This has been a somber week for me. Not because President Obama is in his final days as president. Not because Donald Trump will be sworn in as our next president. And not because of this week’s Senate confirmation hearings. All of that is weighing on me, but it’s not what’s heaviest at this very moment.
This week, family and friends celebrated the life and work of Lawrence C. Patrick, Jr. He passed away last week.
Larry was a unique person. A man among men. He was born and raised in Detroit. A graduate of Detroit Public Schools. He went on to graduate from Wayne State University and Harvard Law School. With these accomplishments you would think he would take his resume and go to Washington, D.C., New York or Los Angeles. But he came back home to start his career and improve his community.
Larry Patrick believed in education for everyone and empowering Detroit youth to succeed. Although he was a successful and passionate attorney, his true passion was working to improve educational opportunities for Detroit’s children. In 1989, Larry formed the HOPE campaign slate and ran for the Detroit School Board. And won!
With Larry leading the way as board president, these school board members went on to implement some of Detroit Public Schools’ most significant reforms. After his time with the DPS board, he continued to work to improve education opportunities for Detroit’s youth.
As a president of the board of a traditional public school district, he was passionate about school choice. During his time on the board and for the rest of his life he supported parents having the right to choose the school their children attended. He supported local control and empowering principals to manage their schools. Instead of school administrators from their ivory towers.
Larry spent much of his time developing relationships and forming teams to work together. He believed in the concept of bringing people together to work to secure an ideal. His power was as a consensus-broker, a person who brought people of diverse and opposing positions together to solve a problem.
Who else could accomplish this, but a Black man who was a card-carrying Republican–who would become an elected official in a Democratic city. He was the type of Republican who received endorsements from Democratic organizations when he ran for office. Who else can you say that about?
Larry Patrick mentored and empowered Black youth to grow and succeed. And when they did succeed, he showed them how to empower others to grow and continue the work of improving our community and Detroit’s schools.
The Larry “effect” hit home for me last year as we worked together on the 2016 DPS board elections. He was available day or night to discuss and work through any problem. While he helped me solve issues, he would continually be planting the seeds of what was next.
And “next” was always developing a plan to empower me to focus on improving education in Detroit. And to do it by bringing people with diverse views to the table to develop a consensus to solve the problem. That is harder than it sounds.
I can tell you now from experience, this task starts off very difficult. But Larry showed me the importance of working the plan to get to the end goal. Whether it was working on last year’s crucial DPS legislation at the state Capitol or the DPS board elections–and whether he agreed with me or not–I could always sit with him, have an honest conversation and talk it through.
Larry would help me focus on working the problem, not fighting the problem. He taught me you get more with honey then vinegar. Anybody who knows me, knows that I’m good with the vinegar. But Larry believed that relationships and trust are important. He believed in the power of a committee or group to work together to reach a goal or an ideal.
This week at his memorial service at Perfecting Church in Detroit, two former Michigan governors lauded his work. Former Governors John Engler and Jennifer Granholm. One a Republican. The other a Democrat. Ironically, they both shared the same praise for this man. A man who brought people with opposing views together to solve a common problem.
We need that institutional knowledge today as we fight to bring people together to improve Detroit’s schools, so our children can grow and succeed. To teach the next generation the importance of community and the pride we have as Detroiters. That is what Larry fought and worked for everyday.
That is how is how we fight to improve education in Detroit. That is how we support the legacy of Lawrence C. Patrick, Jr. #Voices4Ed #Schoolchoice #Education