As a child, I never knew the legacy and gift I was experiencing every day when I got on the van after school that took me to the Oscar Cross Boys and Girls Club. I just knew that the van took me to a place that I had fun and was around friends. We played basketball, card games, did homework, went on field trips, made friends, and were welcomed by the staff and volunteers. I knew I was at a place where people cared about each other and had a good time. I had no idea who Oscar Cross was or his gift to the youth of my town, Paducah, Kentucky.
Later, as I grew up in the school system and started to be aware of how people treated each other outside of the Oscar Cross Boys and Girls Club. I noticed that sometimes people were bullied and not treated fairly based on the color of their skin or their gender. I knew this wasn’t right and it didn’t make me feel good inside. That is when I came to learn about Mr. Oscar Cross.
In 1950, Mr. Oscar Cross was a janitor in the McCracken County Courthouse when he became aware of a group of young black boys who had gotten into trouble for stealing furniture for their cave club. Mr. Cross made arrangements with the Judge to create a club for the boys in the basement of the Courthouse. They became the Junior Legion Boys Club. He had games for them and activities to help them learn and stay productive in their new basement club.
In 1953, Junior Legion Boys Club joined with the all-white Our Gang Boys Club and became associated with the Boys Clubs of America. Mr. Cross became the volunteer leader for the integrated board of directors for this new affiliation. Over time, the number of participants increased and the group moved to various locations remodeling, rebuilding, and constantly improving. Although girls had been involved with the club for some time, they were not formally included until 1980 when the name was changed to Oscar Cross Boys and Girls Club. All races and genders were welcomed.
Mr. Cross gave to all the children of Paducah by having a safe place to learn and grow, where everyone was welcomed and could participate in all activities. When I was selected to be a Student Intern on the Paducah Human Rights Commission, I found out that Mr. Cross had been awarded several local and national human rights awards and was even inducted into the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights’ Great Black Kentuckians Gallery in 1999 after he had passed away.
The Oscar Cross Boys and Girls Club is still improving lives and promoting the youth for well over 60 years. Mr. Cross not only impacted my life, development, and my caring for my community, he also improved and impacted thousands of kids’ lives. Some became leaders of the community and the Oscar Cross Boys and Girls Club today.