Deval Patrick on Principles & Values
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
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.
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.]
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
ROSS: Deval keeps talking about bringing in voters who have given up. When people ask me, ĎHow do you get people involved?í one of the things is that we need to talk to real people about real issues. Iím accomplishing something different. Itís called trying to rebuild democracy. And if we canít have a democracy for & by the people, if all we can have is a democracy for rich folks, then we donít have a government anymore.
PATRICK: If you think that our campaign has been just about millionaires talking to millionaires, youíve been missing something. This whole campaign has been about reaching out to everybody and not drawing divisions and separations, but asking people to see their stake in an intact community- poor, middle income, and wealthy as well- because everybody has a stake in our future, everybody.
ROSS: Iím not saying that youíve run a divisive campaign. Iím saying we need policies that are going to reach the most people.
PATRICK: I actually donít think thatís the balance people are looking for. Most people donít buy 100% of what either party is selling. I donít. I think the balance people want is between a fairly entrenched inward-looking establishment and an outsider in the corner office- someone whose experience is broader, who didnít grow up in the Beacon Hill culture.
PATRICK: I think first of all, the point about the clarity of ideas, and the depth of them. I want to point out that weíve put out ideas over the last year, very specific plans for how to move Massachusetts forward. But the edge I think that I bring is leadership that includes government, but also business also non-profits, and also community groups. Iíve gotten results in every one of those contexts and no one else in this race has this range of leadership experience. Thatís one difference. Another difference is that I run a campaign that is about inviting people who have checked out to check back in, whatever their political philosophy and wherever they are in the commonwealth. And I think that brings a different kind of power, a people power, a grassroots power to Beacon Hill. Unless we change that culture with that kind of power, all bets are off.
Barring an unexpected entry in the race, Galvinís decision means that Democrats will have a choice in next Septemberís party primary between Reilly, who is aiming his candidacy at moderates and