Roshun Austin

Roshun Austin is the president and CEO of the Works, Inc., which sponsors an elementary charter school; runs a farmers’ market and green grocer; provides nutrition education; operates a mortgage loan fund; and does work around the comprehensive needs of children and families.

O.C. Pleasant Jr. was a great man, husband, father, brother, mentor, community leader and Memphian

By Published: December 13, 2018 4:00 AM CT

Ocie Cleveland “O.C.” Pleasant Jr. always offered a quip and a smile upon an encounter. When expressing the standard Southern inquiry as to his well-being, he would simply reply, “I’m pleasant.”

If you remembered nothing else about him you knew to expect that standard refrain. It, however, was highly unlikely that would be the only impression that he left on you. Because, in fact, O.C. was unforgettable.

He followed a pretty Orange Mound girl back to her home from Alabama State University in the early 1960s. He and Mrs. Barbara made a home in 1964 and started a family of their own in one of Orange Mound’s fine suburbs, Bethel Grove.

Born in Alabama in the midst of Baptists, Methodists and Pentecostals, he was raised Catholic and attended Catholic school. Not just any old Catholic school. He attended St. Jude Catholic School, known as the resting place for weary, civil rights activists on their march from Montgomery to Selma.

He remained a Catholic his entire life and was a faithful parishioner at St. John Catholic Church. He also remained a civil rights activist.

I had butterflies the first time I met O.C. He represented Memphis’ Black Elite, a group that loomed large in my view. They represented what I could become. From my living room across town, I never imagined that I would later rub elbows with people like the Pleasants, Kirks, Hookses, Fords, Davises, Willises, Whartons. They were giants, luminaries. They were the experienced “firsts.” They were proof that I could make it in this town.

O.C. had presided over my very first voting experience, the historic election of my school superintendent, Dr. W.W. Herenton, so he was at the top of the heap in my book. I remembered him from television as he calmed the growing crowd. I was star-struck. But O.C. quickly snapped me out of my daze with his warm smile and no-nonsense style.

I learned quickly that O.C. was precise and methodical and he expected the same attention to detail. Likely this exactness stemmed from his years as a math teacher at Manassas High School or his career as an insurance actuary and provider of financial services as the owner of a Nationwide Insurance Agency.

I studied before every meeting with him to make sure that I knew the details of every expense and all revenue. He would not have it any other way. And like a proud teacher, he smiled and nodded when I answered correctly.

Quite naturally O.C. was on board when the Ford Foundation chose Memphis and Orange Mound as one of four target areas for its Neighborhood and Family Initiative. He had already demonstrated his dedication to the community.

I joined the Orange Mound Development Corp. during a time of transition. He along with the board decided to give a 24-year-old graduate student a chance to lead a multimillion- dollar community development corporation. He challenged me at every turn. It was his way of growing me up, mentoring. I do not think he ever named himself mentor. He just was. There is a legion of young men, brothers in the beloved fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi Inc., who would agree.

I often remark that if Memphis and Shelby County want to solve the inequities in government contracting that they take O.C.’s lead. He made sure that small, minority-owned businesses benefited from the philanthropic and federal pass-through funds granted to the organization. He must have known every minority-owned business in the county. He stewarded over those things of which he had responsibility with pride and care.

There are too many stories to share. Just know that O.C. Pleasant Jr. was a great man, husband, father, brother, mentor, community leader and Memphian.

Roshun Austin is a board member of Memphis Fourth Estate Inc., the parent organization of The Daily Memphian.

<strong>Roshun Austin</strong>

Roshun Austin


O.C. Pleasant Orange Mound Ford Foundation Neighborhood and Family Initiative

Comment On This Story

Email Editions

Sign up for our morning and evening editions, plus breaking news.