Sunday, February 21, 2010

Book Review - The Promise: How One Woman Made Good on Her Extraordinary Pact to Send a Classroom of 1st Graders to College by Oral Lee Brown

The Promise: How One Woman Made Good on Her Extraordinary Pact to Send a Classroom of 1st Graders to College
Author: Oral Lee Brown
Year: 2005
Page: 272
Genre: Non-fiction - Memoir, Education

New to me author? Yes
Read this author again? Maybe
Tearjerker? No
Where did it take place? Oakland, CA, USA
FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

Summary (from
In 1987, haunted by a little girl begging for food in her East Oakland neighborhood, Brown impulsively adopted a first-grade class at a local elementary school. Having promised to finance a college education for each of the 23 students, on a salary of only $45,000 a year, Brown pledged to save $10,000 each year. The pledge strained her marriage and committed her to working several jobs. But 12 years later, using her personal investment and funds raised through the Oral Lee Brown Foundation, she made good on her promise--sending 19 of the 23 students to college. In this astonishing account, Brown recalls how she managed to keep in touch with the students, who were from unstable families and a disadvantaged neighborhood, developing strong personal ties with each of her "babies" and keeping them on track for college. Brown has extended her promise to a new crop of students. An inspirational look at the determination of one woman to make a difference in her community and in the lives of disadvantaged children.

First Sentence:
One night in December 1987, I hid in my car while the media hunted all over Oakland, California for me.

Why did I pick this book?
Browsing in a nearby shelf in the library, read the inside flap of the book and thought the premise sounds interesting - I mean, really, sending 23 kids to college?

My thoughts:
  • This is definitely an inspirational story. Apart from the initial financial commitment of $10000 a year, Oral Lee Brown invested a lot EMOTIONALLY as well - she became a second mum to the kids, she arranged college tour, she spent time to the kids and listened to their problems, she met with their principals and teachers, she arranged tutoring... while she still had to take care of her own family and managed her own career(s)

  • The writing and content sometimes were a bit repetitive, but her personality shone through. You could almost hear her talking to you.

  • You can find more information on her foundation at

  • I wish there were more pictures in the book, or include some testimonies from her "babies" (the kids who benefited from the program)


I'm a firm believer that kids fail because we don't teach them how to succeed. It's as simple as that. If you walked into a first-grade classroom at Brookfield Elementary and asked the students how many of them wanted to be dummies when they grew up, they would laugh you right out of there. Nobody, and I mean nobody, wants to be a dummy. (p6)

"It's amazing that you're willing to make sacrifices for these children," they said. I thanked them and said it wouldn't be a sacrifice, because whenever you give up something to help others you don't really lose anything. (p45)


Have you read this book? 
If you have, I would love to hear what you think!
I'll link your review here if you wish!

100+ Reading
Memorable Memoir

1 comment:

  1. It's interesting - The Office had an episode this season where Michael promises a class that he'll send them all to college when they graduate, and then can't deliver on that promise (I think he ends up giving them laptop batteries instead). I wonder if that plotline was based on this story in any way.

    At any rate, this sounds like an inspirational read. I really like those quotes.