As debates about Jay-Z, Don Lemon and Black leadership intensify, I am reminded of the life story of Oseola McCarty. McCarty was a washerwoman in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. She quit school in the sixth grade to care for an ailing aunt, but she was wiser than most of the people who I know.
McCarty did not own a car; she had very few material luxuries and by most accounts, she lived frugally. For several decades, she saved her money. She kept saving and saving. In 1995, the world got a glimpse of just how remarkable she was. She gave the gift that keeps on giving: education.
With the money that she saved, she endowed over $150,000 in scholarships for African American students at the University of Southern Mississippi. The scholarships, still in existence today, are awarded to students who otherwise would not be able to afford college. She immediately became a local and national star; yet through it all, she maintained her humility, dignity and grace.
McCarty used the little that she had to ensure that others could and would have more. Her legacy isn’t tied to the honorary doctorate that she received in 1996 from Harvard University or the Presidential Citizens Medal bestowed upon her by President Bill Clinton. Her legacy is intricately tied to the sacrifices that she made for others. Although she died in 1999, her story is still timely and relevant today.
As we go back and forth pontificating and taking our corners, let’s not forget who our real models and leaders are. They are in our communities, neighborhoods and families. Who needs someone else to tell us how to live, how to dress and how to think?
Oseola McCarty was an ordinary woman who used her gifts and graces to do something extraordinary.
A true role model, Osceola McCarty lived by doing. Indeed, her presence was a gift to us all.