For Lisa Johnson Billy, the path to education wasn’t paved for her. She worked several jobs at times, earned scholarships and humbly accepted the kindness of others. Now as a successful leader in the Chickasaw Nation and Oklahoma, she honors the sacrifice and generosity of the people who supported her journey by helping youth – who often share her story of struggle – reach their potential and achieve their dreams.
Billy served as a legislator for the Chickasaw Nation before becoming a state legislator from 2004-2016. She was the first Native American, first woman and first Republican to represent her district. She founded the company, Peacemakers Inc., to bring out leadership skills in Native American youth.
Prior to Billy’s long list of accomplishments, there was a time when she wasn’t sure if she was going to be able to finish college.
“Neither of my parents had the opportunity to graduate from college,” Billy explained. Billy’s art teacher helped her apply for a scholarship to Northeastern State University.
Even with Billy working multiple jobs, scholarships and saving money, paying for college was never certain. “Friends, professors and even people who had never met me would step in to help me get through another semester, another year,” Billy noted.
When she didn’t have place to stay in the summer an NSU cafeteria worker found her a room rent-free with a family who had never met Billy.
“During my senior year I ran out of options to pay my tuition and I had to drop out of college,” Billy said. When she drove to a friend’s home to say goodbye on her way out of town, her friend’s parents insisted she stay with them and finish college.
Their generosity helped Billy complete college. She earned a bachelor’s degree from NSU and a master’s degree in education from the University of Oklahoma.
“I am grateful for so many people. People who didn’t know me gave me a job, a bed to sleep in and meals. They supported me and believed in me, ” Billy said.
The generosity of friends and strangers has never left Billy. “The people who came in to my path exemplified the Native American belief that we give away what we are given,” Billy explained. “I try to show the same generosity so others can have opportunities for success.”