Rags-to-riches millionaire attorney Willie E. Gary pledged $100,000 to Paine College during a speech Sunday at the college for Good Samaritan Church's Men's Day celebration.
Mr. Gary, a personal-injury and malpractice attorney in Stuart, Fla., who grew up a sharecropper's son and today is a multimillionaire, urged attendees at the celebration to support traditionally black colleges after making the announcement that the donation would be included in his budget.
"Someone should be able to go to any college they want," he said. "But what I'm saying is, the black colleges were there when we had no place to go. Now, you need to support black colleges. And don't you become so sophisticated that black colleges aren't good enough for your children. I have lawyers working for me who went to Harvard and Yale and Princeton. I write their paychecks every week. Don't you tell me black colleges aren't good enough."
Mr. Gary attended Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C., and North Carolina Central University law school in Durham, N.C., both traditionally black schools.
He often tells the story of arriving at Shaw University in 1967, hoping he could earn a scholarship playing football. The team was filled, but he slept on dorm couches, ate cafeteria food smuggled to him by other players and cleaned the locker room until another player was injured, giving him a chance to make it onto the field.
In 1991, he donated $10 million to the college.
Giving back to the community was a main thrust of Mr. Gary's message Sunday, along with encouraging young people to reach for their dreams.
"We have a tendency to make it and then get amnesia," he told listeners in Paine College's Gilbert-Lambuth Memorial Chapel.
"We forget about the bridge that brought us over. We let our heads get too large for our hat size, and we say `I got mine. Now you get yours,"' he said. "We're quick to hang out the do-not-disturb sign and put on the shades of indifference -- and then we have the nerve to think we made it where we are on our own."
People not only need to give back to their community, but they also must serve as role models for children, he added, pushing a formula of hard work, determination, faith in God and more hard work as the key to success.
"They have to set their goals high and they have to hear that from us," Mr. Gary said. "I am living proof that you can get it if you want it.
"... I came to challenge you today to never do less than your best. I came to challenge you young folk because you are a position to be challenged. You must blaze new trails and pioneer new things."