Mo Young credits Lyllye Reynolds-Parker with her brother’s life.
“I have no doubt that along with the hard work that my brother put in, Ms. Lyllye saved him. I have no doubt in my mind,” Young said. “That is a debt that I could never repay.”
Hundreds of University of Oregon students have been cared for by Reynolds-Parker “with hugs, with food, with conversations, with a place to stay and with a safe place to land” during her 17 years as a college adviser in the Office of Multicultural Academic Success, Young said.
When Young visited her old friend in February, she learned Reynolds-Parker, then 74, was saving to buy a home of her own, but that it was going to take a long time to save enough. She asked for permission to help. With help from her friend Emily Yates, Young rallied the community and raised more than $75,000 for the local icon. Last week, Reynolds-Parker made an offer on her dream home. It was accepted.
“I am now a very happy homeowner. It’s something that I have always dreamed of and could never quite grasp,” Reynolds-Parker said. “When I walked in the front door, it said welcome home. I just fell in love with it.”
She’s the namesake of UO’s Black Cultural Center, one of the city’s most esteemed elders and the daughter of Sam and Mattie Reynolds, one of Eugene’s first Black families. Her legacy made it pretty easy to raise the money, Young said.
“When she was busy saving my brother, she was also saving countless other students,” Young said. “I wanted to give the community and the university a chance to give back to Ms. Lyllye because she has poured her heart and soul into this community, into us and into the students.”
Since March, the fundraiser on the Facebook page titled “Thank You Ms. Lyllye” has raised more than $75,000. In the summer, the Eugene Emeralds baseball team held a fundraiser in Reynolds-Parker’s honor. Handmade vases from the Clay Mason Studio, filled with flowers from a friend’s project, were raffled off to make money, as well. In the end, hundreds contributed. One donor gave $10,000. The youngest contributor was just 7 years old and gave $5.
Reynolds-Parker said she never expected a gift like this. Everything she gave, her students gave back.
“I’ll tell you, the outcome was reciprocal. I am blessed. I am truly blessed. ... It just picks my heart up to know that not only did they trust me with that part of their life, but their parents trusted me,” Reynolds-Parker said. “I wanted those students to know no matter what life throws at you, you are in control and somebody believes in you.”
At first, Reynolds-Parker wasn’t sure when Young offered to help.
“I don’t want anybody to think I’m out here begging for money, because that’s not me,” she said at the time. ”(Mo) said, I think I can raise $20,000 and my mouth dropped. (I said) ‘Okay, Mo, you can take over.’ ”
Young convinced Reynolds-Parker that she had earned the honor. For her, it wasn’t just about giving back for the work she had done, but honoring the legacy of one of Eugene’s founding Black families.
“Building generational wealth is not something that Black folks have been given an opportunity to do up until very recently, which means that we have less to fall back on than our white counterparts and our white neighbors,” said Young, who is also Black. “She’s put up with things that white folks have never had to put up with — her whole family has. It’s important to me that she have this equity to pass on.”
Facing segregation in the 1940s, Reynolds-Parker’s parents had to relocate several times before they built their own home on the north bank of the Willamette River near where the Ferry Street Bridge now stands. On July 16, 1949, Lane County commissioners made a demolition order for the area to make way for the Ferry Street Bridge. The Reynolds’ home was bulldozed and they were forced to relocate.
At the end of 2020, 44.1% of Black Americans own their homes, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, compared with 74.5% of their white counterparts. A long and complex history of racism, segregation and income inequity has contributed to this prevailing issue.
“We have so much catching up to do as Black folks in terms of finances,” Young said. “Homeownership is one of the fastest ways to build that generational wealth, but you can’t do it without a down payment.”
Young turned to Yates for help, since they successfully fundraised together before. Yates saw it as an opportunity to get the community to invest in a much-deserved esteemed elder, as well as something bigger.
“We have these conversations about racial equity ... this seemed like the perfect opportunity to give directly to someone who has given so much to so many other people and not only help her, but help her family and her community as well,” Yates said. “I didn’t have any doubt that that Mo and I could raise the money.”
It’s a challenging market for first-time homebuyers, said Bess Blacquiere, real estate agent and owner of Equinox Real Estate. She helped Reynolds-Parker find her home for free.
“It only seemed like the right thing. ... Every every year I try to do a little pro-bono work to put back into the community and give people a leg up,” Blacquiere said. “We just wanted her to be able to get a house.”
She managed to help find a home the right size, in the right place and for the right price. The large down payment provided by the community will keep monthly costs affordable. Last week, Reynolds-Parker and a handful of her many family members toured her new home where she will live with her sister.
“I’m overjoyed to have been given permission to do this,” Young said. “When our systems won’t take care of us, the community finds ways to take care of us.”
“Oh, I like that,” Reynolds-Parker said, agreeing with Young while the two were interviewed.
“I have to say, I truly believe God orchestrated this in my favor,” Reynolds-Parker added. “God sent me two angels — one named Mo and one named Emily ... and then he sent me a community who showered me with love.”