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The congressman focused on healing the world: Mickey Leland’s legacy

Written by on February 19, 2021

By Breyia Walker, Texas Southern University

Referred to as the most prolific activist in the fight against world hunger, late Congressman Mickey Leland stopped at nothing to supply food and healthcare to famished people around the world. Congressman Leland lived and breathed philanthropy and his contributions to society sustain admiration throughout the world.

Born in Lubbock, Texas on November 27, 1944, raised in Houston, Leland started using his voice early on in order to bring change to struggling communities. After earning a degree in pharmacy from Texas Southern University (TSU), Leland threw himself into humanitarian work in order to provide the people in low-income communities with better medical resources. He organized a campaign to encourage city officials to provide health clinics in low-income communities. He took it upon himself to perform preliminary health screenings for people in those communities.

Courtesy of the TSU Mickey Leland Digital Archive
Courtesy of the TSU Mickey Leland Digital Archive (Texas Southern University)

Alongside his campaign for better health care, Leland also advocated for ethnic diversity and fair coverage of underrepresented communities in local media. In addition to his plan to promote more diverse media programming, he used congressional hearings as a means to inform the public about excessive violence in children’s programs. As a result, violence was reduced significantly in children’s programming.

His philanthropy gained attention and as a result, it earned him a leadership position in the public sector. In 1972, he was elected to the Texas House of Representatives from the 88th district of Houston. His new position gave him a platform to develop quality health care for those in need; thus, legislation was passed that would provide low-income families with access to affordable generic drugs.Full Screen1 / 6

Courtesy of the TSU Mickey Leland Digital Archive

After spending six years in state government, Leland was elected to the 18th Congressional District in 1978. His work was highly lauded by state and national officials.

Throughout his journey to provide better healthcare, Leland visited soup kitchens, evoking his concern about hungry and impoverished people. To focus on the issue, Leland co-established and chaired the House Select Committee on Hunger. Once he learned of the extreme famine in Sub-Saharan Africa, he completely submerged himself in a plan to resolve the problem. In 1985, his bill, The African Famine Relief and Recovery Act passed, granting $800 million in food and relief supplies for Ethiopians in impoverished communities. This gained international attention and brought in an abundance of support from non-governmental advocates. Together, they saved thousands of lives.

Leland was committed to helping Ethiopians improve their lives. The experience impacted him so much that he traveled back and forth to the country five times. However, it was on his sixth trip that history would change forever. On August 7, 1989, the plane carrying Leland and 15 others went missing somewhere in Ethiopia leaving everyone back home perplexed and concerned. The world would soon learn that the plane went down in the wilderness of Ethiopia leaving no survivors.

Though his death was untimely, Leland’s lifetime mission will be remembered forever. His passion and determination to make the world a better place, made the world a better place.

Congressman Leland led courageously by example and inspired generations of leaders across the globe to give back to their own communities. To many, this Texas native was a hero on a mission to save the world.

■ This story was written to chronicle Houston’s Black history as part of a partnership between KTSU2, “The Voice”, and KPRC-TV, for Black History Month.


About the author

Breyia Walker
Breyia Walker (TSU)

Breyia Walker is a multimedia specialist, aspiring to brighten the community with her storytelling and creativity. She is a public administration graduate student at Texas Southern University