Philadelphia — To ensure a permanent African-American presence and establish themselves as major forces in institutional policy-making, African-American students and alumni of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business have raised a $1.25 million endowment for a new Whitney. M. Young Jr. Memorial Chair. It will support the teaching and research activities of scholars of African descent at Wharton.
“As demands are made on selective white institutions for [a role in] admissions and decision-making, we also acquire an obligation of fully participating in the support of those institutions,” said one of the endowment’s organizers Dr. Marcus Alexis, professor of Management and Strategy at the J. L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University.
According to W. Frank Fountain, vice president of government affairs for the Chrysler Corporation, a Wharton alumnus and chairman of the fund-raising committee, the alumni felt that “by pooling our resources and collective talents, we could make a contribution to our alma mater which would give us an opportunity to ensure an African-American permanence at the Wharton School.”
Fountain says the endowment will enable African Americans to play a stronger role in the university’s affairs by “putting something on the table.”
The endowment, which has been in the works since 1989, will ensure the permanence of a professor of African ancestry. The Whitney M. Young Jr. Chair was named after the late civil rights leader to honor his contributions as an educator and humanitarian. For more than two decades, Young led the Urban League in its efforts to improve the economic status of African Americans. He died in 1971 while attending a conference in Nigeria.
Most of the endowment funds came from corporations where there was internal leadership by an African-American alumnus. Mark Belton of General Mills, for example, a 1982 Wharton graduate, was responsible for his company making the largest contribution — $350,000.
Alexis said the endowment, “sets a standard to which I can assure you other Black MBA students shall repeat.”
For too long, Alexis said. Black students have been looked on “as recipients, as clients, as charity cases.”
“It’s about time we show that we can contribute excellence not only in the classroom — but that we are an important part of the continuing success of the institution that we are a part of.” Alexis said.
The announcement of the endowment was made at the 22nd Annual Whitney M. Young Jr. Memorial Conference held earlier this year in Philadelphia. The conference theme was “Creating Wealth in the African Diaspora through Education, Entrepreneurship and Community Action.”
The Young conference, the largest student-run conference at the University of Pennsylvania, was founded as a way for Black Wharton students to develop a network of student support.
Kafi Harrington, a second-year MBA candidate and conference vice-chair, says that most of this year’s almost 750 conference participants came from other schools, including Carnegie Mellon, Clark Atlanta. Johns Hopkins, Harvard and Columbia. The conference, she says, “makes sure we have an arena for Black business students to come together and meet each other and network.”
Alumni support has been important to the success of the conference, Harrington says. “Even though we receive support from the school administration, it’s important that we present and develop [agendas] for ourselves. Because [alumni] see this network and this support system … they want to become a part of it.”
Kenneth J. Chenault, vice chairman of American Express, was this year’s keynote speaker. During his talk he questioned why only 12 percent of African Americans graduate from college and only 3 percent go on to graduate school.
Said Chenault: “The answers are obviously complex. One thing should be crystal clear. We cannot stand by and watch as our young people give up and give in to the pressures that surround them. We have to work in our communities to ensure that our children are safe in schools.” He told the group that every person in the room was a role model and that it was imperative that they succeed and “give them [youth] hope [by showing] that it can be done.”
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