As one of the greatest long jumpers in history, University of Mississippi alumna Brittney Reese is already recognized as Ole Miss’ most celebrated Olympian. However, her quiet efforts to help and serve others are often overlooked.
That changed recently when the 36-year-old Reese was honored in Oxford, Mississippi, with the Emerging Young Philanthropist Award by the Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy (OMWC).
“I’m so honored to be a recipient of the Emerging Young Philanthropist Award,” Reese said at the event at the home of Mary Haskell, a former OMWC chair. “I have always prided myself on giving back, and I have been blessed to be able to do so.”
Members of the Women’s Council, one of the most innovative scholarship programs in the United States, were pleased to have the opportunity to illustrate Reese’s philanthropic accomplishments, which are an important aspect in the life of the 2011 UM graduate, said OMWC Chair Suzan Thames of Ridgeland, Mississippi.
“While the world knows Brittney Reese is an extraordinary athlete who has been decorated for her many unparalleled accomplishments on track and field’s world stage, the Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy is pleased to have this opportunity to highlight Brittney’s generous giving nature and outstanding philanthropic resume as well,” Thames said.
Thames noted that nurturing philanthropic behavior is the most fundamental and crucial aspect of the OMWC’s mission. The program encourages its scholars to develop strong leadership skills while also becoming caring, ethical leaders within their communities and with causes that are important to them.
“Brittney is the quintessential example of a genuine servant leader and role model of a multifaceted, successful life with philanthropy woven throughout every aspect of it,” Thames said. “She is precisely the type of person that we aspire for our scholars to witness as the teaching example of an exceptional life that is in balance with a priority of servicing others.”
For many years, Reese has supported her hometown of Gulfport, Mississippi, in several ways. For instance, shortly after graduating from Ole Miss, Reese returned to Gulfport to assist various homeless and religious organizations. She also donated 100 turkeys to make sure area families enjoyed the holidays and personally delivered them to visit with the families.
On another occasion, Reese rented a local theater so children from financially insecure families could attend a free screening of the internationally acclaimed superhero movie “Black Panther.” She created the B. Reese Scholarship to be given annually to a male and female student in the Gulfport School District who will attend either a two- or four-year college.
In addition, Reese and her agent, Mark Pryor, owner of a firm specializing in track and field management, established the Brittney Reese Allied Sports Scholarship. The scholarship is awarded to students with disabilities who are of outstanding character and sportsmanship, are involved with two allied sports and plan to attend a secondary school after high school.
This Olympic medalist most recently illustrated her commitment to sharing her gifts with others when she returned to her former school, Gulfport High School, in August as the new coach of the girls’ cross country and track and field teams. In addition, she said she plans to be head coach of the boys’ and girls’ teams of the new indoor track and field program she is developing.
Reese credits her great-grandmother for instilling within her a desire to help others.
“When my great-grandmother started to notice how good of an athlete I was becoming, she told me to never forget where I came from,” Reese recalled. “And from that day on, I have not forgotten. Her words have stuck with me and hopefully, I am doing just as she asked of me.” Reese also asks others to consider doing the same. Even those who have limited financial resources, as she did when she started her athletic career, can help improve their communities.
“I always encourage everyone to give back to their communities, whether it is with a financial gift or giving of their time,” Reese said. “I hope they will try to find some time to volunteer in their community, even if it’s just picking up litter in their neighborhoods.
“I want to be an example for others. I felt that when I retired as an athlete who was passionate about competing with other athletes, the best way for me to give back would be to share my time and knowledge with young athletes. This is why I’m enjoying being a high school coach and helping these students reach their full potential on and off the track.”
When Reese retired after competing in the 2021 Olympics, she did so after a remarkably successful athletic career.
She is one of only three American women in history to compete four times in an Olympic final. With her gold medal and two silver medals, Reese is one of just three women in Olympic history to earn three medals in the long jump competition.
As an Ole Miss student-athlete, Reese was a two-time NCAA champion. In addition, she’s won 12 U.S. championships and six world championships.
Reese earned these many honors and demonstrated consistent examples of service at a young age, which makes her the ideal recipient of the Emerging Young Philanthropist Award, said Elizabeth Randall, immediate past chair of the Women’s Council.
“We see people of all ages doing tremendous philanthropic work, and the Ole Miss Women’s Council founded this award to recognize those who are diligently serving others early in their lives to promote a broader culture of service for all of us, especially our younger audience. The simple message with this award is that everyone has something to offer which can be of service to others,” Randall said.
“Brittney Reese has been serving others in various capacities throughout her life, and she has done so while achieving great success as an athlete with an incredibly demanding traveling and training schedule. This award not only honors Brittney’s service accomplishments during her young life but also puts her on a different stage, a philanthropic stage, to encourage this service behavior in all people regardless of age.
“We first became aware of Brittney’s strong philanthropic heart when we learned that she had adopted her young godson. She was raising him as a single mother at the height of her career while balancing an intense training schedule, living away from her family and traveling the globe, literally, to compete on the largest stages in her sport. As we started to research her, she inspired us with more examples of her service emerging with her very humble disposition. We immediately knew she was our next Emerging Young Philanthropist winner and that we had to tell this side of her amazing life story.
“She has a genuine servant’s heart and is very humble about her vast athletic accomplishments and her philanthropic work,” Randall said. “It is with much gratitude that we welcome Brittney into the Ole Miss Women’s Council family to spread our mission of creating a more caring and ethical society through promoting leadership and a ‘service-centric’ culture.”
By Jonathan Scott/University Development