Don’t be overly concerned with academic titles, Dr. Earlene Patterson tells her students at the SIUE Student Opportunities for Academic Results Center.
What matters, she said, is character. What matters is integrity.
“Titles are good. They may get your phone calls returned, or they may get you in the room, but purpose is better,” said Patterson, who received her master’s degree in education from Illinois State University and her PhD in Higher Education Administration from St. Louis University.
“Using your skills and your gifts for something bigger than you is important.”
The idea that character and integrity matter more than academic titles was an important precept of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose federal holiday Patterson helped celebrate Monday in a talk at Mount Joy Missionary Baptist Church in Edwardsville.
There were no empty seats at the church.
During the service, visitors participated in a full-throated “We Shall Overcome” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” And they were inspired and entertained by the Mount Joy Praise Dancers and Community Youth Choir
Patterson spoke for nearly a half hour. King, she said, was an educated man who came to realize the importance of using his intelligence in service to the broader ideal of social justice.
He was a complicated man who preached non-violence but spent his life fighting and struggling against hatred and injustice, Patterson said.
She encouraged millennials to vote, not just for president but for governor, for mayor, for trustee. Elections matter, but voting is only a start, Patterson said she tells her students. “As Dr. King demonstrated, you have to agitate, aggravate and organize. No matter who we are we are equal when we vote. We have to raise our voice to make sure we are a nation of progress and not a nation of hate.”
Think of it as 4-by-100 meter relay, she told them. To succeed requires both speed and precision. Passing the baton precisely is paramount.
“The first leg runs as fast as he can and then passes the baton to the second,” she said. “The second leg runs as fast as he can and then passes the baton. The third leg runs as fast as he can and passes the baton. If you pass the baton too quickly, it might drop. If you pass it too slowly, it might drop. They have to be in synch. Life is that way. Every generation is charged with passing the baton and advancing social, economic and political justice for the next generation who passes the baton and then repeats it. The struggle is forever, so we are forever in the struggle. There will always be something to fight for.”
And there are universal human needs that transcend race or social status, she added.
“We want to know that we can have a good life and we can have a good job,” Patterson said. “That if we have children, then our children would have a better future. That we can take a vacation every now and then, and we can buy a car every now and then. That we can be healthy, be safe, and be secure. That’s what we all want. Culturally we might have a different idea about how to get there, but we all want the same thing.”