Getting Personal: Patricia Avery
Each week, we offer an email Q&A with a local personality. Today, Melissa Merli chats with 58-year-old Champaign resident Patricia Avery, the executive director of the CU Area Project, a not-for-profit organization that seeks to reduce and prevent juvenile delinquency, and the president/CEO of the Champaign County branch of the NAACP.
What time do you typically get up? What do you do the first hour of the morning?
7 a.m. Give thanks, shower, have coffee and watch the news.
What do you consider your greatest achievement or accomplishment?
After giving birth to three wonderful children, it would be presiding over 26 elected officials when I became the first woman, the first African-American and the first Democrat to chair the Champaign County Board.
What do you regard as your most treasured possession?
My grandmother's china cabinet and my grandfather's wallet.
Do you have a guilty pleasure and what is it?
Yes, bargain shopping and Starburst candy.
What book are you reading now? What is your favorite book ever?
Melissa Harris Perry's "Sister Citizen." And I am rereading "Unleashing the Power of a Sister" by Mona Lake Jones. My favorite book ever: The holy Bible.
Where on Earth are you dying to go? Why?
Africa. I would love to meet Nelson Mandela while he is still alive and also experience the richness and culture of the land and its people, and most importantly, to walk upon the soil of my ancestors.
Tell me about your favorite pet.
My miniature schnauzer named Mimi. I loved her because she had just the right temperament. She was well-trained, loving, playful, funny at times, and everyone loved her.
What's your favorite sports team?
I came from a house divided. I'm torn between the Cubs and the Cardinals. So, I would say I'm a fair-weather fan and go with whichever team is winning at the time.
What would you order for your last meal?
Thick, center-cut pork chops, smothered potatoes and onions, greens, cornbread, homemade mac and cheese and my baked beans. For dessert, I would have a key lime pie, chocolate chip mint ice cream on a waffle cone, and to wash it down, a very expensive bottle of Dom Perignon.
If you could be reincarnated after you die, what would you like to come back as?
Since I was born a woman in this life, probably a compassionate man.
Who are your favorite musicians and why?
I named my daughter Angela after Angela Bofill, an American R&B and jazz singer-songwriter whose music I love; also singer and jazz flutist Bobbi Humphrey, whose music just soothes my soul.
What's the happiest memory of your life?
When my oldest son, who was born six months premature, weighing in at 2 pounds 4 ounces, came home after spending seven months in the hospital on a ventilator and suffered no brain damage. I was able to do what the doctors did not, and that was to wean him off his oxygen support in a few short weeks. A mother's love is a powerful tool and healer.
If you could host a dinner party with any three living people in the world, whom would you invite? What would you serve?
The first lady, Michelle Obama; her mother, Marian Robinson; and Oprah Winfrey. I would research a menu that consisted of healthy foods that feed the mind, body and soul. In other words "soul food," which would complement the "straight-up" sister-to-sister talk we would have.
Which historical figure do you admire the most and why?
Rosa Parks has always been my "shero." I admire her because, by her actions, she wasn't just "sick and tired of being sick and tired" of all the injustices of her time; she took a stand and sat down. She helped to change the course of a history in America. Peace be still.
What personality trait do you most hate in other people? Most hate in yourself?
Intolerance and ignorance. In myself? I have little patience for intolerance and ignorance.
What's your best piece of advice?
Armor yourself with truth, love, dignity and respect. Remain true to yourself, principles and values. Never surrender 100 percent of who you are in matters of love, work or war.
What was your first job and how much did you make an hour?
I was a waitress for a short time at Woolworth's in downtown Champaign, and I believe I made $1.25 an hour, plus tips.
What was a pivotal decision in your career and how did you arrive at that decision?
I make decisions all the time, but when it came down to my career, it happened in due time. I realize that God is in control, and when the time is right, whatever is for you will be for you. I applied to be the executive director of the agency I currently work for, but the job went to my predecessor. Sadly and unfortunately, he went to jail. I became the chair of the county board, and four months after my second term, I became executive director of the CU Area Project and also president of the NAACP's Champaign branch. Ironically, these were both positions that my predecessor previously held.
Do you have any regrets in your life? What are they?
Yes. I didn't attend prom. I don't have a Ph.D. I'm intrigued with law and would have loved to have gone to law school. I didn't open my own business years ago.
How do you handle a stressful situation?
I try not to become consumed with the situation. I pray, consult my pastor, then let go and let God direct my steps.