Annie Onieta Plummer

I saw the children with no books. I wondered what I could do to help.

Children need to know that people of all races have made contributions to society. That should be integrated into all curriculum every day—not just during Black History Month in February.
—Annie Onieta Plummer

Dubbed The Dictionary Lady, Annie Onieta Plummer was born in 1936 in Sylvania, Georgia. She was the fifth of twelve children. In 1992, she noticed that many school children in Savannah, Georgia were not carrying any books. On her own initiative, she invested 50 dollars in 30 pocket dictionaries and proceeded to hand them out on the street corner. From its humble beginnings, her project gained nationwide attention, was emulated in other areas and mushroomed to the point where she surpassed her personal goal ten times over.

Ms. Plummer dropped out of school to become a mother and worked as a housekeeper to support her daughter. Ever an advocate for children and always finding time to become involved in community affairs, she was instrumental in securing traffic lights for a busy intersection to ensure the children's safety. Always aware of the value of education, she went back to school at the age of 42, where she earned her diploma while excelling at her studies.

In each dictionary she handed out, she inscribed the motto of the United Negro College Fund, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste," supplemented by her personal message, "I challenge you not to waste yours."

She set her personal goal to distribute 4,000 dictionaries to all the third graders in Savannah and the adjoining county. By 1995, she more than quadrupled that amount by distributing 17,000 dictionaries, and by 1999, this latter amount was more than doubled with a distribution of 35,000 dictionaries.

With donations from supporters, she augmented the project's finances by selling t-shirts and organizing a Dictionary Lady Walkathon. In 1997, The Dictionary Lady Foundation was officially incorporated. Subsequently, similar projects were initiated in Chicago, Detroit, and San Diego.

Ms. Plummer was passionate about black history and widened her efforts in this area, campaigning for increased diversity training and the inclusion of black history in the curriculum of Georgia's public schools. In recognition of her commitment to all children and black children in particular, a bill aimed to foster the inclusion of black history in the curriculum of all state schools named The Annie Plummer Act was introduced in the Georgia House of Representatives.

Ms. Plummer died in 1999 and her daughter has committed to carry on her mother's legacy.

Ms. Plummer put her idea into practice, a perfect illustration that your ideas won't work if you don't. With meager resources and a strong sense of responsibility, Ms. Plummer made a difference, changing the lives of many black children in the process.
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