When I attended the I Have A Dream Foundation’s annual Spirit of the Dream Gala last year, I was so impressed with the organization that it has become one of my favorites. I love that it doesn’t set limits on who can participate in its programs. It works with entire classrooms, sometimes entire schools, which can include so-called low as well as high achievers.
I once heard about a teacher putting a C student in an advanced math class. The student ended up excelling in math and even majored in math in college. The I Have A Dream Foundation similarly gives all the kids it works with a chance to excel.
Last week the I Have A Dream Foundation celebrated its annual gala at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City. At the gala, the Honorable David N. Dinkins, 106th Mayor of New York City, was presented with the inaugural David N. Dinkins Social Justice Award by Loida Nicolas-Lewis. Other honorees were Pro Football Hall of Fame Quarterback and philanthropist Roger Staubach, who was presented with the Eugene M. Lang Lifetime Achievement Award; and Dreamer Alumnus Elda Sawyer, with the Spirit of the Dream Award.
“It is an honor to be presented the Eugene M. Lang Lifetime Achievement Award,” Staubach says in a statement. “Eugene Lang showed us all how one action can have a lasting impact for generations to come—but giving every child an equal opportunity to succeed takes long-term commitment. I’m proud to be supporting Mr. Lang’s legacy as we work towards a world where all children can attain a college education and pursue their dreams.”
Dinkins is quoted in a statement, “I am humbled and proud to have this social justice award in my name. I hope that, together with the important work of the I Have A Dream Foundation, I may help inspire a new generation of community leaders so that the children of today enjoy a brighter future filled with promise and opportunity.”
Sawyer, who participated in the I Have A Dream Foundation – Los Angeles, studied child development as a first-generation college student. She went on to mentor children in underserved communities as an I Have A Dream program director in Boyle Heights, and now works in the Sulphur Springs Union School District in Santa Clara.
“Being a Dreamer gave me opportunities I would not have otherwise had access to—growing up, my parents worked three jobs to provide for our family and give us access to an education they did not have. But we still had limited resources. I Have A Dream opened up a new world—quite literally—from college visits to exchange programs in China and New Zealand,” Sawyer is quoted as saying in a statement. “Even when things were hard, balancing school, work, and caring for siblings, I always had a support system to turn to. And now I am proud to be able to give back to my community.”
Sawyer is married to a fellow Dreamer and has three children of her own. She says, “I have a beautiful life thanks to I Have A Dream.”
Last year, Eugene M. Lang, founder of the I Have A Dream Foundation as well as its inspiration, could not attend the annual gala because of frail health. He died this past April at the age of 98. This year’s gala included a special tribute to Lang’s outsized, inclusive vision and generosity. Johnny Rivera, the program director of the original 1981 Dreamer class, led all the Dreamers at the gala in reciting the “Dreamer Pledge.”
“Thanks to the vision of Eugene Lang over 35 years ago, we have been able to provide nearly 18,000 children with the opportunity to pursue the dream of higher education,” says Donna Lawrence, president and CEO of the I Have A Dream Foundation, in a statement. “We owe the work we do every day to Mr. Lang, and our work will not be complete until every child has an equal opportunity to succeed in school, college, and career. We know Mr. Lang’s legacy will continue to have a tremendous impact on the lives of so many of us for generations to come.”
About 100 Dreamers and alumni attended the gala, which raised enough funds to support a year of programming for 42 more Dreamers (the cost of programming per Dreamer per year is about $2,500.) A touching moment during the evening was when Rafael Rodriguez, a member of the original 1981 Dreamer class from P.S. 121 in East Harlem, raised his paddle to support the next generation of Dreamers at the $2,500 level.
For more about the extraordinary work of the I Have A Dream Foundation and to donate, visit its website.