Soledad O’Brien’s Education Foundation Celebrates Second Annual Gala

Two years after launching, the Soledad O’Brien and Brad Raymond Foundation is well on its way to becoming a key change agent in higher education. At the organization’s second annual “New Orleans in the Hamptons” gala, Wall Street and entertainment industry players alike showed up to support the group’s efforts and celebrate its progress. 

“As an organization we’ve become more sophisticated in understanding what it is we’re here to do,” said Dr. Steve Perry, founder and principal of Capital Preparatory Magnet School and a board member from its inception. “It’s about transforming lives.”

With additional support from Target and Google, the foundation held a mentoring retreat in New York City this year, just prior to Friday night’s gala, and provided the now 12 scholars with brand new laptops. “We doubled the number of scholars—we’re up to a dozen with a couple other girls who are sort of pending,” said CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, who heads the foundation with her husband, Brad Raymond.

“Google was nice enough to send some of their young women to come and meet with our young women and mentor them and also be part of our retreat yesterday. We see that growing into a bigger mentoring session, more than a day, which is what we started with.” Along with more formal programming, the foundation also has set up an application process. In the past, most of the students were people O’Brien came across in reporting on natural disasters and the education crises in the United States.

Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons lauded O’Brien not just for raising funds for education, but for shedding light on important issues. “Aside from raising the money for the children who need the education, it’s helping to raise awareness. Communities are falling to the wayside. In the next America we don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Each scholar in the organization gets personalized help in whatever it is they’ll need to succeed in college, whether it’s covering tuition, childcare expenses, study abroad fees, or just a mentor to navigate the bumps and hurdles on the road to a college degree. “Through your contribution you won’t just give kids some money so that they can go to college, but [you’ll] help them through the process of staying enrolled in college, mentoring them through the whole entire education journey,” Steve Perry said.

Emma Bradford Perry, dean of libraries at Southern University and A&M College, was honored at the gala for her mentorship of Tyreiron Segue, a soon-to-be junior at Spelman College. In her freshman and sophomore years at Spelman, Perry helped Segue in everything from advising her for classes to securing an on-campus part-time job. “I run interference if she runs into any issues on the campus,” said Bradford Perry. “She doesn’t know yet . . . but I have already set up a job for her at Spelman. I will probably be with her for the rest of my life because I think she’s worthy of that.”

The mission of the fund has always been to keep it personal, said executive director Rica Triggs. “We have tried to create a foundation that has a family feel to it,” said Raymond onstage with his wife. And indeed they have, as many of the scholars are boarding at their New York City apartment to do internships this summer.

“Some of these girls probably had never been on a plane before, and to come to New York and interact with all of the people that they are interacting with — that is very special too,” said Bradford Perry.

Part of this year’s programming included a retreat at CNN at the Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle, where the girls discussed their life struggles and met with successful women they could relate to.

“I’m absolutely inspired after last night to do bigger things,” said Amanda Lynn Hill, who was featured in O’Brien’s documentary about Hurricane Katrina, “Children of the Storm,” and thanks to a scholarship from the foundation recently finished her nursing degree.