Name: Dr. Marilynn Patterson Grant
Profession: Education Administration Consultant
Title: Owner and operator of M. P. Grant, Program Director, Pre-K to 12 Education, William & Sheila Konar Foundation, Board Member at the Memorial Art Gallery and Renaissance Academy Charter School of the Arts
Location: Memorial Art Gallery
Interview by: John Loury
Photography: Rich Brainerd
1. What life events have had the greatest impact on who you are today?
I believe having the grace of God to be born into the family I was born into was a major factor on who I am and my life’s trajectory. Both of my parents, Rev. R.L. Patterson and Mattie Pringle Patterson, are deceased. However, the longer I live, the more I see what and how much they poured into my siblings and me. Values associated with a belief in God, the importance of family, a spirit of service and a commitment to excellence were all part of my upbringing.
Growing up in Washington, DC, and witnessing the involvement of my parents, nurtured a strong belief in social justice. My late father’s church, Mt. Carmel Baptist, served as the headquarters for Dr. King’s Poor People Campaign in DC (after Dr. King’s death). In no way am I at my parents’ level of involvement, but I do try to put my money, my advocacy, behind those issues that support leveling the playing field for those who need it most.
I believe I am the sum product of the family to which I was born, the era in which I was raised and God’s abundant blessings.
2. How do you define success? And What metrics do you use to confirm it?
My definition of success has evolved over the space of time and experience. When I was much younger, success was probably gauged based on personal and material accomplishments, to some degree. At this point in my life, my perspective probably reflects the sentiments in a favorite poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Definition of Success.” Bottom line, has what I’ve done or said improved the human condition on any level? Yes, that may sound like flowery sentiments, but I’ve seen some people with personal and material success who don’t sleep well at night and who are devoid of quality relationships. Living a life of purpose and one that matters, to me, that is the ultimate metric of success. Otherwise, what was the point?
3. Where do you draw inspiration from?
I am a person of faith. As I’ve gotten older, I value this foundation laid for me by my parents. For me, going to church is like going to get my spiritual gas tank filled on a weekly basis. I take solace in the sermon, the music and the gathering of regular folks just trying to make sense and meaning out of their daily existence. I also, however, see the significance of people of faith not restricting their faith walk to the church, but also exemplifying it in their service to the community. That also inspires me.
I draw inspiration from a very close circle of sister-girlfriends with whom I can authentically share and be. I love music, art, good food, traveling, live theater, meeting new people, engaging in unique experiences, reading—all of these feed my spirit, and I think make me more fully human.
4. What is it about your approach that is unique or separates you from others?
I love people, and I believe it shows. I try to bring an authenticity to my interaction with others. A quote that I had on my business cards for many years came from Todd Whitaker, and it said, “It’s people, not programs!” I firmly believe that everything is done through relationships. I believe it is imperative as leaders and simply as human beings that we acknowledge this fact. In our efforts to move an agenda or an initiative, it helps to know and have an understanding of the key players and their perspectives, skills, talents, and habits of mind. Mining this information, good leaders assess how they can best take all of this and still create a shared vision to get any task accomplished.
5. How do you use information (data) to make decisions related to your profession or craft?
Well, I think my last response gives you some insight into my perspective on the use of data. Somewhat due to my doctoral studies at St. John Fisher, I am a fan of qualitative data and not purely quantitative. In a speech I gave several weeks ago, in speaking of some of the more challenging statistics around poor student achievement, I cautioned the audience to be mindful that behind every statistic was the flesh, blood and life chances of a real child. No matter the context or topic, we must never lose sight that decisions made or actions not taken have real-life, real-people implications. This perspective was critical to my work as an educator and continues to be of importance as I work in the field of philanthropy. The constant question remains, “In an era where needs so often outweigh available resources, what data must we weigh to make the best choices?”
