JACKSON, Tenn. – March 15, 2003 – Minnesota Supreme Court Justice and National Football League Hall of Fame member Alan C. Page presented the Union Forum with a message of hope March 14, encouraging each person to play a role in making the future better and brighter by investing in education, developing character and improving race relations.
“We can’t afford another generation of children disconnected from the educational process,” said Page. For him, the need for better education efforts became clear in 1978 when he observed that 4 of the 9 defensive lineman on his team could not read a playbook in which “the difficult words were ‘offense,’ ‘defense,’ ‘block’ and ‘tackle,’” he said. These men did not miss the opportunity to learn to read in college or high school, but in the early grades, before they were athletes, said Page.
“What would happen,” Page asked, “if we honored students and teachers who excel with the same rewards and recognition that we give to athletes and coaches? I suspect we would see things change.”
Page chose to address this issue by founding the Page Education Foundation in 1988. The organization provides scholarship funds to minority youth. Page Scholars, as the recipients are known, are required to spend time tutoring elementary school students. This academic year, 565 Page Scholars will tutor 6500 children.
Page also stressed the need to move away from a culture of perceiving athletes and celebrities as role models. “Let’s turn our attention away from those people with high visibility whose actions and words belie the bankrupt nature of their character,” he said. “Instead we need to look at … people who get up every morning and do the things that good citizens do.”
Character, according to Page, is something which must be developed through decisions and actions each day. “The fact that I was once considered to be a great football player or that I am currently a Minnesota Supreme Court Justice doesn’t by itself mean that I am a man of good character,” he said. “People with character take responsibility for who they are and what they do.”
An area in which our nation’s character needs continued improvement, according to Page, is racial equality. The fact that race discrimination is not as visible as it once was does not mean that the work is complete. “Making bias harder to detect is not the same thing as making it go away,” he said. “We must begin by looking inward and eliminating our own biases.”
Page encouraged listeners to act upon the message he brought. “When we put our hearts, our minds, and our bodies to the task, especially when we become involved in the lives of the children around us, we can ensure educational opportunity, develop their character and begin to address some of the intractable problems of race,” he said. “In the process, we can change the future. That is the challenge I leave you with.”
Designed to provide opportunities for lively conversation with the nation’s leaders and thinkers, the Union Forum brings distinguished speakers each spring. The events are sponsored by First Tennessee Foundation, TLM Associates, West Tennessee Healthcare and The Jackson Sun.