Pat Coleman has met challenges all her life. When she was a teenager, she had two sons just 15 months apart. “I never imagined the many bumps in the road my boys and I would confront on our life’s journey,” she writes in her new book, Overcoming: Living our Best Life in Spite of… She recounts stories of her sons facing discrimination throughout their lives, but expresses gratitude that discriminatory experiences didn’t derail her family.
In the book, 32 other Black women also share their experiences overcoming significant obstacles. “These stories are about human experiences within the very core of life itself,” the foreword notes. “The challenges and disappointments but more importantly it is about their resolution to succeed in their own definition of success and also their path to achieve far beyond what was or is expected.”
The chapters include firsthand accounts of dealing with anxiety and depression, debt, poverty, molestation, miscarriages, and discrimination. One chapter details a journey from Harlem to Harvard, and another examines what’s in a name. The stories are anything but cookie cutter, says Coleman, who asked women she knew to write their stories. “I wanted people to dig deep and share something that they’ve overcome while they’re in the process of becoming.” For many of the women, it was the first time they shared their stories publicly, and some told Coleman that it felt like a weight had been lifted from their shoulders.
Coleman views the book as one more way to connect with and inspire others. She draws people in with her caring personality, and she she shares what she hopes are valuable insights from her life experiences. “I’m good at building relationships,” she says. “All my mentors came by way of relationships.” She credits her mentors—Build-A-Bear founder Maxine Clark, the late Presidents Council founder Arthur Scharff, among others—for having an impact on her career. A mentor herself, Coleman finds that she frequently learns from her mentees as much as she teaches.
For Coleman, it’s about paying attention to people and understanding that everyone has their own obstacles to meet. She understands this especially well as president and CEO of Behavioral Health Response, which provides around-the-clock crisis support, counseling, and mental health resources—even amid the pandemic. Coleman believes the pandemic also raised awareness about the importance of mental health. “A lot of people are coming forward and talking about anxiety and depression,” she says.
When she stepped into the position a decade ago, she recalls, “It was the longest learning curve.” Coleman had earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Saint Louis University and Fontbonne University, respectively, and run her own HR consulting business, but leading a clinical organization was a new challenge. “I soak in everything that is around me,” she says. “I attend conferences. I try to stay on top of trends that are relevant to the fields or things that I need to be involved in.”
It’s through this work that Coleman has honed her own leadership skills and furthered her interest in supporting young women. “I am so interested in this next generation of leadership—if nothing else, I want to prepare this next generation of leaders,” she says. “I want to teach other leaders that they are in charge of their own development. I believe that people are a CEO of themselves.”