Once upon a time in Dover, Delaware lives the Patterson Family. Kendall, fearless father and a competitive fencer; Dionne, a marathon-running superhero mom; Kennadie, an 11-year-old Lego robotic engineer/seamstress who turns candy wrappers into doll dresses and blankets into fashion statements; and 7-year-old Leland, a tournament-winning karate kid whose subtle humor keeps his family in stitches. “Add some cool to magic and you have our family at Disney World!” proclaims Dionne.
The Patterson story begins at Delaware State University. Both embarking on new lives as freshman, the match was lit for Kendall the first day he saw the beauty from upstate New York walking up the aisle at an assembly. It was their first day of school. “I saw her and I said, ‘she’s the one. I want to marry her.’ ” The Newark, New Jersey native points out, “I’m not one of those guys who went to college looking for a wife. But when you see her… You know.”
The fencer didn’t touch Dionne’s heart as quickly. Introduced by a mutual friend, she remembers, “Initially, I fought it with everything in me.” Hanging out as friends, Cupid’s arrow hit her one night when he left a social gathering. Surprising herself, she remembers, “I was crying, I fell apart. I realized I never wanted to be away from him, ever.” In their, sophomore year, Kendall and Dionne were engaged.
Married June 21, 1997, the couple waited a few years to get established professionally and get to know each other as working adults. “We started off in college, and there’s a different type of growing that takes place in college than when you’re on your own.”
In 2002, the couple had their first child—a daughter, Kennadie—and then a son, Leland. Kendall, an information support specialist for the Department of Health, recalls the birth of their children with a lion’s pride. “It’s powerful. I was there for Kennadie’s and Leland’s births. I caught both kids when they were born.
“Kennadie is my little brainiac,” boasts her father. Recently, through the Lego Robotics Club at Delaware State, they entered a contest where kids built robots out of Legos and programmed the robots. “The awesome part was that she was part of the only all-girl team!” Kendall says. “There are so few girls involved in the sciences. She makes perfect grades in the subject. I want her to keep that interest.”
The budding engineer is also a fabulous fashion designer with a style-driven inclination toward recycling and refurbishing. Dionne says, “I’m a neat freak. I went into Kennadie’s room and found all these candy wrappers.” Confused by the clutter, she says, “I was blown away to later find that she was using them to make these beautiful dresses for her dolls. She also creates dresses out of blankets. My daughter makes something out of what other people consider to be nothing. She’s an amazing little girl.”
Kendall says the passion Leland presents in karate is like his own with fencing. “When I held the sword in my hand the first time in high school, it was more natural than the football or baseball.” He admires his son’s level of discipline, “As a 7-year-old, he practices regularly on his own. He entered a tournament a couple of months ago and won first place in breaking and second place in forms.” His mother agrees: “My son is highly energetic and hilarious, but he’s also disciplined and competitive.” Dionne adds, “He runs as well, like his mom.”
Dionne became a half-marathon runner after losing 30 pounds. “I made a lifestyle change. I was impressed with how you can train your body do different things,” she says. Testing her ability, she decided to try running a 5K race. Then she did a few more. The only thing stopping the next one was a car accident where she was hit from behind.
After physical therapy due to a back injury, six months later she was hit from the back again. Kendall remembers, “I know my wife has a lot of physical endurance, but I was angry. I was like, why does this keep happening?” Then he had her superpowers to contend with. “And she still wanted to run!”
Apprehensive, Kendall surrendered with the wisdom of the relationship. “I decided to support her as she supports me in everything I do. She’s taken on this Wonder Woman persona, so…”
Literally, she has. Dionne dresses up as Wonder Woman for every marathon. (“Every race I do.”) The last race she ran was called the Movie Madness Half Marathon. Runners were encouraged to dress up as characters from a movie. She thought: “I’m Wonder Woman, I’m always going to be Wonder Woman, and there’s no movie.”
Discovering a movie set for next year on her alter ego, she noted the costume change in the film. “Kennadie said, ‘I’ll help you, I can make your shield.’ ” At the end of the run, they gave out awards. “I received an Oscar for the Best Dressed Costume!” In her acceptance speech, she says, “I told the crowd that I appreciated the award but it will go to my daughter, because she’s the one who made the shield, and I thought it was an important part of the costume. And though it was hard to run 13 miles with the shield—it smacked my back through the race—there was no way I was running without it, because Kennadie made it.”
Still in physical therapy, Dionne has run four half marathons in the last 12 months. “If you tell yourself you’re going to do something, you will achieve it. That’s the message I want to share with my children: that spirit of perseverance, never giving up, and moving forward. Never say what you won’t do, you may prove yourself wrong.” The superwoman has another half marathon next week.
The element of living dreams infuses the Patterson family. The vision of their clan at Disney World was no different. “We’ve wanted to take our children for years,” Kendall says. “I would plan and then something would happen. One thing after another.” Last Christmas, Dionne’s mother gifted them a puzzle. Completed, it was a picture of her daughter’s family. Dionne emotionally states, “In the background of the photo was the Disney castle. It makes me teary thinking about it. With a note: ‘Guess where you’re going?’ It was an all-expense paid trip! The children were ecstatic. For so long they wanted to go.
“Then to be there… we were just so happy. And to see your children have that level of joy does something to your heart.”
Kendall agrees. “Experiencing family time in what feels like another realm stands out the most. Disney was truly magical. That was an awesome experience, to watch my wife participate in the half-marathon, to watch my son participate in the kids’ race and watch my daughter cheer them on. Spending that much time with nothing to do but have fun with your family—going on rides together, hugging on the family, eating together, laughing together. You don’t want to miss seeing what excites your kids, what makes them laugh.”
Dionne says, “I hope we can take them there again one day. The kids cried when we left! It was quite dramatic.” But Mommy gets it. “I wanted to glue myself to a palm tree!”
Creating memories cohesive to their family bond, the Pattersons are living happily ever after.
The Coolest Black Family in America is an EBONY.com original series: an ongoing look at the intricacies, layers and compelling beauty of African-American family life. Of course, The Coolest Black Family is not one family but many. In fact, we’ve found that there are as many Coolest Black Families as there are versions of cool. Also consider: family doesn't always mean mother + father + kids. What defines family is connected hearts and supported souls. Ride with us weekly as we crisscross the country in search of kinfolk whose cool is so palpable and real, it comes second only to their love. Think your cool fam qualifies? Email us at [email protected] (with Coolest Black Family in the subject line)!
Joicelyn Dingle travels to find the Coolest Black Family in America exclusively for EBONY.com. She splits her time between Savannah and Brooklyn. She is currently completing a documentary on the making of Honey magazine and the 1990s urban publishing era. Friend her on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter @editorialgenius.