Michael Walker, in front of an estimated 250 Minneapolis high school students at Edison High School May 11, publicly thanked Alan Page for believing in him and other Black youth over the years.
“Justice Page is an example for all of us,” stated Walker, the Minneapolis Public Schools Black Male Student Achievement director as he presented a plaque to the Minnesota Supreme Court associate justice. “He has been a pillar of the Minneapolis community, a supporter of education and a personal benefactor for my own educational pursuits through his foundation.”
Page launched his non-profit Page Education Foundation at his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction in 1988 to assist youth of color with post-secondary educational goals and objectives. The non-profit’s website states the foundation offers “money and encouragement to students of color facing incredible barriers to attaining their educational dreams” and the justice has raised over $800,000 in scholarship money for over 500 students last year.
Walker, a Page scholarship recipient, honored Page after he and the other six justices heard oral arguments of a first degree murder conviction case they are deciding. The case was presented as part of a biannual traveling oral argument program that allows students to learn more about the court system by watching real lawyers arguing an actual case.
“I’m honored to be recognized today,” said Page. “I am a kid from Canton, Ohio who had some success playing football then went into the law, and ultimately ended here on the state Supreme Court.”
The 69-year-old Page, who’s in both the Pro Football (1988), College Football (1993) and Academic All-American Hall of Fame (2001) has served on the court since being elected in 1993. During Monday’s question-and-answer period with students after the oral arguments, a student asked why Page chose law.
Page said the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling when he was nine years old influenced him to pursue a law career as an adult. “What inspired me was this notion of equal justice under the law. Everyone has the right to be treated fairly… Everyone has the right to have their dispute heard by judges who are impartial, who understand that our role is to exercise good judgment and not to impose our will.
“The power of that [Brown] decision has inspired me throughout my life, but certainly as a lawyer and something I think about on a regular basis as a justice,” said Page. “We as justices represent all of society, the entire state, and not any particular group or persons or interests but ensure equal justice under the law.”
Honoring Page is “a small token of appreciation and recognition,” noted Walker, who received a Page scholarship in 1995, and got additional financial help from the foundation as he pursued advanced degrees in 2006 and 2008.
Walker told the MSR that Page is “a real role model that you can touch, that young men can see, and is visible and is doing great things. Justice Page just embodies that with what he has done with many, many [students] and in particular, Black males.
“He changed the trajectory of my family,” continued Walker. “I’m the first one in my family to go to college, and now my younger brother is following in my footsteps and also is able to receive a Page scholarship. I was humble to do that in my new role, and thanked someone who helped me where I am today, so I can do the work that he started.”
“He is a perfect example of what we are trying to accomplish,” said Page of Walker in a brief MSR interview afterwards. “Receiving the award from a former Page scholar validates everything that we at the Page Education Foundation do. Our goal is to create hope and opportunity so that young people see opportunities for themselves, so that they eventually end up as productive citizens of this community.”
Page and Justice Wilhelmina Wright, who was appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton in 2012, are the only two Blacks among the seven state Supreme Court justices. When asked if they bring a different perspective to the high court as African Americans, Page responded: “Of course, we do. We bring a perspective that others don’t bring, but the others bring a perspective that we don’t bring. That’s why there are seven of us, and that’s why it is important to have a range of experiences, a range of backgrounds as justices.”
He added, “You don’t want seven Alan Pages because that’s not how you get the fairest and most unbiased opinions. We all are human beings and we all have biases. The question is not whether we have them, but the question is…can we set them aside.”
Page said he and his fellow justices work to “find the right answer to a particular problem…based on the law and fact. We won’t always agree on what that answer will be – in fact there are a lot of times when I don’t agree with what the answer is, but just because I personally don’t agree doesn’t mean that I get to impose my will. Our role is to exercise our judgment and not to impose our will.”
While acknowledging problems with the U.S. justice system, Page pointed out its advantages over other places in the world. “You will find none of those places have an impartial and an independent judiciary. So people just solve their problems in the street. For all of its failings, [the U.S. system] works to prevent that,” said Page.
Finally, Monday was Associate Justice Page’s final traveling oral argument event – he has participated in each event since its inception in 1995. He will be retiring later this year when he turns 70, the mandatory retirement age for justices.
“I’ve been privileged to have the opportunity to be a part of all this,” concluded Page. “It’s critically important that our courts, whether it be our supreme court, our court of appeals, or our trial court, that the people who serve reflect the people we’re serving. That is very important.”
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