Summary and book reviews of The Promise by Oral Lee Brown

The Promise

How One Woman Made Good on Her Extraordinary Pact to Send a Classroom of 1st Graders to College

by Oral Lee Brown, Caille Millner

The Promise
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2005, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2007, 272 pages

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Book Summary

The inspiring story of one woman's extraordinary promise and steely determination to make a difference in the world.

In the bestselling tradition of The Pact and The Freedom Writers Diary—the inspiring story of one woman's extraordinary promise and steely determination to make a difference in the world.

One morning in 1987 Oral Lee Brown walked into a corner store in East Oakland, California, to buy snacks for work. A little girl asked her for a quarter, and Brown assumed that she wanted to buy candy, but surprisingly she bought bread and bologna—staples for her family.

Later that day Brown couldn't get the little girl out of her mind. Why wasn't she in school? Why was she out begging for money to buy food for her family? After several weeks of not being able to sleep, Brown went to look for the girl at the local elementary school and soon found herself in a first-grade classroom. She didn't find the little girl, but before she left she found herself promising the kids that if they finished high school, she would pay for their college education.

At the time, Oral Lee Brown made only $45,000 a year.

But years later, after annually saving and investing $10,000 of her own money and establishing the Oral Lee Brown Foundation, this remarkable woman made good on her promise: after nineteen of the original twenty-three students graduated from high school, she sent them all to college. And in May of 2003, LaTosha Hunter was the first of Brown's "babies," as well as the first person in her family, to graduate from college.

This marvelous and inspiring book is the amazing story of one woman's unending desire to make a difference. And if once was not enough, in 2001 Brown made the same promise to three new classrooms of first, fifth, and ninth-graders. Brown and her foundation are now committed to adopting a new crop of kids to send to college every four years.

Brown's pledge to the students was not without great personal and public sacrifice. Her promise turned her life upside-down—it strained her relationships, and at times required her to work several different jobs. Brown also developed a strong emotional attachment to the children—for many of these students Brown was the one consistent adult in their lives.

In a world short on heroes, altruism, and dedication, The Promise shows that it is still possible to change lives for the better. This book will encourage, uplift, and inspire every reader.

A portion of the proceeds from the book will go to the Oral Lee Brown Foundation.

1
The Education of Oral Lee Brown

Even though I acted as a surrogate parent to twenty-three kids, I didn't always understand what they were going through growing up. I couldn't compare my childhood to theirs at all. Even though I'm just in my early sixties, and was only in my forties when I made my promise, the world of my childhood has disappeared. Well, in most ways, I hope!

I was born in Mississippi in the early 1940s, in a small town just outside Batesville. At the time Batesville, which is on the Tallahatchie River about fifty miles southwest of Memphis, Tennessee, had a population of about 15,000 people. The most interesting thing about Batesville when I was growing up was the fact that it was on the main train line that wound through the country, so we got to see all kinds of people coming and going when we were children. We also got to dream of leaving on that train, and believe you me, did I dream of leaving Mississippi! Even as a ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

Brown is plainspoken, giving her views on everything from sternness to listening, the impact of special people in your life, to practical matters of setting up trust accounts and saving for your own child's higher education, even when your income is scant.

Booklist - Vanessa Bush

An inspirational look at the determination of one woman to make a difference in her community and in the lives of disadvantaged children.

Author Blurb Tavis Smiley, author and host, Tavis Smiley on PBS
With a selfless devotion that will inspire every reader, Mrs. Oral Lee Brown's story has the power to change the way we feel about doing the work that needs to be done. After reading this book, you will be empowered to take on challenges in your own life and community. Oral Lee Brown is the kind of hero we need more of!

Author Blurb The Honorable Don Perata, President pro Tempore, California State Senate
Oral Lee Brown is a remarkable role model. By adopting an entire elementary class, she continues to share her success and perseverance with our entire community. Surely, Oral Lee's efforts impact the students and their families, but her selflessness is an example for everyone. Most importantly, she helped cultivate Oakland's next community of leaders.

Author Blurb Erin Gruwell, author of The Freedom Writers Diary
What an amazing story, and what an amazing woman! Ms. Brown and her "kids" stand as a beacon of hope to students everywhere who lack the access, but not the drive to achieve higher education. This book will inspire you to reach inside of yourself and discover how you can become an advocate in your own community.

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Beyond the Book

Oral Lee Brown was born in Mississippi in the early 1940s.  She is the ninth of twelve children born to 'old-fashioned farming folk' who grew cotton and corn.  Today she lives in Oakland, California.

Although California reports an official graduation rate of 87% to the Federal Government using a Federal formula, on the Dept of State website they say the rate is closer to 71% (based on the % of freshmen who enter high school and go on to earn a diploma four years later).  That number is troubling enough, but things look even worse when broken down by ethnic group - according to The Civil Rights Project at Harvard the Californian graduation rate for African-...

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