By Amanda L. Gordon, Bloomberg News
At the East Harlem Tutorial Program benefit on Monday, race took center stage.
A copy of the organization’s Racial Equity Statement was on display during cocktail hour. During his remarks, Executive Director Jeff Ginsburg addressed the role race can play as a barrier to achievement, citing the work of Stanford University economist Raj Chetty.
“For so many kids, institutional racism threatens their future,” Ginsburg told an audience seated below a massive blue whale at the American Museum of Natural History that included Blackstone’s Jon Gray and Joan Solotar, William Rahm of Centerbridge Partners, Glenview’s John McMonagle and Renaissance Technologies founder Jim Simons.
Ginsburg was aware that Oprah Winfrey had also spoken of Chetty’s work at the Robin Hood Foundation benefit a week earlier. Winfrey said she couldn’t stop thinking about the study, which found that “white boys born at the top are likely to stay at the top, while black boys born at the top are actually more likely to become poor,” she said. “What the study says for sure is that race matters.”
The acknowledgment that opportunity alone doesn’t generate lasting mobility for people of color is huge. So many people at both events have put their money into programs designed around that idea. Now Chetty’s work is challenging them to ask: What do you do when you realize that opening doors is not enough?
“I think it’s the most honest conversation to have, or else what’s going to happen tonight is we’re going to raise all this money, but what are we going to spend it on?” Ginsburg said. “If we’re not spending and thinking about what actually matters in education, then what’s the point?”
EHTP created its racial equity statement last year. It calls on staff and others involved to “face, honestly and directly, our own racial identities and our own conscious and unconscious biases.”
Monday’s gala raised $4 million and drew 600 guests, records on both counts. It helps to have supporters who are in it for the long haul. Rahm, 39, began tutoring with the organization when he was in high school, and joined the board almost 16 years ago. It’s likely he’ll stick around to see the 60-year-old nonprofit build a 75,000-square-foot charter high school on land it recently purchased.
The group, with an annual budget of $30 million, serves about 1,500 neighborhood students and expects that number to double by 2025.