Celebrating the Innovators & Disruptors Who Are Creating a Future of Opportunity, Diversity & Equity

New York, NY — October 28, 2021 — HEAF’s 17th Annual Innovation & Disruption Gala was a night of celebration and insight – with key thought leaders in discussion about creating a future of opportunity for HEAF students and their contemporaries across the country and around the world!

The evening kicked off with emcee Monica Bertran, Bloomberg’s Head of Corporate Communications Digital Media, welcoming guests and noting that “innovation and disruption are two necessary drivers of change.” She acknowledged the evening’s three honorees, John Collins, HEAF Board Member and Managing Director, Morgan Stanley, Adena Friedman, President & CEO, Nasdaq, and Verdun Perry, Global Head of Blackstone Strategic Partners, Blackstone, for shining a spotlight on the need for equity in education and careers, and for taking tremendous strides to build a future of opportunity for underrepresented communities.

Monica Bertran during the 2021 HEAF gala livestream
John Jacobsson during the HEAF 2021 Gala livestream

HEAF Board Chair and EVP, Capital Markets, Related Companies, John Jacobsson presented honoree John Collins, noting his nearly-two-decades as a board member and ceaseless drive to create opportunities for HEAF students: “John is an extraordinary role model for HEAF students, and for all of us.”

During the event, Collins spoke with HEAF alum and current Morgan Stanley Associate Jourdan White about the value of a HEAF education. Jourdan congratulated John: “I tip my hat to you, John, and the rest of the HEAF board for the tremendous work you do behind the scenes to scale up HEAF’s impact and reach more students every year.”
John commented, “One of the reasons I am so dedicated to my role on the board is people like Jourdan. It is incredibly rewarding to see HEAFs impact on its students starting in middle school, very driven young kids without a lot of exposure, and work with them through high school, getting read to go to college and see the impact of the faculty and staff on those students.”

Jourdan agreed “HEAF provided me with academic support, exposure to new things, and place to be myself. Comfortable and safe, out of trouble. It was very important as a kid growing up in New York City. HEAF was tremendous in preparing me for college and beyond.”

Following John Collins’ in depth discussion with HEAF alumnus Jourdan White, Former NYC Mayor and Co-Founder of Bloomberg L.P.  Mike Bloomberg commended HEAF for its important work, commenting: “No child’s zip code, skin color or family income should dictate the quality of education they receive. Expanding access to high quality education for all students is critical.”

Next, gala attendees heard from HEAF 2015 Gala Honoree and longtime HEAF supporter Roger Ferguson, Immediate Past CEO, TIAA, who presented Gala Honoree Adena Friedman, Nasdaq President & CEO. Roger noted “Adena has always believed in a society that’s much more inclusive.”

During her “fireside chat” hosted by Fortune CEO Alan Murray, Adena discussed her commitment to hold public companies accountable for driving diversity and equity. She also offered this advice to HEAF students: “Be curious about the world around you. Find the thing that you find most interesting and dig into it, so that you know when you are ready and coming out of college you can achieve anything!”

A highlight for gala attendees was the opportunity to hear from HEAF students and families throughout the evening, including 11th grader Daniel, who said “HEAF is like a family. I love this program because everyone is really positive and happy to see us grow. It gives me confidence that I can succeed.”

Next, Eric Schmidt, former Chairman & CEO of Google, and Founder of Schmidt Futures, returned to the HEAF Gala for the second year in a row to add his congratulations to the organization for its exceptional outcomes. He noted: “the Harlem Educational Activities Fund has become even more important as we go through the pandemic.”

Gala Honoree Verdun S. Perry, Global Head of Blackstone Strategic Partners at Blackstone, spoke with Neil deGrasse Tyson Ph.D., Astrophysicist and HEAF Board Member, and Robert F. Smith, Chairman & CEO of Vista Equity Partners, about the importance of creating opportunity, nurturing ambition, and opening doors for diverse candidates.

Discussing the opportunity to be role models for diverse candidates, and support the career growth of the next generation, Robert pointed out: “Not everyone has the same opportunities starting out. Our job is to provide access to these opportunities to those who want it and those who are willing to put in the work, effort and the grit to be successful.”

Vern agreed. He noted his own experience growing up under challenging conditions and shared this advice: “Your ultimate success does not depend on what you do on your best day, but rather what you do on your worst day.”

The inspirational evening wrapped up with Monica and Jake delivering closing remarks that reminded all in attendance of the tremendous impact of HEAF, the great successes of its students, and the role supporters play in making the fully-funded 100% scholarship program available to students from underserved communities.

Watch the full replay here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rs1Rh7udW28