Inspiring Change from Fort Worth to the White House: Opal Lee

Opal+Lee+takes+a+photo+with+some+Upper+School+students%2C+and+C3-PO+and+R2-D2%2C+after+her+forum.

Reggie Johnson

Opal Lee takes a photo with some Upper School students, and C3-PO and R2-D2, after her forum.

Benjamin Hoppe, News Editor

   A trailblazer in fighting for equality and making June 19 a national holiday. She walked two and a half miles every day representing the two and a half years the enslaved in Texas were not told that they were free. She’s opened a food bank and even a farm on the Trinity River. She was a former teacher and counselor in Fort Worth. A survivor of burned houses and mobs, a fighter for equality and unity, and a lifelong Texan. Her name is Opal Lee.  

   On January 24, Lee came to FWCD and held a forum, The MLK Forum 2022: An Evening with Opal Lee, that was available to all FWCD families, faculty, and staff via Zoom or in person. Lee was asked many questions about celebrating Juneteenth as a child before moving to Fort Worth, and then the disparity of what it was like celebrating in Fort Worth. She was asked how she felt after mobs of white supremacists burned down her grandparent’s house, her parent’s house, and even her own house; her motivation to inspire change; her current accomplishments; what she feels like she still wants to achieve; and what she has had to overcome.

Opal Lee reads her book, “Juneteenth: A Children’s Story,” to the students, parents, and faculty who attended the forum. (Spencer Smith)

   “I have a faith in God that has brought me through so many things,” Lee said. “My grandfather lost a house in a fire. My mother and father lost their house in a fire. My house was burned by a fire, and I lost a child from it. Suffice it to say, all the things that have happened to me I try to remember to happen for a reason. I would pray and talk to the lord about it. He would show me a way out. So now, at 95, I’m at peace.”

   Despite all of these struggles and all of the other challenges Lee has had to face in her life, there have been a multitude of things she’s accomplished. One of Lee’s many accomplishments was opening a food bank in Fort Worth that has fed thousands of people. Almost exactly two years ago, she started a five-acre farm just east of downtown Fort Worth along the Trinity River. Her food bank and farm have not only helped fix food deserts in Fort Worth, but they have also created jobs and volunteer opportunities for the people of Fort Worth to give back to their communities. However, Lee doesn’t see that as her biggest accomplishment. 

   “Having four children, three boys and one girl [has been my biggest accomplishment],” Lee said. 

   Although Lee believes that having children was her biggest accomplishment, her most historic one was probably her most recent, when President Joe Biden signed into law a bill making June 19 a national holiday in the United States. Before this historic moment, Lee had planned to walk 1,400 miles from Texas all the way to Washington, D.C., in hopes, it would get more people to pay attention to her movement to make Juneteenth a national holiday, which celebrates the day when the slaves in Galveston, Texas were told they were free. This news came two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, so due to the concerns about the health and safety of the 89-year-old Lee, she decided to walk two and a half miles every day in memory of the two and a half years slaves in Texas were not told they were free. Although it may sound grim, even with all that Lee has achieved, there is still more that has to be done. 

   “Slavery, it’s our origional sin,” Lee said. “That’s the biggest challenge, if we can get past that, and heal from that, and do all the things that need to be done, helping people find jobs and a place to stay, helping mothers who have to look after their kids, [help them] put food on the table, help babysit their kids. In the Bible, somewhere it says we are our brother’s keeper, and I believe that. It doesn’t mean I’m going to take over the situation, but I’ll help where I can.”

   Lee has done a tremendous amount to give back to her community and to inspire change, but she is still not done. Every year on June 19, Lee holds a two and a half mile walk to celebrate Juenteenth, and she is also working on opening a Juneteenth museum in Fort Worth that she hopes will become a national museum. She also has a children’s book about Juneteenth that is available for purchase and an updated version that is available for pre-order. With everything that Lee has done to give back, she is now being nominated for a Nobel Peace prize, which is an incredible feat. 

   Lee heavily believed in giving back to the community, and she has many opportunities to do so. You can volunteer at her food bank and her farm, you can donate to her farm or food bank, or volunteer time to give back to the community elsewhere, you can volunteer for Juneteenth community events, or simply help out and give some of your time back to your community. 

   One FWCD student, Nola Gibbs ‘25, volunteers at Lee’s farm in her free time.

   “I enjoy cleaning up the garden,” Gibbs said. “I think [volunteering] at the farm is pretty fun.”

   Lee left everyone who attended the forum with a simple message, “Help Somebody.”

“Help Somebody”

— Opal Lee