MINNEAPOLIS — Gene Washington and Alan Page — 1967 NFL Draft classmates — reconnected in a classroom at The Best Academy on Friday.
The Vikings Legends — both of whom completed advanced college degrees during their pro football careers — participated in a program celebrating Black History Month.
Washington and Page participated in a panel discussion and answered students' questions that inquired about their sources for inspiration and what they've learned are keys to success.
Broadcaster and founder of "Rethink the Win" Lea B. Olsen hosted the panel and joined Washington and Page after the school assembly in the gym for a more in-depth discussion of what students learned through participation in a 306: African American course from EVERFI that was presented through the Vikings "Celebrate Perseverance" Black History Month program.
The digital education initiative was provided by the Vikings to more than 1,000 students in the Twin Cities this year.
The*306: African-American History digital course* immerses students in a journey in which they learn about the incredible contributions that African-Americans have made in every fabric of American life including public service, the sciences, academia, and the world of the arts, music, and sports. The course is framed to teach the importance of civic engagement, so that students develop into future community leaders.
Washington and Page were impressed when students explained what they learned during the course.
"I noticed that they're very concerned about their education and are very into that," Washington said. "I think that's very necessary, to be able to stand up and share your feelings about black history and understand how important black history is, so it was a wonderful day of spending time with the kids."
Added Page: "The young children we talked to are always inspiring to me. It's interesting — we tend to think that they aren't sort of connected to the past, but certainly with the 306 course, the young people that I spent time with are very connected to the past and understand that past is really insight into the future, and they will carry that forward with them. It was kind of an exciting day."
During the assembly, Washington relayed personal stories that greatly impacted him.
He described growing up with segregated schools in the South, busing 15 miles from La Porte to Baytown, Texas. Coaches, he said, would provide rides back home after practice.
Washington opted to attend Michigan State after meeting former Spartans Head Coach Duffy Daugherty at a football camp. He wound up rooming with two white swimmers from Indiana who had never met a black person, but the trio bonded quickly and genuinely.
"We're still the best of friends," Washington told the audience. "I share that with you with the understanding that we have to look at ways to work together, regardless of the color of your skin. It's very important."
When later asked a follow-up question by Vikings.com about the close relationship with roommates, Washington said, "What really connected us was being open and wanting to experience something different, if you will. They had never experienced anything like it — didn't even know [segregation] existed, so it was great that we came together and were able to understand each other in a college community."
Washington also told the young people about the inspiring MSU campus visit by Martin Luther King, Jr.
"That meant a whole lot to me," Washington said. "I was honored that he visited our college when I was a student athlete. I was understanding all of the challenges that black people were having at that time."
Page told the young people that Black History Month is important to him "because it causes us to remember our past, but more importantly, it shines light on what the future should be and can be. We have the ability to not only learn from the past — that's the real value of history — but to use it to make the future better."
Page encouraged the young people to have a vision for their futures and plot their courses. He cautioned against measuring oneself by "the person next to you."
"As students, you're in the process of being educated and learning a lot of information, but I think the most important thing you're doing is learning how to learn. Once you learn how to learn, you can set goals to achieve whatever you'd like to achieve.
"Important in that process is seeking excellence, being as good as you can be at what you're doing, not as good as the person next to you, not as good as somebody who you think is really special, but as good as you can be," Page said. "Oftentimes, when you seek to be as good as the person next to you, essentially where you want to play at the level of competition, you're never going to achieve at your fullest level. So, seeking excellence for the sake of being the best you can be is really important."
He emphasized to the audience, "Do what you do, do it well, do it for the right reasons."