Are you familiar with the story of Mary McLeod Bethune?
I first learned about her from popular motivational speaker, Les Brown. But I only recently found out some other things about her that I didn’t know in the book “The Ultimate Competitive Advantage – Why Your People Make All the Difference and the 6 Practices You Need to Engage Them” by Shawn D. Moon and Sue Dathe-Douglass.
More than a century ago, a young African American woman named Mary McLeod Bethune started the Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls in Daytona Beach, Florida. The fifteenth child of former slaves, Mary grew up in deep poverty, but with her passion for learning, she pleaded for a place in school and eventually became a teacher. Recognizing that black girls of that time and place had little opportunity for an education, she became fired up with the idea of starting her own school for them.
Mary’s cash resources consisted of a dollar and a half, but that didn’t stop her. Her resources were limited only by her ingenuity, and that was unlimited. The only place she could find for her school was a shack next to the town dump, so she cleaned it up and used it. There was no money for supplies, so she made desks out of old boxes, pencils from charred wood, and ink out of boiled-down berry juice. Her desk was a packing case.
I lay awake nights, contriving how to make peach baskets into chairs – she said.
The school opened in 1904 with five eager girls, six books, and the devoted Mary McLeod Bethune as the teacher. While teaching reading, writing and math, she also taught them to be as resourceful as she was. What could they do to help support the school? One girl knew how to make a mattress stuffing it with moss. Others knew how to bake pies. So they made and sold mattresses to their neighbors, and they offered pieces of sweet potato pie to the tourists who descended on Daytona Beach for the auto races. That’s how they paid the $11 monthly rent on their school.
I considered cash money as the smallest part of my resources. I had faith in a loving God, faith in myself and a desire to serve.
Mary’s little school eventually grew into Bethune-Cookman University, thriving today with nearly 4,000 students and a $34 million endowment.
Once when campaigning for her school, she bravely introduced herself at a palatial vacation home in Daytona Beach and was received by an old gentleman who owned it. He enjoyed her gift of sweet potato pie and kept asking her back, which delighted her. She talked about her school in radiant terms, about the library and chapel and the schoolrooms and the lovely uniformed girls. “I would like you to become one of he school’s trustees,” she told him.
One day his big limousine arrived unannounced at the school. The old gentleman got out, looked around, and saw nothing but a shed in a muddy field. One girl read aloud from a geography book while others peeled and boiled sweet potatoes for pie. Mary took off her apron and looked the man straight in the eye.
“And where is this school that you wanted me to be a trustee of?” he asked, obviously NOT pleased.
Mary smiled up at him and said,
In my mind and in my soul…
After a moment’s hesitation, James Norris Gamble, the fabulously wealthy inventor of Ivory soap, wrote her a check. Overwhelmed by the power of her vision, Gamble provided her the means for realizing that vision for the rest of her life.
How resourceful are you?
How resourceful are your family members, friends, associates, co-workers?
Do you live in an environment of helplessness, constantly restrained by a lack of passion and resources from the great contribution that you are capable of making?
After reading this story of Mary McCleod Bethune – can you ever say again with a straight face – that you don’t have the resources?