By Melissa Freund- Editor-In-Chief
As the snow began to fall outside, the crowd began to form inside Viterbo University’s Fine Arts Center on Monday, January 20. Filling nearly every seat available, over one thousand people shuffled into the Main Theatre for the 2014 LaCrosse Area Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration.
After William Coleman and Dempsey Miller III were honored with the Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Award, and the Viterbo Concert Choir sang tribute, the keynote speaker, the honorable Alan C. Page took the stage to begin his address.
Currently an Associate Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, Page became the first African American elected to the position when he took office in 1992.
While his career in law has been anything but ordinary, Page might be more often recognized from his years spent with the Minnesota Vikings.
Although his football career began by “accident,” Page left Ohio after graduating high school and continued his athletic career by joining the Fighting Irish at the University of Notre Dame. There, he was recognized as a college football All-American before graduating in 1967with a degree in political science and went on to become a first round pick in the 1967 NFL draft. Page dedicated 15 years to the professional sport, playing defensive tackle for the Minnesota Vikings and the Chicago Bears. Within this time, Page secured four NFC Championships, was selected for the Pro Bowl nine times and was named the National Football League’s Most Valuable Player in 1971.
While there is no doubt that Page was a talented football player, he knew that he could not play the game forever. Therefore, he saw his career in the NFL as temporary and decided to continue his higher education, earning a Law Degree in 1978 from the University of Minnesota. As Page put it, “Really, football simply slowed down my entry into the law.
“I first became interested in the law when I was about eight or nine years old,” Page explained. “When I was growing up, I would read articles in the newspapers about Brown vs. the Board of Education. So at a very young age, I saw the power of the law.”
It is this power that Page largely credits with his entry into law.
“It is through the law that I have the power to ensure that fairness happens,” Page told the audience.
While Page began his speech discussing the lessons that he learned from football, such as “preparation is critical to success,” and his motivation for entering into the law, he quickly turned the focus from himself to the American youth, heavily emphasizing the importance of education.
“I see far too many young people come into the court system—many of them have simply given up hope,” Page told the audience, “and a key tool for creating that hope…is preparing them for the future.” Therefore, “we must educate our children,” Page stressed.
Otherwise, the equal opportunities, which we are constantly working to ensure, are irrelevant, Page continued, because “without preparation, opportunity becomes an empty promise.”
In an effort to do his part to prepare our young people for the future, Page, along with his wife Diane, founded the Page Education Foundation in 1988, a grant program for students of color looking to pursue an education beyond high school. However, what is unique about this grant program is that, in exchange for the $1,000-$2,500 that a student receives each year, he/she is required to document 50 hours of community service.
“The grant recipients act as tutors, mentors and role models for children in kindergarten through eighth grade,” Page explained. As a result, “those young children can see someone that looks like them—maybe comes from where they’re from—and is using education as a tool.”
In its inaugural year, the Page Education Foundation supplied educational grants to 10 students. Yet today, Page proudly announced, there are approximately 550 students receiving educational funding from the program, a statistic which elicited a spontaneous round of applause from the crowd.
Page concluded his oration with a call to action, blaming our nation’s debilitating issues on the fact that, “we tend to think it’s somebody else’s problem.” However, he countered this misconception stating that, “the steps we take can be significant.
“All of us—everyone of us—has the ability, opportunity and obligation to make this world a better place.”