Photo: Abraham Lincoln & Frederick Douglass: A Walk to Respect in Phoenix, Arizona.

People + Possibilities x Connective-Tissue Building = New Realities

Posted on November 07, 2023 by Debra Jacobs, president and CEO of The Patterson Foundation

You might wonder why The Patterson Foundation (TPF) created Abraham Lincoln & Frederick Douglass: A Walk to Respect (ATWR) and now takes it on the road. With TPF's mission of strengthening individuals, organizations, and communities in ways that foster wide participation around shared aspirations, it all begins with people and possibilities.

In 2020, TPF embarked on Honoring & Onward to celebrate its 10th anniversary—this was a way to look back and propel forward. TPFer Beth Duda continually advances imaginative and meaningful ideas, this time by researching and writing a one-act play to be performed that would weave in TPF's Aspirations to Actions initiative of engaging with others to create better futures. What better role models than Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas? Each put themselves into the public arena with very different perspectives, yet they found a way to form a friendship undergirded with respect.

The play was performed multiple times, each with the added dimension of a post-performance conversation with the audience, where perspectives and questions were moderated with care by Beth and authentic responses by the cast. Alas, COVID put live performances on hold, but thankfully, Bill Wagy produced a video that enabled virtual gatherings to continue conversations.


As the nation roiled with tensions and strife, AWTR was more timely than ever, so TPF imagined what was possible and secured two performances at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. A long-time colleague, Lois Savage, Lodestar Foundation, happened to be in town and after attending the performance, asked if AWTR could come to Phoenix, Arizona, for the Sandra Day O'Connor Institute for Democracy's Annual Dinner where Frederick Douglass was the historic figure being honored. TPF had developed an AWTR On The Road package outlining roles and responsibilities, so Beth and a team of possibilitarians made it happen.

Coincidentally, as a member of the Harwood Circle of Catalytic Funders, I frequently share how AWTR exemplifies Harwood's techniques. Another Circle community headed up by the United Way of Berks County and Wyomissing Foundation raised their hands for AWTR to come to Reading, PA. TPF optimized the expenses and time investment for rehearsals by completing the Phoenix engagement and then heading to Pennsylvania.

In each community, there were performances and post-conversations with audiences that reached schools and the general public. During each experience, it was clear there is a hunger for more conversations and learning experiences. Each time, Beth would remind people of their personal power and responsibility to create their own conversations to build around what's possible.

So why does TPF continue to share AWTR? Clearly, there are lessons to be learned, a thirst for better futures, and a recognition that we are all part of creating new realities.

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