Black community urged to serve as a pipeline for future Page Scholars
Former Justice Alan Page is as much a hero today as he was when he began his storied journey as a Purple People Eater for the Vikings defense in the ’60s and ’70s and during his 22-year tenure as the first Black Minnesota Supreme Court justice.
But, last Saturday night, Page was more interested in building futures at the 31st annual All Star Gala for what is sure to be his greatest legacy: the Page Education Foundation.
The annual event, which kicked off with a performance by none other than the Justice Page Middle School Band, served as fundraiser and celebration for the organization he co-founded with his wife in 1998. Since launching, the organization has awarded nearly $15 million in scholarship grants to more than 7,000 students of color graduating from a Minnesota high school to attend a Minnesota post-secondary institution.
“One of the things that we are trying to do is change views about the value of education.”
Hundreds gathered at the MN Vikings’ current home, U.S. Bank Stadium, to celebrate the man and the mission, while mixing it up with current and past Page Scholars and bidding on one-of-a-kind items with a Minnesota-themed showcase.
A stream of admirers lined up to share how much Page influenced all aspects of their lives — from education and sports to law and the arts.
“He’s just such an amazing man,” gushed Libby Welbes. “I worked with him for three years” at the foundation. “I would see him in the halls.” As Welbes confided she did not have many conversations with him, Page instantly recalled the years she worked while shaking her hand. “‘85 to ‘88,” he said.
For Page, the most rewarding part of his journey continues to be the students.
“Do you see the Page Scholars? They are the reward,” he told the MSR. “Ultimately, they are what it’s all about. They are creating a better future for themselves using education.
“And as part of that, they serve young children as tutors, mentors and role models, making it clear to those young people that education is a tool that they can use,” continued Page. “Those young children get to see somebody who looks like them come through their neighborhood using this particular tool in a way that benefits not only themselves, but the entire community.”
That intentional service has led to more than 470,000 volunteer hours influencing 48,000 younger students’ futures in 325 community organizations and schools across Minnesota.
Dr. Artika Tyner, associate vice president of diversity and inclusion at the University of St. Thomas, is a former Page Scholar All Star and shining example of his impact.
“For me, the Page Education Foundation was really about my life’s mission — how do you serve and make an impact?” she told the MSR. “You see me today, but I think of Maya Angelou’s words: ‘I come as one, but I stand as 10,000.’ My grandmothers, my foremothers swept floors, cleaned houses so I would get opportunities like this.”
“So now, it’s my personal duty to reach back and open up the doors of educational opportunities for the next generations. The Page family understands that. That’s why in 1998, when Justice Page was inducted into the [Pro Football] Hall of Fame, he could have done anything, but he used accolades and his platform to make a difference and an impact for generations to come. That’s real leadership. That’s why I’m here.”
“What the Page foundation does is so extraordinary,” Gov. Mark Dayton told attendees. “Over 500 recipients this last year received $896,000,” he said while applauding the Page’s efforts. “[That they are] giving back to this community to help fund the next generation of leaders of our state and our nation is really just exceptional. I’m honored to be part of this.”
Page himself is still as passionate about the foundation as the day he started. “If we are ever going to solve the problems that we in this community and communities across the country face, we have to prepare our children for the future,” he explained.
And, he is still making legend moves.
Last year, the Minneapolis school district renamed one of its schools the “Justice Page Middle School” where he and his wife, Diane, visit as often as possible. And just a few weeks ago, the NFL Players Association renamed its highest honor the Alan Page Community Award.
But, his biggest challenge, he said, is getting more African American students into the fold.
“One of the frustrations that we have is [although] all of our scholars are students of color, we struggle to find African American males,” he told the MSR. “We work very hard to find as many as we can to get them into the program. If there is a frustration in what we do, it is that.”
The challenge is one that can be seen across the state, with Minnesota holding one of the highest education disparity rates in the country. Page’s goal is to change the perception – and that comes with more than just giving dollars.
“One of the things that we are trying to do is change views about the value of education,” he said,” so that hopefully 10,15, 20 years down the road we don’t struggle to find African American males — they are lined up. They are in the pipeline, creating opportunity for themselves. That’s what this is all about — creating opportunities.”
Of course, money does help. “We survive on the contributions of the community,” Page said. “What we would love to do is increase the number of scholars and increase the amount of our grants.”
For the community, that also means spreading the word and getting youth to apply.
“For openers, identify African American males and females and send them to us,” Page implored. “We’d love to have the [African American] community to become a pipeline for us.”
He said the program receives an average of 1,000 applicants each year. “We take about half of those, so those are pretty good odds. Chances are if you apply, you stand a pretty good chance of being accepted.
“If there was one thing I would share it is that we have the power to change the future. It doesn’t have to be what it has been in the past. We have the ability to change that ourselves.”
For more information or to donate, visit www.page-ed.org.