Russell-McCloud, Patricia 1946–
Patricia Russell-McCloud 1946–
“Respect is the common denominator. We must realize that,” Patricia Russell-McCloud was once quoted as saying in the Kansas City Star. “If we don’t, we’ll continue on a collision course to anger, disrespect, and intolerance. I believe we can learn respect.” When Russell-McCloud speaks of respect, both for oneself and for others, people tend to pay attention. A renowned motivational speaker, she has been preaching her gospel of respect, empowerment, and self-determination to spellbound audiences nationwide for nearly two decades. As national president and longtime member of The Links, Inc., Russell-McCloud works with other professional black women to help create an environment in which high achievement among young African Americans is the rule rather than the exception.
Russell-McCloud was born on September 14, 1946, in Indianapolis, Indiana, the youngest of three daughters. Her father, Willie Russell, was a maintenance and custodial worker, while her mother Janniel, was a domestic laborer. Russell-McCloud’s gift for oratory was apparent from an early age. As a small child, she was often sought out for welcoming addresses and other public speaking engagements around Indianapolis. At the age of eight, Russell-McCloud traveled to Los Angeles to deliver—from memory—a five-page speech to thousands of delegates at a convention of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.
At Shortridge High School in Indianapolis, Russell-McCloud developed an interest in the social sciences, particularly history and political science. She also sang in the school choir, and fueled her passion for public speaking with her involvement in the speech and drama clubs. She graduated from Shortridge in June of 1964. That fall, she enrolled at Kentucky State University, declaring a major in history and political science.
Russell-McCloud’s formidable leadership skills began to emerge quickly at Kentucky State. She participated in the university’s concert choir, and was a member of the Kentucky Players, a traveling theater troupe that performed at a number of campuses in the region. She also pledged at the black sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha. For all of her achievements in her first year at the university, Russell-McCloud was named Outstanding Freshman.
Russell-McCloud received her B. A. from Kentucky State
At a Glance…
Born September 14, 1946, in Indianapolis, IN;daugh ter of Willie (a maintenance worker) and Janniel (a domestic worker) Russell; married E. Earl McCloud, 1982. Education: Kentucky State University, BA, 1968; attended Harvard University School of Law, 1968; Howard University School of Law, JD, 1973.
Career: Federal Communications Commission, attorney, 1973-83, Broadcast Bureau, chief of complaints branch, 1975-83; Russell-McCloud & Associates, founder and president, 1983-; The Links, Inc., president, 1994-.
Awards: Speech: “If Not You, Who? If Not Now, When?” recorded in the Congressional Record of the United States, May 14, 1980; National Association of American Universities and Land Grant Colleges, Outstanding Alumna; National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, Outstanding Alumna; NAACP Education & Legal Defense Award; honorary doctorates from Bethune Cookman College, Kentucky State University, and North Carolina Central University;awarded keys to over 275 American cities.
Addresses: Office— Russell-McCloud & Associates, P.O. Box 310043, Atlanta, GA 31131-0043.
in the spring of 1968. That summer, she was chosen by the Council on Legal Educational Opportunity to attend a special program at Harvard University designed to prepare promising students for law school. Rather than jump right into her legal education, however, Russell-McCloud instead accepted an offer to teach in the Detroit Public Schools. She spent the 1968-69 school year teaching at Detroit’s Foch Junior High School. The following year, she returned to her hometown of Indianapolis to take a teaching position at Arsenal Technical High School.
Although she enjoyed teaching, Russell-McCloud did not find it completely fulfilling, and she soon decided that she needed a bigger challenge. In the fall of 1970, she began her legal studies at Howard University Law School in Washington, D.C. She also taught at Federal City College—now called University of the District of Columbia—to support herself during her lean law student years. In May of 1973, Russell-McCloud received her Juris Doctorate degree from Howard, and was quickly licensed to practice law.
Fresh out of law school, Russell-McCloud landed her first job as a lawyer with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). At the FCC, Russell-McCloud rose quickly through the ranks. She eventually became chief of the Complaints Branch at the FCC’s Broadcast Bureau, a role that put her in charge of a 27-person staff, with the power to fine or revoke the licenses of at least 7,000 stations nationwide.
By the early 1980s, however, Russell-McCloud was again feeling the urge to take on new challenges. She began to expand her public speaking activities, delivering motivational talks at high schools and colleges all over the country. During a 1982 speaking engagement in Huntsville, Alabama, she met E. Earl McCloud, Jr., a minister and assistant professor of military science at Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University. She married McCloud the following year.
In April of 1983, a month after marrying McCloud, Russell-McCloud left her high-stress, high-profile job at the FCC, and launched Russell-McCloud and Associates, a business built around her growing reputation as a forceful and inspiring speaker. From her new base of operations in Atlanta, Russell-McCloud cultivated her first love, public speaking, into a thriving enterprise over the next few years. As word of her gripping presentations spread, nationwide demand for her services grew. Her clients included schools, corporations, community and religious organizations, and government agencies—any gathering of people that needed some motivating.
Many of Russell-McCloud’s talks focus on issues of race and diversity, but her message is more universal, covering leadership, education, child advocacy, and other topics. “I am an urgent speaker with an urgent message,” she was quoted as saying in Essence. “I’m not going to let you sleep through my presentation, and if I’ve done my job, you won’t sleep when you go home, either.” In her talks, she encourages her audience to “rise and partake in your own journey because now is the only time. You are your own reflection, your own cloud or your own rainbow. When you are a star for yourself, people are enriched by your beauty, your presence and your willingness to dare,” according to the 1992 Essence article.
In July of 1994, Russell-McCloud was elected national president of The Links, Inc., a network of black professional women engaged in a variety of community service activities. With more than 10,000 members, The Links is one of the busiest and most prestigious women’s service organizations in the world. “We are an organization of women linked in a chain of friendship to provide service to their communities,” Russell-McCloud was quoted as saying in the Kansas City Star. “Our projects include education, health and wellness for African-American families; services for youth, and the arts. We assist young people with scholarships, career advancement opportunities and programs to develop self-esteem and self-control.” In her first two years as head of the Links, Russell-McCloud helped raise more than half a million dollars toward the implementation of those goals.
With the addition of her responsibilities as president of The Links, Russell-McCloud’s already busy schedule became even more hectic. She logs more than 400,000 travel miles a year in the course of delivering some 200 addresses. Her work day often runs to 16 hours, frequently beginning with a 5:45 red-eye flight out of Atlanta to some distant town.
As an individual who has come far from her humble Indianapolis roots through sheer force of will, Russell-McCloud is uniquely qualified to jar people into action. She sees it as her job to nudge people out of their ruts, to encourage them to take the necessary risks to carve out a happier niche for themselves. As she put it in a 1996 Essence interview, “I want to see more people stepping out of the norm to follow their dreams.”
Ebony, July 1996, p. 108.
Essence, March 1992, p. 44; July 1996, p. 48.
Jet, August 5, 1996, p. 12.
Kansas City Star, November 27, 1994, p. H8.
Star Tribune (Minneapolis), July 30, 1996, p. 7E.
Additional material for this profile was provided by Russell-McCloud & Associates.
—Robert R. Jacobson
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