Black History Month Profile
In celebration of Black History Month, for over a decade, the MSR has sent writers into the community to find elders with stories they are willing to share and to record them for posterity’s sake. For this year’s Black History Month, we are highlighting individuals who have been pioneers in education, struggled to raise families, been supportive of their community and worked to diversify the corporate landscape. Their stories highlight contributions to their own and the broader community.
We hope you enjoy the stories of triumph offered in this 2016 Black History Month edition.
Donald J. Patterson is proud to call the north side home. Born on November 26, 1948, to William Alonzo Patterson and Geraldine (Davis-Patterson) Reese, he was the third child of eight, with six brothers and one sister. He grew up in North Minneapolis and went to the original North High School. He is a father of three, but has acted as a father to many in his community.
Growing up, it was not easy for Patterson. “Times were hard growing up,” he said. “We did not have a lot of money and my mother and stepfather had their fair share of life’s problems, but we survived and we made do.” He added, “As a child, my brothers and sister were excited when my mother would make ‘red macaroni.’ We did not know at the time that it was just macaroni noodles mixed with tomato sauce. We were happy to eat what my mother made us.”
He recalls facing a lot of racism when he was in his youth: “There were many things that we could not do as Black people that White people were able to do. My family and I dealt with racism in our community.” Patterson said his peers in the community were referred to as “Negroes” back then, in public, private and media outlets.
“I think the difference between now and when I was growing up, [is] people try to hide and deny racism a lot more now. When I was growing up, being called out of your name was a daily part of our upbringing when dealing with people of a Caucasian decent. We would [only] go to the movie theaters that were on the north side because they were local and we felt safe and accepted.”
When Patterson was a teen, he experienced the Plymouth Riots in North Minneapolis. “The Way was directly where the current Fourth Precinct police station stands [now],” he recalled. The riots started July 19, 1967 at about 11:30 pm. The crowds threw rocks and set fires, as a direct response to racial injustice across the nation.
At the time, Gov. Harold LeVander called in 150 national guardsmen to maintain the peace. At the end of the third night, two people were shot, two policemen and one fireman were injured, 34 people were arrested and four businesses burned to the ground.
“Those protests were needed, just as the protests are needed today,” said Patterson, adding, “The difference between racism now and then, is that today, people are less blatant. [We] face racism through lack of job opportunities, bank loans, business deals and corporate contacts, as well as police brutality.”
Wanting to change the way things were done, in 1981 Patterson became a correctional officer at Lino Lakes Prison. After 20 years of service, he retired after an on-the-job injury that occurred during an inmate gang altercation. He said, “I served 20 years for the State, it was time for me to retire and enjoy the rest of my life.”
Since his retirement, he has spent the last 15 years working with many youth-centric jobs, including The Church of St. Philips and Patchwork Quilt (an after school program). He currently works at Metro Social Services as a van driver and program assistant for the company’s after school program. One student in the program said of Patterson, “I really like Mr. Don! He is always nice to me and he is always there for me. I do not know my dad, but he treats me like I am his daughter. I wish I had a dad like him.”
In both work and his personal life, Patterson is like the “neighborhood” father. He told the MSR, “I have kids at my house daily knocking on my door for candy. The rule is that they cannot come to my house more than two days in a row; they must come every other day at the most.”
His wife, Michelle Patterson said, “As our kids grew up, he was the best father to them. And as other kids grew up in the community, he became like a father to them as well. He really loves the kids of the community, and they love him and it shows through his relationships with them. Until this day, some of the kids he met 15 years ago are still calling him for advice, rides to work and calling him dad. I am very proud of him!”
Don concluded, “I love the north side!”
Brandi Phillips welcomes reader comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.