your Honor, we all will someday," I said. "But this proceeding is about whether his trial was fair."
The judge granted a stay. Our client was within hours of the death chamber by then, having had his last meal and his head shaved (which avoids the unpleasant odor of burning hair at electrocution). In the prosecutor's files, we found a sworn statement from an eyewitness positively identifying another man as the killer. Either it had been withheld from the court-appointed defense counsel or it had been disclosed and never used. Either way, my client's constitutional rights had been violated. His conviction and sentence were vacated, and he was granted a new trial.
I moved to Coca Cola in a similar capacity in the wake of a similar employment discrimination class-action lawsuit. I worked to resolve serious charges of worker mistreatment at a bottling plant in Colombia and to investigate a whistleblower scandal that ensnared a good, mild-mannered man who was trying to do the right thing.
I worked to make Texaco the first major oil company to stop arguing about the science of climate change and to join those in search of solutions.
At Coca Cola, I learned that I need not and would not leave my conscience at the door for any job. Most of the people I worked with shared those values.
Social justice was never far from my mission, even in those corporate settings. I know we made the workplace in both companies more fair and transparent.
Midway through my speech I stopped, put away my notes, and just looked at them. "I want to say something else to you," I said. "I want you to know, I see you." The room got so quiet. "I know you work places where people look right past you. I know that." I paused, took in the entire crowd, and spoke slowly. "I. see.you. And I appreciate you."
"The reason I want you to come and vote is that I want your government to see you. And that's not going to happen unless you claim a stake in the government. I want you to come and vote for me. But if you don't come and vote for me, that's okay, I understand. But you have to show up, because this is your claim. So stop leaving it to the pundits and the pollsters to tell us whose turn it is, who's supposed to be next, and who's going to win. It's your turn."
All that market fundamentalism is about is letting people's consciences off the hook. If the market is "just," none of us is responsible for the havoc it may wreak. But the invisible hand of the market need not be free of ethical values, and ought not be. In any event, there is a right way to lay off people and a wrong way.
The financial bottom line is not the only bottom line. There is also a community bottom line, an environmental bottom line, a moral bottom line, and public leadership should try to integrate all of them.
In another matter, I had urged MA to conduct a DNA test on a convicted rapist whose guilt seemed in doubt. So another attack ad cast me as a friend of sexual predators and played into racist fears about black men and white women: The camera followed a woman walking through a dark garage, then viewers heard an interview with me in which I described the prisoner, with whom I had exchanged letters, as "thoughtful." The voiceover said, "Have you ever hear a woman compliment a rapist?" (For the record, the DNA test confirmed the man's guilt.)
Idealism is vital. It sustains the human soul. The ability to imagine a better place, a better way of doing things, a better way of being in the world is far more than wishful thinking. It is the essential ingredient in human progress.
Idealism built America. The persecuted religious refugees who set out over a vast ocean in small wooden boats with barely a notion of what awaited them in the New World were fortified mainly by an ideal of the community they wished to create. That idealism has always been at the core of our national character.
Bush immediately said yes. Kerry dawdled for 3 days, and many assumed he was conducting a poll to determine the best answer or the best way to frame it. I furiously shot off emails to Kerry's brother, a prominent Boston lawyer who was central to the campaign. I thought Kerry had a chance to present a different vision for using American military force while confronting the Bush administration for its carelessness in starting the war. Instead, he answered the question by agreeing with Bush. I was certain it was not what he believed.
I told Obama about the importance of keeping his rhetoric positive and high-minded, that it not only set him apart from other candidates, but expressed the kind of visionary leadership the country needed. I warned him of the obvious: Detractors will dismiss what you say as empty rhetoric just because it's inspirational. I shared with him the riff I had developed in my own campaign--"just words"--and invited him to use it if he ever found it helpful. (He did later in the campaign, which produced a minor uproar in the media.)
The above quotations are from A Reason to Believe|
Lessons from an Improbable Life
by Gov. Deval Patrick.
Click here for other excerpts from A Reason to Believe
Lessons from an Improbable Life
by Gov. Deval Patrick.
Click here for other excerpts by Deval Patrick.
Click here for other excerpts by other Governors.
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