‘While I Have Your Attention’: The Strength & Character of Lucille O’Neal

‘While I Have Your Attention’: The Strength & Character of Lucille O’Neal


With a personal biography well-chronicled in her book, Walk Like You Have Somewhere to Go, and a litany of philanthropic pursuits that bespeak servant leadership, Lucille O’Neal has a true heart for people. Her life’s work is dedicated to uplifting others.

The mother of Shaquille O’Neal, one of the most prolific basketball stars to ever play the game, “Ms. Lucille’s” commitment to community is evident not only through the long list of community-centered activities she supports. It’s in her voice, and you can feel it radiating through her spirit. A “seasoned saint,” as she jokingly refers to herself, Ms. Lucille is a spirited woman whose mission is to ‘pay forward’ all the kindness she’s received over the years.

“I remember being a young girl, and the lessons we were taught,” she told Politic365 in an exclusive interview.  “Every home learned the golden rule: you do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It’s simple for me, and that’s the same thing I taught my children, and that’s how I do it. I love people. Period. And I love life more than ever right now. I love the Lord, and I just can’t help – this is in me – I have to do this because it’s in me to do, and it makes me feel good…I get the joy out of doing what I do, and I haven’t forgotten how people have helped us so many times.”

One of the most noble causes Ms. Lucille has dedicated herself to is founding and helping to run the Odessa Chambliss Quality of Life Fund.  Created in honor of her late mother, who passed of ovarian cancer in 1996, Ms. Lucille and her siblings established this fund to support students attending the nursing program at Bethune Cookman University. The fund also helps provide much-needed resources for the Odessa Chambliss Center for Health Equity. “It’s been a blessing,” O’Neal said of this fund, “not only to us, but to the people and the community that we serve.”

After the doctors had done everything they could to treat Mrs. Chambliss, O’Neal remembers being with her mother one day after surgery when the doctors came to her and said, “it is not the quantity of years that your mom has left to live, but it will be the quality of her life from now on that will make a difference to all of you.” That message became the central theme of the Odessa Chambliss Quality of Life Fund.

“We wanted to do something to honor our mother,” O’Neal said. “She was a sweet woman, a humble woman, a Godly woman. She loved people, loved education. She was just a good person. And we wanted to do something to honor her, and so we established the Odessa Chambliss Quality of Life Fund. Primarily we raise money for nursing scholarships and even tap into programs that do other things to improve the quality of someone else’s life.”

Beyond her work with the Quality of Life Fund, which is hosting its 7th Annual Faith and Fellowship Luncheon on May 6, 2017, featuring Dottie Peoples and Micah Stampley, Ms. Lucille is an ambassador for Lighthouse (for the Blind).  She is also an active participant in organizations like Mothers of Professional Basketball Players Association, Inc.; the Boys and Girls Club of America, where she and Shaquille make up the first mother-son duo to be public representatives of the organization; the Bethune Cookman University Board of Directors; and the Orlando Chapter of the United Negro College Fund, among others.

Grounded by values of service, commitment to community, and a desire to help others, Ms. Lucille “believe[s] that the blessing that we have is not even about us. I was blessed to be able to share my story…my testimony….my life has not always been this good. It’s been a journey, and along the way people helped out. They helped us, they helped me. When people ask me, ’well, what makes you do this,” my first question back is, ‘well, why not?’”

The girl from Newark, New Jersey, who became a mother for the first time at the age of 17, and has endured her fair share of life’s tribulations, sees her path as part of an invaluable journey to be in service to others. “I don’t look to be honored and recognized,” she said, “I’m blessed to do. I’d rather do it and nobody know it, because it’s not about me.”

“While I have your attention,” she says, “let me tell you my story.” Lucille O’Neal’s giving may not be “about her,” but the example she sets – her life story – provides an important lesson in creating powerful change: help who you can, when you can, and you can change the world, one life at a time.