by Brian Lamar, Assignment Editor
Felice Gillum has devoted her life to helping others. It is what gets her out of bed in the morning and it is what keeps her going day after day.
One morning, Gillum was looking down the barrel of her own mortality when she went into heart failure during child labor. After a long hard road to recovery not only physically but psychologically, the importance of dedicating her second chance at life was even more paramount.
Gillum has several passions, but she uses her career as an avenue to care for uniformed service members to pay the bills which helps her pave the way to helping others. Gillum is currently the Executive Director of the USO Gulf Coast running four full-time USO centers out of the New Orleans Military Entry Processing Center, the Naval Construction Battalion Center, Camp Shelby, and the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport. Since her arrival to the USO 14 years ago, the organization has shown progress and expansion.
“When I came on board we had two volunteers and now we have grown to serve four different locations and we have 160 volunteers,” said Gillum.
Gillum’s mentality is so driven toward assisting others, the job is a perfect fit. “I knew whatever it was that I was going to do every day with myself, I had to be enriching the lives of someone else or it wouldn’t be worthwhile to me. I wouldn’t be fulfilled. With the USO we try to enrich the lives of one of our service members every day. My secret to success has been focusing on those who have sacrificed everything and be a vessel to support everything they do,” she said.
Born and raised in Gulfport, Gillum is active daily and is passionate about spending her life devoted to giving back to the community that gave her such a wonderful upbringing being on the board for the Gulf Coast ministry services for the homeless. Gillum is also heavily involved in her church, the Morning Star Baptist Church. One of her biggest loves is fostering youth and supporting a local foundation that supports foster youth in South Mississippi.
According to Gillum and her husband, having been foster parents for six years which culminated with the successful adoption of their son, giving a chance to someone that wouldn’t otherwise have it is one thing everyone can do to help society.
“I am passionate about life and experiences and try to provide a child with a good life. So many kids are really lost and are not finding their way through the system,” said Gillum.
As the atrocities and social upheaval of 2020 raged on, Gillum turned to the education of peers and community members for issues like COVID mitigation and prevention in the African American community.
“I’ve lost family members and people who are close to me. I try hard to educate the African American community about the vaccine and try to throw a safety net of education over my community,” said Gillum.
Through 2020, Gillum also continued focusing efforts on racial injustices, homelessness, the revitalization of the foster-care system, and providing safe havens for children.
Her future goals include finishing a book project that she is contributing to and finding ways to encourage others with her words. Gillum’s biggest wishes are to empower others regardless of age, creed, religion, or race to stand up to inequalities.
“My advice to everyone is to remain true to yourself no matter what that means. One thing I have learned in life that being in touch with yourself and your own emotions and beliefs is crucial, there is power in that. I want everyone to be able to stand on their own and your own words, opinion, mindset, and experience. The most important thing is for people to understand that sometimes it takes us looking outside of ourselves to understand our fellow man,” she explained.
As far as encouraging others to be an agent of change for the good, Gillum believes everyone has untapped power. “Every voice is a voice that can empower somebody. We all have a voice and when we don’t choose to use that voice, that is just as bad as committing an act against someone,” Gillum said.
At the end of the day, I just want to be able to enrich the lives of young men and women and help them recognize the value that is in them. If I can die having done that. I think I will have done the work that God called me here to do,” Gillum concluded.