—Oral Lee Brown
One morning on her way to work, Oral Lee Brown stopped by a local grocery store to make her usual purchase of some peanuts and a soda. On this particular day, however, a little girl approached Brown, asking for a quarter. Because all she had was a $5 bill, Brown invited the little girl to go with her to the store to get some change. Inside the store, Brown told the little girl she could pick out anything she wanted.
Instead of choosing candy or gum, which would have been the first choice for most kids, the little girl immediately ran for a loaf of bread. Brown asked the girl if she went to school. She quietly responded, “Sometimes,” as she shyly thanked Brown and quickly disappeared around the corner.
That night, Brown couldn’t sleep. She knew she had to find the little girl. She went to the school the girl would most likely attend, but she never found her. Instead, she found many other children, in less than ideal conditions. In an almost impulsive decision, Brown decided to “adopt” a class of 23 East Oakland, California, first-graders. She told them, "Stay in school, and I'll send you to college."
To achieve this goal, Brown, a realtor, began saving money, putting aside $10,000 per year from her $45,000 salary.
Starting that day, Brown did more than simply make a promise to the children; she became an active part of their lives. She became a benefactor, mentor and second mother to those 23 first-graders, beginning with regular visits, Saturday tutorials and parent meetings. She tracked each child's attendance and grades, bought them Christmas gifts and purchased supplies.
Brown took the students on recruiting trips to colleges and attended nine different high school graduations. Nineteen of the students in that first class enrolled in college, and three others went into trade schools. Those students all graduated from college in 2003 and 2004.
Brown is now on her sixth class of “adopted” students. All told, more than 125 young people have benefited from her generosity. Some of these students—now in college—report that if it hadn’t been for Brown, they would never have been given an opportunity for this kind of education.
In response, Brown says, "Somebody has to train these kids. Somebody has to teach them, and if not me, who? If not now, when? We must do it. It's got to be done."
Today, Brown has established the Oral Lee Brown Foundation, with the ultimate goal of opening a boarding school for 450 kids and planting the seeds for them to receive an Ivy League education. With her life’s ambition found in the work of supporting others to achieve undreamed-of goals, Brown embodies the value of helping others—and truly shows how to pass those values on.
Helping Others. Pass It On!
This billboard about Helping Others features Oral Lee Brown; real estate agent, philanthropist.