HEAF’s 2023 Annual Gala was held on October 25 at Cipriani 42nd St. This year’s theme “Our Future in Focus” had two distinct goals: first, bringing focus squarely on to HEAF students, who represent the future for all of us; and second, focusing on the evolution of HEAF’s model to continue to support students’ needs in a changing academic and professional landscape. The evening celebrated three honorees whose commitment to opening doors, creating opportunities and removing barriers is unrelenting:

  • Evelyn Pérez-Albino, Attorney, Career Strategist and Professional Speaker, and HEAF Alumna
  • Sekou Kaalund, Head of Branch and Small Business Banking, U.S. Bank
  • Pamela West, Managing Director, Real Estate Impact Investing, Nuveen

HEAF friend and 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 was the night’s Emcee. HEAF 12th grader Abigail served as student host. Dr. Gardere praised HEAF students, saying: “they represent our future. They are tomorrow’s leaders and they deserve to be. They are intelligent, thoughtful, kind, generous and dedicated. They deserve every opportunity.”

HEAF Board Member and Bloomberg’s Head of Global Facilities, Infrastructure and Sustainability Dave Wildman welcomed guests, noting: “focusing on the future of HEAF students means working toward a more equitable, more diverse society as a whole.”

HEAF 11th grade student Chris told the audience with confidence that he is a future registered nurse. He proudly said: “I stand here before you tonight, a grounded young black man with my eyes set on my future. With HEAF’s support, I see myself as a future college student, and I realize it is time to focus on my next steps so that I can become the future registered nurse I know I can be.”

Student Host Abigail presented Gala Honoree and HEAF Alumna Evelyn Pérez-Albino, saying: “Evelyn has blazed trails in her legal career, and her devotion to diversity and building equitable employment opportunities is unrivaled… Evelyn is a shining example for all of us that we can achieve our dreams in the future; that we are on the path now to great success.”

Evelyn said: “HEAF paved the way forward for me – brick by brick… it simply cannot be overstated just how profoundly impactful HEAF has been in my life – from the time I joined as a chatty middle schooler to the now seasoned – yet still chatty – lawyer, wife, mother, and entrepreneur standing before you.”

In his keynote address, HEAF President and CEO Michael Johnson stressed the role HEAF students will play as future leaders, and addressed the necessity to continue to remove hurdles to education and opportunity. He said, “When the Supreme Court struck down affirmative action, that brought our future into sharp focus for me… racial and social inequities keep families locked in place, facing the same challenges and steep uphill battles… Our work has never been more valuable, and your support has never been more critical.”

HEAF Student Host Abigail was welcomed back to the stage to share her story and her future dreams. “I am proud to say I am a future leader. I am not 100% sure what career I will finally decide to lend my talents to but with the support of HEAF over the years, I’m comfortable with the unknown.” Abigail reflected on her time at HEAF from Industry Immersion classes to the recent LSGI trip to Ecuador, noting “As we focus on our futures, I ask that we not only think of our own futures, but those of others. The issues we face today are felt all over the world, and traveling to Ecuador has taught me to be a more global thinker.”

Next, HEAF students surprised and delighted the audience by calling out one-by-one what their futures hold. From future computer scientists to entrepreneurs and nurses, the future is bright with HEAF students leading the way.

Following the high energy and excitement of hearing from HEAF students about their future careers, Auctioneer Pat Tully kept the excitement going, and the paddles in the air! The Live Appeal and Auction was a huge success, with great items up for bid from a weekend getaway in Woodstock to a dinner with HEAF Board Member and renowned Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Gala Honoree Sekou Kaalund was presented by Student Host Abigail, who thanked Sekou for his tireless efforts to champion equitable opportunities. She noted, “Through his professional success and personal commitment to strengthening the finance industry by opening doors to diverse candidates and supporting their growth and success, Sekou is a trailblazer and role model.”

Receiving his honor, Sekou said it was humbling to be recognized. He reflected on his path to success, and told HEAF students: “You have everything you need to become who you need to be. So, go boldly and be who you need to be to change this world.”

HEAF first-year college student Hailey took to the stage to share her future as an orthopedic surgeon. Hailey said, “HEAF helped me bring my future into focus with support, preparation and exposure to new experiences… As I progress in my career, I look forward to remaining involved with HEAF and giving back, like those leaders we are celebrating here tonight.”

Student Host Abigail then introduced Gala Honoree Pamela West with a loud ovation from the Nuveen team in attendance. Abigail noted that Pamela is helping shape an equitable future through her leadership on investments with intentional, direct and measurable positive results in society. 

Abigail recognized Pamela for her “commitment to creating equitable opportunities for families to achieve stability and long-term success.”

Pamela reflected on her career journey, and where it all started. She praised the teachers who had an impact on her life and influenced her drive and success. Pamela stressed the value of education and noted that she started her own career as a teacher before shifting to commercial real estate. She closed out her remarks by thanking educators who “see their students and their strengths, and give them a boost of encouragement.”

Click here for more photos from HEAF’s 2023 Gala.

Thank you to HEAF supporters and friends for an incredible night, including:

Accelerator Gift

Alex Alger & David Chung

Sustainer Gift

Mcmillan Family Foundation

Visionary Gift

Lewis Brisbois
Paul Hastings
Tom & Cindy Secunda
US Bank
Bloomberg Philanthropies
Chicago Title Insurance Company
Drunkenmiller Foundation

Leader Gift

Perella Weinberg Partners
Rodney M. Miller, Sr.
The Kaalund Family
Nuveen Real Estate
Joe DiMondi & Michelle Choi
Justin & John Arrilaga
Karla Maloof & Christopher Adrianos
Marsh McLennan
The Daniel & Joanna S. Rose Fund
Emily Rose & Jim Marrow
Dave & Hind Wildman
Issac Rose-Berman
Audrey & Ben Semel
Brett & Felicia McCollough
Bill & Heather Vrattos
Cozen O’Connor

Achiever Gift

Locke Lord
SBV Real Estate
Margie & Bruce Warwick
The Donald & Barbara Zucker Family Foundation
Carlton Fields
Cross River

Scholar Gift

Maria Rodriguez
Jordanna Davis & Stehen Mott
Nick & Rick Rubens