We were thrilled to host our 18th Annual Gala in-person on Wednesday, October 26. After having our gala completely virtual in 2020 and a hybrid model last year, it was great to have so many supporters of HEAF under one roof at Cirpiani 42nd Street, to celebrate HEAF’s roots and honor:
HEAF Co-Founders Daniel & Joanna Rose for their steadfast devotion and determination to provide excellence at every level for HEAF and its students
Dennis M. Walcott, former Chancellor of the NYC Department of Education and current President and CEO of the Queens Public Library, for blazing a trail for equitable opportunities for students across New York City public schools
Maurice Sonnenberg, HEAF Director Emeritus, for exceptional leadership and tenacious commitment to equity in education
The evening kicked off with a beautiful cocktail reception welcoming HEAF families, supporters, staff and the evening’s honorees. Guests perused the silent auction items and began placing bids and setting strategies before entering the ballroom for the main event.
Our Emcee, one of the most widely sought-after experts in the field of mental health, a respected practitioner and regular contributor to CNN, MSNBC, Fox and the Today Show, Dr. Jeff Gardere enthusiastically greeted everyone and quickly turned our attention to the reason HEAF is so important. Dr. Gardere said: “Fair, equitable, equal opportunity for a solid academic experience should be the norm” but that is not the reality, especially for Black and Brown students. He praised the work of HEAF to create opportunities for students from underserved communities for more than thirty years, and acknowledged the evening’s honorees whose tireless efforts on behalf of HEAF students and students across New York City have given the organization deep roots and far-reaching branches.
The first speaker of the night was HEAF Board Chair Karla Maloof. She said, “HEAF plays an integral role in the lives of NYC students, bridging academic and opportunity gaps that too often are barriers to reaching true potential” and how she has “seen the confidence unleashed in HEAF students as they learn more.”
Michael Johnson, HEAF’s President and CEO, spoke about the importance of HEAF’s roots which like the roots of a tree are often “underground and unseen” but so critical to allowing HEAF students to grow and blossom. Mr. Johnson praised those who help HEAF continue to be the great organization that it is: “Behind every student is a family at home working hard to support them; a posse of peers, staff and teachers at HEAF; and a network of volunteers, individual and corporate supporters committed to opening doors to opportunity, to new ideas, to college and to careers”.
HEAF High School seniors and twins Jonathan and Justin took to the stage to talk about their personal HEAF experiences. Jonathan opened by saying, “HEAF is big part of our family’s roots”. Not only have Jonathan and Justin been in HEAF since middle school, but their mom was a founding member of the HEAF Brooklyn parents’ association, and their little sister is currently a HEAF middle school student. It was wonderful to hear how HEAF has had a lasting impact on their family. The crowd cheered and rose to their feet when Justin added “Standing in front of you on this stage are two college-bound young Black men, who are beyond grateful for the experiences, opportunities and life-lessons that HEAF has taught us.”
HEAF Alumna Yestriel Henriquez recounted numerous ways HEAF had an impact on her life. She said, “HEAF wasn’t just an afterschool program to me. HEAF was my family. My community. It was where I found myself. My voice. My leadership skills. My activism.” She underscored the importance of HEAF staff members and peers to her personal development and academic success.
Dennis M. Walcott was presented by HEAF middle school student Mark, who pointed out: “Dennis Walcott, like HEAF, is committed to transforming lives by cultivating personal and intellectual growth, and building strong communities.”
Receiving his honor, Mr. Walcott commented: “HEAF is a great organization, and you just don’t have to listen to the metrics of what they talk about, you hear it and see it in the enthusiasm of the people who talk about HEAF.” During his time as Chancellor of the NYC Department of Education, Mr. Walcott said HEAF Founder Daniel Rose sent him letters regularly advocating for HEAF as an important organization to bridge gaps for NYC Public School students.
Although HEAF supporter, 2019 Gala Honoree and Founder, Chairman & CEO of Vista Equity Partners Robert F. Smith was not able to attend this year’s event in person, he dropped into the gala via video to say he is so proud to support HEAF, an organization “dedicated to education that provides students with opportunities to think creatively and critically and to pursue their dreams unapologetically.”
Longtime HEAF supporter, founding board member and Director Emeritus Maurice Sonnenberg took to the stage to receive a special recognition. Mr. Sonnenberg has served as an outside advisor to five U.S. presidential administrations, and said he counts his role with HEAF among his greatest accomplishments.
A moving video celebrated the roots of HEAF students, staff and alumni. You can watch the full video here!
Ellis Cose, renowned author and friend of the Rose family presented this year’s gala honorees Daniel Rose and his late wife Joanna. He said: “They were dedicated to making a statement and changing lives – and I am blown away by all they have accomplished”.
Daniel Rose entered to a standing ovation from the crowd. Mr. Rose shared what HEAF means to him and his late wife Joanna and why it was such an important organization for them to start and be a part of for over 30 years. “The prospects for New York City public school students to lead well-lived lives of productive and fulfilling careers can – and must – improve! Future-mindedness, appropriate self-confidence, high aspirations founded on persevering disciplined effort, and determination to be properly prepared for ever-increasing opportunities for personal growth — those are the attributes HEAF inculcates.” Mr. Rose ended his remarks with a toast to HEAF’s past and future success.
We closed out the night with an exciting live auction, which included items like a fabulous dinner at Harlem’s very own Red Rooster, and the once in a lifetime opportunity to have dinner with HEAF Board Member and renowned Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Please see our photo gallery for more pictures from this amazing evening!