- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 10, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Manhattan real-estate developer Daniel Rose erects skyscrapers for a living. Fittingly, he is passionate about an organization he launched that helps promising young Americans build solid foundations so they can rise to towering heights.

The Harlem Educational Activities Fund recently marked its 20th anniversary with a rooftop gala at Fifth Avenue’s St. Regis Hotel. While CNN host Fareed Zakaria and non-profit activist Judith Aidoo were the evening’s honorees, the real stars were HEAF’s scholars. These lower-income, mainly minority kids from Harlem, Brooklyn and the Bronx are exactly the sort of young people on whom too many give up. “Why even bother?” argue those who allege that oppression, poverty and racism are impermeable barriers rather than manageable speed bumps.

“We have so much to celebrate,” Mr. Rose explains. While 73.2 percent of 12th graders nationwide graduate on time, “100 percent of our students graduate from high school, and 95 percent graduate college within six years, compared with about 35 percent for black and Latino students nationally.” Among HEAF’s college graduates, “35 percent go on to get a master’s degree or more, compared with a national average of 9 percent for all Americans. HEAF works to break the cycle of poverty by paving the path of academic achievement.”

Among HEAF’s 27-member class of 2009, 100 percent enrolled in four-year colleges, including Cornell University, DePauw University and Syracuse University. They earned more than $1.4 million in merit-based awards. One Nigerian-born student scored a Gates Millennium Scholarship. His University of Rochester education and subsequent graduate degree will be financed completely by Bill Gates.

“We become the vehicle through which they learn to succeed,” says HEAF trustee Woody Heller, “and not by magic or grade inflation, but by hard work, diligent and directed study, enriched by our support, encouragement and counseling.” Since its inception, HEAF has benefited some 10,000 young people.

Last year, HEAF served 342 6th-to-12th graders, largely in government schools, plus 90 college students. HEAF targets promising strivers in the grade curve’s upwardly mobile middle who otherwise might be overlooked.

HEAF offers assistance in entering elite high schools, plus college preparation. Cultural enrichment includes violin lessons, etiquette, public speaking and summer camp. Sixteen HEAF students visited Belfast in July 2008 to study Northern Ireland’s peace process. Also, a HEAF senior won first place in 2009’s New York Mock Trial Competition. HEAF turns diamonds in the rough into sparkling gems worthy of Harry Winston, just steps from the St. Regis.

Sean Scott, M.D., is a physician in Philadelphia’s public-health department. HEAF helped him advance from public assistance in Harlem to Yale University and Medical School. “HEAF did provide that safety net that I believed I needed, so that I wouldn’t fall through the cracks,” he says. “Whatever we were lacking, they were willing to fill in.”

“Before HEAF, I was this naive girl living in a bubble, but HEAF made me look in the mirror,” says Octavia Smith, a Cathedral High School senior and Bronx resident. “If it were not for HEAF … I would have failed chemistry and probably Spanish, and would not have been the least bit upset by it.”

Instead, Smith says, “I take AP [Advanced Placement] biology, AP psychology and AP English, along with other honors classes.” She also is applying to some 10 colleges, including Vassar College, the College of William and Mary and Georgetown University.

Since 1989, HEAF has accepted only $199,500 in state and local government grants. Its $2.2 million annual budget relies overwhelmingly on private contributions, including some $600,000 raised Sept. 30 at the St. Regis.

HEAF rejects all the tired excuses for failure and instead demands high standards, solid performance and excellent citizenship. Moving from the mantra “Engage/Educate/Elevate,” HEAF aims to “Expand/Expand/Expand.” It plans to deploy its model program to heal so much of that which ails government education and, more broadly, America’s ghettos and barrios. HEAF chair Alexandra Korry states it crisply: “As long as the public schools fail us, HEAF will be there doing its part.”

Deroy Murdock is a columnist with Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

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