President of the Mothers of Professional Basketball Players, Inc.
Southeast Director of the Odessa Chambliss Quality of Life Fund
Featured on Oprah, Live with Regis and Kelly, Good Morning America, and The View
Mother of four – Shaquille, Latelfah, Ayesha & Jamal, 14 grandchildren
MA, organizational management, Univ. of Phoenix
BS, business admin, Bethune-Cookman University
Lucille O'Neal: Walk Like You Have Somewhere To Go
AWKWARD AND UNLOVED
Lucille’s parents divorced when she was only three years old. For years, she lived in her father’s house with her grandparents who eventually adopted Lucille and her siblings.
Her grandparents' harsh style of parenting left Lucille always trying to stay in their good graces at all costs, which meant never letting her clothes get dirty at school or having a hair out of place. She feared the painful spankings from her grandparents that would leave marks on her body for days.
This was the origin of what Lucille came later to call her “mental welfare.” She describes this term as it applies to her as “the absence of self love which resulted in her total lack of self esteem and confidence.” Her mental welfare would affect her decisions later in life.
A few years later, Lucille’s mother, Odessa, was allowed to re-enter Lucille’s life. After the divorce from Lucille’s father, he took the kids and moved. The love and nurturing that Lucille so desperately lacked from her grandparents she found with her mother again a few years later.
Despite a strict Christian upbringing, Lucille rebelled and her behavior nearly landed her in a juvenile detention center after attacking a teacher in her high school. She sought refuge from her troubles by partying and drinking with friends. By the time she was 17, Lucille met a college boy and became pregnant. The boy did not want to be a father so eventually their relationship ended.
At 18 years old, Lucille took full responsibility for her son, Shaquille, when he was born. The Lucille sought to get a job in order to get off public assistance. She soon met and married Philip Harrison, a military man whose assignments took their growing family around the world. The family depended on food stamps at times just to make ends meet. Although Lucille strived to be the best wife and mother, she was becoming increasingly unhappy. To escape, she turned to alcohol (weekend drinking binges). “I could say what I wanted to say or be who I wanted to be, even if only for a few hours,” remembers Lucille.
EYES WIDE OPEN
Shaquille began to attract media attention when their family was stationed overseas, and it only intensified when they returned to the states. Lucille struggled with the fact that her son was on his way to becoming an NBA player. Colleges from around the country were interested in Shaq, and there was non-stop talk in the news about which college he would attend. All of the attention was surreal for them as a family. Lucille says it was difficult during this time to navigate between what was real and what wasn’t. Within the span of about three years, Shaquille went from high school champion to college standout and NBA superstar. “My entire family all the way in New Jersey experienced what it was like to have old, really old friends and family coming out of the woodwork in droves because of Shaquille’s success on the basketball court,” recalls Lucille.
During this time, Lucille says she had no idea God was really trying to speak to her. “I was too drunk on the weekends and too confused during the week to even consider the fact that God never abandons us,” says Lucille. It wasn’t until her mother became ill that she reached back to the faith that had sustained her as a child. “For most of my life as an adult, I’d listen to the biblical words my mother preached relentlessly, she was trying to prepare me for what was to come in my life. When my mother became seriously ill, I ran full speed to Jesus, and He welcomed me with open arms.”
A NEW CHAPTER
When Shaquille joined the Lakers, Lucille took some time off and spent a few months in Los Angeles. “I wanted to survey my son’s new surroundings and get a taste of what the true Hollywood life was really like.” It also gave her time and distance to think about her own life. She wanted to achieve something on her own that was all her own. So, in 1999, Lucille decided to go to college at Bethune-Cookman University. All of her children encouraged her decision to attend college. Shaquille even offered to pay for her education (he eventually paid for all of his family to go to college). Lucille was finally conquering her low self esteem, which came as a direct result of her painful childhood.
A few years later after a rocky marriage, Lucille and Phil divorced in 2002. She later obtained her Master degree and fulfilled a childhood dream. “As a child, I’d dreamed of becoming a public speaker,” shares Lucille. Today her dream is realized as she speaks to groups and organizations each year. She encourages other young women not to look for the easy way out of situations, but to depend on God. She says when she grew up enough to let God into her life, her entire world changed. Today at nearly 56 years old, Lucille says she can honestly say that she is the happiest and most satisfied she has been with herself and her life.
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