Oliver Hill's legacy lives on through youth mentoring program in Roanoke

Oliver Hill was one of the attorneys on the Brown v. Board of Education case

ROANOKE – A man is leaving a living legacy for the next generation.

Historic civil rights activist and Roanoke native Oliver Hill was one of the attorneys on the Brown v. Board of Education case that helped desegregate schools. After nearly seven decades of practicing law and overcoming challenges as a child, today his home is being used to help local kids in need.

A marker now stands in front of the Roanoke City home on Gilmer Avenue where Hill grew up. The child of a single mother, Hill’s mom was out of town working at the Homestead when he was taken in by the Pentecost family. The Pentecosts put him on the path to become one of the most influential attorneys in American history.

Josh Thoemke, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters, described how the organization's mission mirrors that of Hill’s personal story. Big Brothers Big Sisters provides volunteers who work one-on-one with students.

"That family was the one that eventually encouraged him to not go work on the railroad with all the other boys that were living in the home at the time, but to go to college. So he did and obviously, our country is different because someone entered into Oliver Hill's life, encouraged him and showed him he had value,” Thoemke said.

Thoempke said that's the same value they try to create with the kids at Oliver Hill house.

"Our bigs are daily trying to encourage them and unlock the potential that's already in them so they can go and be as great as they want to be,” Thoemke said.

The program helps 40 children from Roanoke City Public Schools. Program coordinator Melissa Dow said the mentorship is irreplaceable.

“They look at the clock and the first thing they say is, 'What time is it? Where's my big?' And they actually, you'll see their faces plastered up against the windows looking for them,” Dow said.

Hill's story is taught to the kids who attend and serves as an example of who they could one day become.

"He himself had been through some challenging situations coming up. And for the kids to see that and to understand, you know, for him to be in the position that he was, which was a lawyer, he just didn't walk into this. He started out just like they did,” Dow said.

The man's life continues to inspire the next generation to overcome obstacles many still face. Many of the students come from single-parent homes, like Hill. 

“The challenges he went through that they can get through it, as well,” Dow said.

Thoemke said although they do receive generous funding from Roanoke City Public Schools, they need an additional $30,000 to keep the programming running for the rest of the year.

The organization has set up an online donation for the public to help.

Click here to donate.

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