FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) - For Fort Worth's Mrs. Opal Lee, grace prepares to come full circle. From victim of racial hatred... to toast of the city.
On Thursday, she will be honored as the Fort Worth Inc. magazine 2022 Person of the Year. A Thursday evening gathering at the Fort Worth Club will honor her and the 2022 list of The 400 Most Influential People in Fort Worth.
"I'm overwhelmed... I really don't know how to act," shares the 95 year old Lee. "I want to do a holy dance... but they say I'm twerking," she adds with a wicked chuckle. "That's how grateful I am."
A visit with Mrs. Opal is always a walk with wisdom. We recently met to stroll along the verdant rows of what's called Opal's Farm, a urban oasis sitting in the shadow of downtown Fort Worth. The farm supports a local food bank, with the fresh produce also finding its way to local farmer's markets as well.
"Listen! I spent summers on a farm," she shares. The visit unearthing memories, rooted in compassion.
"It's part of my DNA... my grandfather would bring people to my grandmother and say 'put em to work, find 'em some food."
In the decades that followed, Mrs. Opal would continue her support for the poor. And added a new purpose: advocating for a federal Juneteenth holiday. In fact, Lee has come to be known as the "Grandmother of Juneteenth" for her years long effort to have the emancipation of America's slaves recognized as a federal holiday. She was there last year when President Biden signed it into law.
"I still pinch myself to see if it really happened. It was humbling. I just don't know what to say except I'd like to do it again," she adds with a laugh, "because I got some more things that he needs [ to do]. I need to call him up."
Politics aside, her unrelenting passion for justice began in Fort Worth. As a child, she endured the agony of her family's home being burned by an angry white mob while police stood by and watched. Their crime? A realtor sold her parents a home in a white neighborhood.
"My parents got away under cover of darkness," she said. "They pulled out the furniture... just tore that house apart."
And although the awards and honors keep coming -- from around the nation and North Texas -- the Fort Worth Inc. Magazine 2022 Person of the Year nod is special. The honor brings home her lived truth that hearts do change.
"Well," she pauses, "times have changed. How about that for going full circle?"
And then she plants more seeds of wisdom.
"We bleed red blood. And all we want are the same things you want. A decent place to stay, a job that pays enough... have food... that's all we wanted then, that's all we want now."
And when asked how she wants to be remembered 50 years from now, Mrs. Opal said: "That somewhere along the line, she was able to help a few people." She then added, "Listen each of us must be responsible for others of us. The Bible tells us that."
And then finally.
"So. I want to be known for a little old lady in tennis shoes getting in everybody else's business... and then she turns from the serious to the typically feisty Mrs. Opal, "and having a damn good time doing it!"
for more features.