Many faith communities around the country have just held their annual National Observance of Children’s Sabbaths® celebrations, an event coordinated every October by the Children’s Defense Fund. It encourages congregations of all faiths to consider how they can respond to the Divine mandate to nurture, protect, and ensure justice for all children. This year’s theme was “Blessed to Be a Blessing,” based on the promise God gave to Abraham in Genesis. Participants were invited to consider how they can use the blessings they have received to be a blessing to others. The Reverend Solomon Jackson, Jr., a retired state employee from South Carolina, set a powerful example after he received an unexpected blessing of his own.
What would you do if you won the lottery? Lots of people like to daydream about the answer, but for Reverend Jackson this question became reality when he won the $259.9 million Powerball jackpot in the summer of 2009. He knew immediately that he wanted to share some of his winnings with others and decided that one of the first recipients would be Morris College, a historically Black college in Sumter, South Carolina affiliated with the Baptist Church where he had studied religion. So in January, Reverend Jackson handed his alma mater a check for $10 million—the largest gift Morris College had ever received from a single donor.
In September the college broke ground on one of the new buildings made possible by his gift, a maintenance and office facility named after Reverend Jackson’s father and two of his spiritual mentors. Reverend Jackson remembered how his father supported his wife and eleven children by mowing lawns in the morning and working as a custodian at the University of South Carolina at night for seventy-five cents an hour: “He taught me everything that I know, even pushing a lawnmower when it was dull and he had to work to feed all of us,” he told the audience at the groundbreaking. Reverend Jackson said his father taught him about hard work and the value of a quarter, and naming the maintenance facility at Morris College in his honor was a way to bring his lessons and legacy full circle.
The maintenance building will be just a small part of Reverend Jackson’s own legacy at the school. His gift is also being used for new dormitory and administration buildings, freshman and athletic scholarships, needed repairs at existing buildings, a new coach bus, and the college’s endowment. While many donors give large gifts like his slowly over a period of time, Reverend Jackson chose to give his all at once so that Morris College could begin putting it to use immediately. He told others that education was the first thing that came to his mind after he won the lottery. “I realize that the position that I’m in comes with the good and the bad, but I promise to be led by God and if I’m led by God, I can’t forget those who led me to where I am,” he said at the groundbreaking. “Morris College will always and forever be a part of my life.”
Morris College President Dr. Luns C. Richardson said generations of students will be able to enjoy Reverend Jackson’s generosity. The school is especially known for training teachers and ministers, and students cheered and jumped for joy at the campus assembly where they learned about his gift. When Reverend Jackson announced his gift to Morris College, he said he felt as if the gift he had received from the lottery was continuing to grow—”like a snowball rolling down a snow-covered hill.” How wonderful to be able to share in his good news and his example of being blessed to be a blessing to others! Historically Black colleges like Morris have played and continue to play a special and crucial role in America and have produced a disproportional share of Black leaders. My father, a marvelous minister and servant of God, graduated from Morris in the 1920s. All of the Wright children grew up knowing the importance of education and service. All of us went to college and three of us earned advanced degrees. And all of us used our gifts to give back to others. I’m so grateful for that legacy and I thank Reverend Jackson for ensuring that Morris’s continues.