Not even the onset of a citywide heat wave was enough to prevent a well-coiffed crowd from attending the first annual Black Ivy Alumni League Fundraising Gala on July 17. Over 400 degree-holders from Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, Princeton and Yale universities, Dartmouth College and the University of Pennsylvania gathered at the Carlton Hotel in Midtown Manhattan for a swanky evening of dancing and mingling over drinks and hors d’oeuvres.
The event was organized by Black alumni associations at Columbia’s business school, Dartmouth, Cornell and Princeton, as well as the Black Ivy Alumni League. A portion of the money earned through the gala’s ticket sales will be allocated to those organizations and to Donors Choose in New York City, a charity website that allows educators to list their specific needs for donors to support.
The Black Ivy Alumni League also honored prominent attendees with Pinnacle Awards for their accomplishments, which spanned multiple industries. Recipients were philanthropist and former New York Giant Jack Brewer; prominent orthopedic surgeon Dr. Bernard Rawlins; Keith Boykin, commentator and contributor to MSNBC and CNBC, respectively; and philanthropist and former special assistant to the secretary of the U.S. Treasury Robert Reffkin. Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter Ryan Leslie was also honored, and he accepted his award through a video he recorded, as he was out of the country the night of the ceremony.
Brewer delivered a keynote speech that revealed the impact an Ivy League education had on his professional life.
“The thought of an Ivy League education was not a reality in my community,” he began, “but through hard work and success in athletics, I was able to access executive programs at Wharton [University of Pennsylvania] and Harvard, and then Columbia.”
He also talked about the opportunity he had to challenge stereotypes about Black men in higher education and professional sports from his position as an Ivy League alumni.
“As I made my transition to the NFL,” he said over the hum of a restless crowd, “my Ivy League education allowed me to break the many negative stereotypes that came along with being a professional athlete.”
Boykin, who earned his degree from Dartmouth College, stressed the importance of Black Ivy alumni giving back to the communities that nurtured their success.
“I’ve always been taught that to whom much is given, much is required,” said the New York Times best-selling author. “I think those of us who have had the opportunity to go to Ivy League schools have an awful lot to give back. It’s really important that we do so.”
He added that the biggest misconception he notices among Black youth is the accessibility of Ivy League schools, especially in terms of cost.
“We have to tell people that yes, it’s possible. A lot of people are concerned about financial issues, but the Ivy League schools are usually very generous in giving out aid and scholarships,” he said.