changing the world

At 94, She Still Works to Change Lives — and Minds — Every Day

Ms. Opal Lee has spent her entire life giving back to her community and in 2020 she was recognized as the StoryTerrace "Unsung Hero."

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There are people in this world that just have hearts of gold; people that always put others before themselves and make the world a better place. Ms. Opal Lee is one of those people and was honored this year by StoryTerrace as the 2020 “Unsung Hero.”

Ms. Opal has spent her entire life working in her community. First, she was a teacher in Fort Worth, Texas. Then, she went back to school to get a master’s degree and served as a home and school counselor in the same district. She was well known in the Fort Worth community.

In 1977, she retired but did not stop. Lee explains, “After I retired, people still needed things. So, I'm still doing when people ask and sometimes when they don't ask, I get in that business.”

That business she is talking about is community work, like the food pantry and delivery, Opal’s Farm, Juneteenth marches, and more.

For community members who are bedridden and cannot leave their homes, Ms. Opal personally delivers boxes of food from the food pantry on a regular schedule. The food pantry has also connected her with people who are looking for a livable wage, so she helped to launch Opal’s Farm.  The farm provides jobs and an education to workers, many of whom are recently incarcerated and struggling to find a job.

Finally, her efforts to make Juneteenth a holiday bring her all over the country with marches and meetings.  She wants people to know that it is not “a Texas thing,” rather something the whole country should recognize and celebrate.

After more than 30 years in retirement, at 94 years old and in a pandemic, Ms. Opal is still out there delivering food and still fighting to have Juneteenth recognized as a national holiday.  In 2021, Ms. Opal plans to bring a petition with millions of signatures to Washington. 

It is her relentless work to make her community and country better that Nicole, a mentee of Ms. Opal, nominated her for the StoryTerrace 2020 “Unsung Hero” Award. There were over 500 nominations and Ms. Opal was selected as the winner.

As the winner, Ms. Opal will have her life story published in 2021. When asked what she hopes is captured in the book, she simply replied “that it lets people know that even if you're on the bottom rung of the ladder, that you can try and rung by rung, you can get where you need to be.”

A story of resilience and faith.  Ms. Opal added, “and for heaven's sakes, take somebody with you.” 

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