Civil rights attorney says ‘greatness is made possible by goodness’ |

Civil rights attorney says ‘greatness is made possible by goodness’

Seminars in Steamboat’s 19th season opened this week

Former two-term Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick opened the 19th season of the free, nonpartisan public policy talks for Seminars In Steamboat on Monday. The talks continue online for the next six Monday evenings. (Courtesy photo)

Former two-term Massachusetts governor and civil rights lawyer Deval Patrick repeatedly told the Seminars in Steamboat online audience this week that “America cannot be great without also being good.”

Patrick said having a strong sense of community and understanding the importance of core values, which he learned in his youth growing up in south Chicago, are the keys to a functioning American democracy, which is needed to bring together a divided country.

“Fixing our politics requires reviving our purpose, and I think we may have more power to do that than we sometimes think,” said Patrick, noting that what is right and wrong is more important than the political right and political left.

Bob Stein, former Seminars board chair, introduced Patrick for the opening session of the 19th season of nonpartisan public policy talks, noting Patrick “is the perfect person to help us better understand the issues we face and describe strategies that may help us get through them.”

“How we teach democracy and how we converse with those who disagree with us says a great deal about who we are as a country and what we may become in the future,” Stein said.

During his talk, “Teaching Democracy: Civics and Civility in the Classroom and Beyond,” Patrick shared that he was raised, as his grandmother would say, “just broke, because broke is temporary.” He shared a bedroom with his mother and sister, where they rotated every third night who would sleep on the floor or on a bunkbed. He attended church every Sunday morning with the promise of homemade biscuits as a reward afterward.

Patrick grew up learning the “importance of having a moral foundation” and a set of values about how to behave and how to treat others. He said “old church ladies” and adults on his block “taught us that community is about understanding the stake that we have in our neighbors’ dreams and struggles, as well as our own.”

Patrick said the COVID-19 pandemic “made it harder to turn away from deep disparities among us in health, wealth and education.”

“Every major faith tradition on Earth charges its followers to treat others as we ourselves wish to be treated,” Patrick said.

Patrick, who served as U.S. Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights and was a brief presidential candidate in 2020, said he wants political leaders to stop using division as political tool.

“It troubles me that we are as divided as we sometimes seem. What troubles me more is that it’s been so easy to divide us … because we don’t know each other,” Patrick said. “We get a cartoon version of one another, and we kind of stop at that. The beauty of service is that it gives people an opportunity to come together in response to some unmet need and work alongside someone you don’t know.”

The former governor said while serving in state office constituents tended to shout in anger and whisper in kindness, which he believes should be turned upside down.

“It’s time we learn to shout kindness, shout compassion and shout justice. That’s the purpose of American democracy and the source of our greatness,” he said.

The mission of the nonprofit Seminars in Steamboat is to bring experts on a range of public policy topics to the local community through free, nonpartisan discussions. The seminars also air as a podcast for KUNC radio.

The all-virtual seminars continue at 5:30 p.m. the next six Mondays through Aug. 23. More information and recordings of past seminars are available at

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