Leon Sullivan was born in Charleston, WV in a home along a dirt street. When he was 12, he was not allowed to purchase a soft drink at a local drug store as an African American. This incident influenced his life purpose. Leon was 6’5”, and received a scholarship to attend West Virginia State University, a UCBU.
Sullivan became a Baptist minister when he was 18. He transferred from WV State to Union Technology Seminary, where he received a bachelor’s degree. Sullivan was a Civil Rights activist who believed that jobs were the key to economic and social justice. Sullivan organized a boycott of businesses in Philadelphia where he was a pastor. The slogan he used was: “Don’t buy where you don’t work.” The boycott exceeded expectations and led to thousands of jobs for African Americans.
The success of the boycott led Sullivan to develop Opportunities Industrialization Centers (OIC) where individuals could acquire job and life skills. The program greatly exceeded expectations with 60 programs across the country serving over two million people.
Sullivan then decided that the creation of new businesses was critical to sustain employment opportunities. Following the parable in the Bible where Jesus fed 5,000 people with a few loaves of bread and fish, Sullivan asked 50 people to contribute $10/month for 36 months. This was called the 10-36 Plan. The program greatly exceeded expectations with 200 people signing up.
Sullivan became the first African American to be elected to a major corporate Board of Directors when he became a board member for General Motors. He was able to get GM and other corporations to withdraw from South Africa until apartheid was eliminated. His work was eventually adopted by the United Nations and was called the Sullivan Principles. The principles led to the elimination of apartheid.
Who would have thought that an African American from a dirt street in Charleston, WV with limited means would become the person who was one of the most important contributors to enhancing economic and social justice worldwide? He greatly exceeded expectations.
In a society where privilege tends to give the few a head start over the many, Leon Sullivan is a role model for how someone with a sense of values, dedication, and organization skills can exceed expectations.
All of us can exceed expectations that others have for us. We can do this by adding value to assignments given to us. We can make suggestions for expanding the scope of our work into new areas. We can produce work that is far above what anyone ever thought we could do. Exceeding expectations is not restricted to any personal trait. It is a product of determination and effort, as well as a passion for making things better.
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“High expectations are the key to everything.” – Sam Walton (founder of Walmart)