6. What does being a Rochesterian mean to you?
Well, I have to be honest, when I think about that question I chuckle. I’ve been here over thirty-plus years, but originally, I’m from Washington DC. But that being said, I’m very proud to have lived and worked in Rochester for many reasons. My first introduction was through attending the University of Rochester, certainly highly regarded as an institution and also associated with the Memorial Art Gallery. It certainly gave me a wonderful education that has stood the test of time and enabled experiences that I believe have led to the opening of doors to many opportunities. So, I take pride in that and the fact that Rochester has many stellar institutions. I also tell friends quite frequently that I think Rochester is a wonderful community in which to raise your family. My children are products of the Rochester City School District. I also served as principal at Wilson Magnet High School during my professional career while my son attended School of the Arts. It was a blessing in terms of their development and their lives as professionals to have gone to school where they did. I was not born in Rochester, but I certainly have taken on the spirit of Rochester. That’s why I was also intrigued by ROC Our City because every community has its challenges. But we are keenly aware that every community if you look long enough and deep enough and wide enough you’ll find it’s treasures. I think Rochester has a number of treasures and that was another reason why I wanted us to meet here at the Memorial Art Gallery.
7. What are the greatest challenges Rochester faces in terms of future growth and success?
I think you would expect this from an educator, we certainly have our challenges in providing a quality education, particularly to our urban young people, and that has implications for the kind of economic life we would like to have for individuals and for our community in general. Our key challenge is finding the best and brightest individuals, organizations, and resources, to make sure every child, no matter zip code, no matter the economic status has an array of choices. That was one thing that pleased me when Mayor Warren first ran, and her initiative around education focused on giving parents a range of options; I think that’s important. We’re putting together a solid mechanism to enhance the educational opportunities for children. This has tremendous implications economically and creates a vision for going forward.
8. If someone were to film a movie about your life, what actor/actress would you cast to play you?
I chuckle when I think about this question as well as wonder who my children would select. I’m giving this some thought because part of my passion as a student at the University of Rochester was in the theater.
I think my husband and my children would probably be on the same page. It would have to be someone who has an opinion and has no difficulty expressing that opinion. The answer they would give you reflects some of my old-school persona, and as a result, it would have to be Diahann Carroll and, more specifically, the character she played on the show Dynasty, which I did love.
For me, there are several characteristics this person would need to possess, along with being able to present me in the most effective light, of course. Based on that, I think I would go with Viola Davis. Physically we look a lot alike. Also, I think she’s just an outstanding actress, and I think hard about what lends to her credibility in pretty much every role she plays. It’s her blending of head and heart that makes her unique, and it’s quite apparent she’s a smart actress too. She’s had tremendous training, but I think her empathy and intellect also contribute to why I think she would be an excellent choice to play me.
9. Do you have any nominations of individuals who ROC Our City?
There is an array of individuals that I am particularly proud of and impressed by. In fact, one of them would be my sorority sister, Tanisha Johnson. She’s an educator with the Rochester City School District and part of the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative. She brings that wonderful combination of head and heart to work with young people, and she and her husband, Cory, are also involved in ministry to couples. They support people who are engaged, married and those who have been married for many years.
I also absolutely love, adore and admire Tokeya Graham. She’s on the faculty at Monroe Community College. She recently helped to bring together a group of powerful female writers called “We All Write.” She is a wonderful Mistress of Ceremony. I’ve seen her emcee for a number of events. She knows how to engage the crowd, but she knows how to also talk to someone one-on-one where you feel her spirit. She’s a remarkable individual and a wonderful educator.
There are many additional folks, like Dr. Leslie Meyers at Brockport Central School District. Her roots are in the Rochester City School District, and she is a dynamo that is clearly committed to nurturing young people. I could go on and on.
10. Do you have any parting thoughts?
I want to tell you how deeply honored I was by the invitation. I read the verbiage about individuals molding our city and having an impact on the community. All I’ve ever tried to do is the best that I can. I’ve always tried to leave an individual, the organization or the situation better than I found it. That has always been my approach to my involvement in anything.
I feel profoundly blessed to be a member of this community, even in the midst of its challenges. I just look at my life and give God thanks for all the blessings and take nothing or no one for granted.