He’s played for the Fort Wayne Fury of the old Continental Basketball Association and then spent more than a decade on various rosters in Europe.
Once his playing days were over, Andre Patterson decided to make his home in Fort Wayne and has immersed himself in community projects.
He’s currently an outreach coordinator for IPFW’s Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs and now is chairman of the new incarnation of the Fort Wayne Commission on African American Males.
Originally created in the late 1990s, the commission went defunct for several years until June when city officials resurrected it.
Today, the commission will host the Glynn Hines Back to School Fatherhood Initiative, designed to get fathers involved in their children’s education.
Patterson spent time talking with The Journal Gazette about his new position heading up the commission and the goals of the group.
Q. Were you a part of the Fort Wayne Commission on African American Males originally? And what led to it disappearing?
A. I was not involved in 1999, but later on I was, before it went defunct. In my own personal opinion, it was structured wrong for the city. There were so many people on it that were really, really busy, that nobody could carry out the mission and research that needed to be done.
Q. How was the commission brought back?
A. We worked on it for a year, and the city passed an ordinance on June 26. In our department (IPFW’s Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs), my associate vice chancellor, Ken Christmon, got together with James Garrett (Executive Director of the Indiana Commission on the Social Status of Black Males) and wanted to make this happen.
Q. What are the goals of the commission?
A. The goals haven’t changed for the commission. We want to look at education. We look at the criminal justice system. We look at health. We look at crime. And we look at economics.
For instance, when we talk about fathers not being with their children, is it that the fathers aren’t participating in their youth’s life because they don’t have a job?
We’ve looked at racism, and we try to see, for instance, if someone doesn’t get a job: Is it racism or skill set?
Q. What are some of the resources available to the commission?
A. Right now, we are working with the city of Fort Wayne, the mayor’s office, looking at getting some grants to deal with some of the issues. The city has become a strong ally.
Q. What was your experience playing basketball in Europe like, and how did it shape your point of view?
A. It made me very conscious of other cultures and races. It gave me an education that a lot of other people don’t have.
If you don’t know the value of the country, go live in other countries.
For me, that’s why my lens goes beyond just color. I’ve been in countries where I’ve been the only American. I didn’t just represent the black race, I represented Americans. How I behaved represented Americans.
People didn’t judge me by my skin, but my country.
Sometimes what they saw on TV, they saw the worst of the worst of Americans.
Q. Do you think that’s what happens in this country when it comes to African-Americans?
A. I think they see it all the time. I think that’s a larger problem.
We’re coming up on the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech, and people are still judged by their skin, not the content of their character.
You have bad characters in all races, but why do black people have to be judged because of the worst individuals?
Q. What is today’s event trying to achieve?
A. The primary goal is to get men involved in their children’s education.
We know, or statistics will say, that you create opportunities through education. And we know that, from early on, the more men are engaged in their children’s learning, grades go up, self-esteem goes up and opportunities for college goes up.
Violence goes down.
So it’s vital for fathers to get involved.
Q. Did you have that kind of father growing up?
A. No. My father was killed when I was in the first grade.
What I did have, and I grew up in the urban underclass, were men in the community who stepped up. You had your uncles and your grandfathers, and they became your dads.
For instance, it was a guy at a recreation center who taught me how to play basketball. A coach at the Boys & Girls Club who helped me become one of the best players in the country in high school and he also helped me select a college.
Q. Do you think there are still a lot of people willing to take on those roles in the community, or was it different back then?
A. I think we have some, but I think people are becoming more apprehensive because they’re seeing the type of violence people are experiencing. And I think that’s a reason we have to get more engaged.
Q. Why did you stay in Fort Wayne after your playing days were over?
A. The community.
I traveled all over the world. I lived in Los Angeles, even during the riots (revolving around the Rodney King beating).
I was a single dad, and this was a great place to come raise my family. I thought this was a great place for young people.