Long before Alan Page was on the road to NFL superstardom or a role as a valued public servant in Minnesota, he was an 8-year-old boy in Ohio aware of the barriers of system racism and segregation in the United States. He also was committed to overcoming them.
Speaking to the Feb. 3 virtual meeting of the Rotary Club of White Bear Lake, with hundreds in attendance, Page said the landmark Supreme Court ruling of Brown vs. the Board of Education in 1954 that made desegregation of schools illegal changed his life. Even at 8 years old, he had an intuitive sense that the ruling would change society for the better.
Page said state-sponsored segregation was pervasive in the nation. He’d read a lot about Brown. “I understood that the law and the power of law could change things dramatically,” Page said.
Being a young African American, he saw and felt the constraints of racism because of the color of his skin. “Brown signaled the death knell of state-sponsored segregation,” he said. It made clear that the country needed to move away from racism and this idea that some people were “less-than” because of the color of their skin.
His parents also supported education in his young life, and they knew it could be a tool for improving his life. “I was fortunate,” Page said.
Page would go on to an illustrious career on the football field and in the highest reaches of law. Page was a member of the Vikings’ feared Purple People Eaters and was a two-time NFL MVP. He also enrolled in law school while he was playing football and graduated with his degree from the University of Minnesota in 1978. He capped his long law career by serving on the Minnesota Supreme Court. He was elected in 1992 and served until 2015, when he reached mandatory retirement age.
Amid that period in 1988, he and his late wife, Diane, started the Page Education Foundation. He announced it at his Hall of Fame induction ceremony for maximum impact.
During his talk to Rotarians and guests, Page also took up his career beyond football, the legacy of the foundation, and what ordinary people can do to make change for the better in society:
On his career path: Page wanted to do more than stay in Canton, Ohio, and work in a predictable path for many people of color — in the steel mills. He knew he wanted to be a lawyer. “I can’t tell you how important Brown is in that. It gave me the sense of hope that if segregation could be ended in schools, it could be ended everywhere.”
On starting at and dropping out at William Mitchell Law School: Page said he felt in over his head and eventually left. In 1975, he decided to go back to law school. He knew a path in law would help him help people and solve problems.
On his foundation: More than 7,000 “Page Scholars” have received grants from the foundation, which involves a commitment to helping youth. There currently are eight such scholars at Century College. The scholars get aid to go to school, but they also are required to work with young students in an education role. “The young children they work with have an opportunity to see someone who looks like them, maybe comes from their neighborhood, maybe has some shared background … using education as that tool to use to achieve their hopes and dreams.”
“We couldn’t ask for any more than the work that our scholars do,” Page added.
On being a common man: Page said he doesn’t get caught up in his titles and football prowess and accolades. “It’s really about how we make the world a better place, and each of us has that power.” The real question, he said, is whether we utilize that power.
Special to the Press by Bob Timmons, White Bear Rotarian