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When Potential Meets Opportunity: Angie Paccione

When Potential Meets Opportunity: Angie Paccione


Power of the spoken word

Angie Paccione has done it all. From professional basketball player, member of the Colorado Legislature, and as of 2019, the Director of the Colorado Department of Education, she is full of passion, inspiration, and devotion to releasing the untapped potential in this world. She dove into detail about how human potential is just like the potential of stored energy and is determined to spread the message of positivity and purpose.

As for what really makes Paccione who she is today, it’s not the titular accomplishments or sports accolades. “I’ve gone to the Wiki page for me, there’s so much out there, but the things that are not out there are the things that really makes me who I am.” It all comes back to the foundation of family. “ A lot of it has to do with how I was raised. My mom was an unwed Black teen girl in the South Bronx and was really determined that her kids would have an opportunity to do better.” Naturally every good parent wants what is best for their children and encourages them to become whatever they can imagine, “but in this case, it was fundamentally different because neither of them, at the time, could do what they wanted to do, being Black women in the 50s.”

Sometimes we can forget just how recently things like legalized racial discrimination and illegal interracial marriages truly are. Many of us were recently reminded just how precarious rights like access to abortion are. Paccione recalls “I was born in 1960, before the Civil Rights movement. That was before the Women’s Rights movement. That was before it was legal for my mom and my birth father to be married in like 26 states.”

Having a supportive family prepared her for obstacles. “There weren’t college scholarships for women basketball players. There wasn’t a women’s professional basketball league. But I believed in myself…, such that when those things became a reality, I was able to take advantage.” Paccione was the first Black woman to earn a full ride scholarship to Stanford and then went on to play professionally. 

Her passion and energy was infectious as we spoke. “It’s really through what I call the power of the spoken word. It’s like a superpower,” Paccione shared. We spoke about how words matter, how they can influence thought and belief — and in turn outcome — and how important it is now more than ever to spread the truth and shed a light on injustice. Spoken words matter. She once gave an inspirational talk to prisoners, and one particular encounter reminded her of the impact what we say has on how we develop. “That prison inmate came up to us and said, you know, my dad always said I’d end up in prison. And you think about the power of the spoken word,” Paccione recalled.

I asked her to share how the power of words can actually change lives for the better. She laid out a compelling science influenced argument. “The definition of potential is stored energy. In order to release stored energy, something has to act on it. When we talk about human potential, it’s really the potential for greatness. Then just like scientific potential, something has an act on it,” she emphatically stated. “I use ‘activate your potential,’ waiting to be acted on just like scientific potential. And so the power of the spoken word is an activator.”

However it is not just words. Legislation and progress matter deeply as well. Paccione gives credit. “Without Title IX, I would have never gone to Stanford University,” she shared. Combining the progress of inclusivity and the power of activating human potential can help set someone up to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves.

Caring for our kids

Paccione’s message is noble in the face of the modern world’s increasingly bleak news. Things such as mass shootings, school lockdowns, and regressive policies dominate headlines and define realities for millions. She echoed the difficulty in reaching a younger generation that may be feeling lost or hopeless. “How do you create the belief in young people that the world is good for all of them? When you are 16 years old and you just knock on a door and you get shot? How do you then convince young people that the world is safe or that the world is fair or honest or just when all the messaging is the opposite.” 

For Paccione, it all comes back to activating potential and surrounding yourself with the people who will support you. She shared her secret to reaching your full self. “Surround yourself with the people who are for you, [those] you can count on them to have your back, [who] are rooting for you… and hopefully those are the people who will tell you the truth as well. Those are the people who will help activate your potential,” she shared.

Our conversation naturally veered towards school shootings, as do many topics in education these days. Paccione opened up, “In the same way that Emmett Till’s mom had an open casket, I almost think we need a virtual or real visual of what happens to those kids.” She suggested that we as a visual society may need to see the impacts of these mass shootings to change the course of debate.

It is not all doom and gloom. There are positive movements in the Colorado school system that may ultimately help things like mental health and performance gaps. Recently, the state made all school lunches free. Paccione touched on how that will help younger students. “Going all the way back to Maslow’s hierarchy, If you don’t have food, you can’t learn. A hungry child really cannot learn.” The impacts of the free lunch are yet to be seen but the positive impacts will likely resonate from early education on up.

For higher education, Paccione is most excited for upcoming job programs. “I’m really thrilled with the governor’s initiatives around the zero cost credential. Programs that will provide education and training in the areas where the state has the greatest workforce shortage areas,” she shared. These would be programs similar to the CARE Forward Colorado program that provide entry level jobs into in-demand fields for no cost to students.

Legacy of a billionaire 

Paccione has inspired countless through her example as well as her speeches and talks. Just one conversation can leave you feeling like you’re ready to take on a new project, volunteer for an organization, and hug your mom all at once. 

We turned towards talking about the impact and influence a lifetime of work like hers can leave. “I’m 63 years old. I’m not dying tomorrow, but I’m on the other half of my life,” she said. As for her lasting legacy, Paccione said “It’s not all the jobs that I’ve had that makes you who you are, it’s all the people I’ve helped.” Her goal is to ignite passion, activate potential, and inspire others. “I used to say I want to be a billionaire, it’s not about the money, I want to inspire a billion people.”


Austin Clinkenbeard
Austin Clinkenbeard has been traveling the world with his wife for the past several years exploring food, history and culture along the way. He is a passionate advocate for stronger social science education and informed global travel. Austin holds degrees in Anthropology and Political Science from San Diego State. When he’s home there’s a good chance you can catch him cooking allergy friendly food. You can follow along Austin’s travel adventures and food allergy journey at www.NowWeExplore.com.

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