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Celebrating Local Black Heroes: Tony Patterson

Tony Patterson, Supervisor of the Maintenance Department at the Douglass Community Association, is the embodiment of the word “mentor.” For years, Patterson has empowered local youth relentlessly as a basketball coach, a mentor, a father, an uncle, and a church leader.


The youngest of 12, Patterson was born and raised in Kalamazoo, and graduated from Loy Norrix in 1979. Since then, he has spent many of his adult years generously pouring into community youth. From working at Lakeside Academy for 11 years, to being a foster parent for 10 years, to mentoring at the Kalamazoo County Juvenile home, Patterson has built a life around building up the next generation.

When he started work as a basketball coach at the Douglass Community Association, Patterson was thrilled to continue to invest his time and energy in local youth. Then, when a part-time custodial position opened up, he jumped on the opportunity.

“I’ve stayed because I’m more than a janitor,” Patterson shares. “Talking with the kids there is one of the greatest joys of my life.”

After 30 years of service, his dedication to the Douglass Community Association and local youth earned him recognition from Sid Ellis (Learn more about Sid, another featured Local Black Hero, here). The enlightening experience took Patterson by surprise. “I had never been acknowledged for the work I do, and I never expect anything, because I do it from the heart,” Patterson explains.


Patterson makes an impact on the youth he mentors by  getting to know them over dinner, at sporting events, and taking them to church- among many other things.

By intentionally connecting with them where they are, Patterson has had the opportunity to show them that there is someone who cares deeply about them. “I’ve told a lot of kids, ‘Interfaith is where you live, and NOT who you are,’” Patterson explains.

Be as great as you can. Never let adversity drive your ambition. Tony Patterson, when asked what he would tell his younger self if given the opportunity


Buddy Hannah, Patterson’s 9th-grade basketball coach (and Local Black Hero featured here), pushed him to push himself.

“He said to me, ‘You’re out of shape and you’re not a team player, and those are things you need to work on in order to be successful,’” Patterson recalls. “The lessons he taught me still apply today.”

Further inspired by his own father and godmother, Dorothy Young (Local Black Hero featured here), Patterson grew up seeing how they both gave of themselves for youth. He carries their legacies everywhere he goes. Patterson also recognizes Pastor Lenzy Bell of First United Baptist Church as an inspiration for the way he pours into others- a sentiment Patterson embodies on a regular basis.


Amidst the busyness of taking care of others, Patterson has someone in his corner taking care of him, too.

Diane, his bride of 36 years, helps him create boundaries. “She’ll say to me, ‘Today you’re not going to do anything. You’re going to lay around the house and do nothing,’ then she’ll put my phone in the drawer,” Patterson smiles.

His best friend and support system, Diane helps Patterson make sure he is taking care of himself so that he can continue to care so deeply for those around him.


A sentiment he lives by, Patterson feels strongly that because he has been given so much love and support throughout his life, that it is up to him to filter that back into community youth. By offering mentorship through the work he does at the Douglass Community Association, Patterson wants youth to know that there’s someone who cares about them, and consistently reminds them of their worth.