After reading and writing columns on the failure of American schools to produce functional graduates, I found it refreshing to watch a group of brilliant, young students of color honored for their scholastic achievements. I recently joined business, political and academic leaders at a luncheon held at Cipriani 42nd Street to recognize this year’s scholars of A Better Chance, the college prep program that has enabled more than 12,000 capable but disadvantaged minority youth to attend the nation’s most elite schools for nearly 50 years. During the classy affair—part fundraiser, part power networking event—Sandra E. Timmons, the organization’s president, impressed those in attendance by reciting student accomplishments that seemed, in some cases, to rival those of some working professionals.
The honorees are clearly on the path of their predecessors who have risen to positions of prominence and influence across the globe. In fact, ABC saluted such models of inspiration and aspiration. The recipient of its Chairman’s Award was Ursula Burns, who came from the similar humble beginnings to become CEO of tech services giant Xerox Corp., the first African American woman to operate one of the world’s largest publicly-traded companies.
The recipient of the DreamBuilder Award had the distinction of being an ABC alum who catapulted from a rough-and-tumble childhood on Chicago’s South Side to the upper stratum of political power: Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. One of two African Americans ever elected to the statehouse, Patrick briefly shared his amazing journey. He attended top-ranked, New England-based Milton Academy though an ABC scholarship and then Harvard College and Harvard Law. During his professional career, he rose to senior executive positions at a couple of the nation’s largest corporations and served a stint as Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in the Clinton Administration. In recounting his life and the privileged upbringing of his children, he made the powerful point that “in one generation the circumstances of my family were totally transformed.”
Patrick gave the students and attendees two gifts that day: his own shining example and a signed copy of his new autobiography, A Reason to Believe: Lessons from an Improbable Life. Appropriately, the book’s title was used as the event’s theme. It represented more than a collector’s item or fundraising vehicle (a portion of the book’s proceeds are donated to ABC). It offered Patrick’s personal power moves—those focused on faith, perseverance and integrity—that shouldn’t be discarded as you ascend in business, politics and life. Here’s a few I captured from his book: