Oral Lee Brown Promises the World to Third Graders in Oakland

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I admit it: The cynic in me absolutely cringed when I read a description of Oral Lee Brown's promise to fund an entire classroom's college education. She's just one woman, after all -- and we aren't talking about Bill and Melinda Gates here. She told ABC News that she made the promise impulsively: "I don't know where it came from," she said.

Huffington Post wrote:

In 1987, Oakland real estate agent Oral Lee Brown adopted a first grade class and committed to sending each eligible student to college. She didn't know where the funds would come from, but she was set on seeing underprivileged kids have a chance for higher education.

Damaged as I am from pop culture, I predicted the end of THAT story, and it wasn't pretty. Because I have seen it on The Office. Hapless boss Michael Scott once made a similar promise of college scholarships to a group of third graders to encourage them to complete high school. And they did. When it was time for those "Scott's Tots" kids to graduate, they sang in tribute to his generosity, right before he took the podium to break the news to them that he could not afford the promised tuition and would instead be giving them laptop...batteries. (You can watch Season 6, Episode 11 if you have Hulu Plus, and can see pics and a synopis on NBC.com.)

Cringe! Double cringe!

So what about that impulsive promise made to real-life kids in Oakland? Was it cringeworthy? The kids did their part, with most of them successfully graduating. No need to cringe, though: Thankfully, Oral Lee Brown succeeded where Michael Scott failed! She saved $10,000 each year from the $45,000 a year she was earning at the time, and she sent those kids to college.

That wasn't the end of this fantastic story though. She has continues to offer even more scholarships, directing fundraisers and corralling corporate donations through her foundation. Right now, nineteen college students are on semester break, able to head back to school in the new year because of Oral Lee Brown. Huffington Post wrote:

When the time came, almost all of the 23 students went on to college thanks to "Mama Brown," who had tucked away a nest egg saved from her real estate income.

Now, Brown's foundation continues to make dreams come true for Oakland students, doling out college scholarships every three years.

You've got to watch these students, who call themselves "Brown's Babies" talk about what Oral Lee Brown's promise means to them:

One woman, who herself was born into poverty in the Mississippi Delta, has inspired and made manifest real change in children's lives. She is an amazing force and deserving of accolade after accolade -- and as we say in the south, many jewels in her crown.

Oral Lee Brown is amazing, but she didn't wait until she won the lottery to shoot for the stars. Her ;generosity as a regular, hard-working woman is also an incredible inspiration and a challenge, pointing to the fact that there are no barriers for most of us to becoming major philanthropists.  What could each of us do to break the cycle of poverty, or to effect some other meaningful change, if we borrowed a little of her moxie, determination and commitment?

I'd love for Ms. Brown to be able to square Michael Scott's shoulders and teach him how to follow through, because Brown's Babies have Scott's Tots beat. Her contributions sure are an inspiring lesson to me.

What are you passionate about changing? Does Oral Lee Brown inspire you to teach Michael a lesson or two?

Deb Rox is a business development consultant at 3 Smart Girlz and she blogs at Deb on the Rocks. 

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