Harlem Center for Education, Inc. (HCE) has been providing free educational services to the Harlem communities and inner city youth and adults of New York City for over 43 years. Although the Harlem Center for Education was not incorporated until 1970, the concepts that resulted in the development of this organization were initiated in 1966.
The organization came into being due to the need expressed by Antioch College of Ohio, along with nine other small colleges, to recruit minority students. Antioch College approached one of our original founders, Susan Alexander, to serve on a selection committee for this purpose. She in turn solicited the help of an East Harlem junior high school guidance counselor to assist in implementing programmatic ideas that would lead to more minority students being recruited for college.
In 1968, through the cooperation of the Church of the Good Neighbor and funding from New York Foundation, movement was made towards the establishment of an independent organization. The first major grant received upon HCE’s incorporation was from The Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Subsequent funding came from both the public and private sectors, such as American Heritage, Chemical Bank, Central Presbyterian Church, Blue Hill Foundation, PepsiCo, Ogilvy and Mather, the Greater New York Fund, New York City Youth Board and the U.S. Department of Education. Subsequent funding over the years has grown to include the Aaron Diamond Foundation, Morgan Stanley Foundation, Henry Luce Foundation, Annenberg Foundation, Consolidated Edison of New York, The New York Times Company Foundation, Reebok International, Inc., Greentree Foundation, Lumina Foundation, IBM Corporation and others.
Over the past 43 years, the organization has served more than 20,800 low-income youth and adults from the East Harlem, Washington Heights/Inwood and other inner-city communities in their educational endeavors. Participants assisted by the organization have enrolled in over 195 colleges and universities throughout the United States. This represents a college placement rate in excess of 80 percent and a graduation rate from college of over 45 percent within a six-year time frame. Both of these far exceed comparable statistics both nationally and locally for low-income, first-generation individuals. Part of our mission is to strive to improve on these statistics even more over future years.
Our success in working with these much-overlooked individuals is attributable to a number of things, most especially the services and the staff that we have that interact with them. Though a small staff in number, the dedication and commitment exhibited by Harlem Center for Education’s staff goes a long way towards equipping these persons with the self-confidence and the belief that they can achieve far beyond what they ever dreamed. For example, six of our student participants were awarded Gates Millennium Scholarships this year, one of the most prestigious scholarships available.
There are four programs offered by Harlem Center for Education: High School, Middle School, Math/Science and Adult. Each of these components focuses on encouraging low-income, first generation individuals to complete high school – or a high school equivalent or college ready program – apply for and gain admission to college, obtain financial aid and enroll and persist in college until completion. All of the services provided are free and very comprehensive. Some of the services are academic, career, college and financial aid advising; tutoring; curriculum advisement; college admissions test prep classes; college campus visits; cultural trips; workshops dealing with such issues as financial literacy and planning; after school program for middle school students; summer academic programs for rising seniors and middle school students; GED prep classes; adult literacy classes; and referrals and collaborations with other organizations/agencies to widen the spectrum of what we can offer.
Harlem Center for Education is fortunate to be governed by a volunteer board of directors, many of whose members have been involved with the Center for over fifteen years. This group of individuals has dedicated themselves to assuring the sustainability and success of the Center and its programs by working hand in hand with me as the executive director and with my staff over these many years. The organization has been fortunate to be able to have continued funding primarily from the federal government under the federal TRIO programs out of the U.S. Department of Education as well as additional funding from foundations, corporations and the local government – New York City and State. It is our mission, however, to continue to look for sources of revenue that will allow us to continue to serve and enhance our services to this often-neglected population, as they represent the future of the nation.
Harlem Center for Education has also been fortunate to establish key partnerships and contacts with local agencies/organizations, corporations, schools and colleges with whom we have been able to collaborate over these many years. Some of our partners/collaborators are PS/IS 171; GW Complex HS of Law and Public Service; GW Complex College Academy; Norman Thomas High School; Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics; Murry Bergtraum High School; Mid-Manhattan Adult Learning Center; Queens Adult Learning Center; Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation; HANAC; Literacy Partners; College Now at Baruch College, CUNY; Marymount Manhattan College; Boys and Girls Harbor; and a host of others. We are always vigilant in establishing relationships that will mutually benefit our participants as well as those of our partners/collaborators.
Organizations such as ours and programs such as ours are what will help put the United States back as the top country in the world when it comes to the education of its people. I contend that without the help of these programs and organizations and their obtaining the support they need, the 2020 education goal will not happen.
Paula J. Martin is Executive Director & Talent Search Project Director, Harlem Center for Education.
The Editor wishes to thank Clifford Chance LLP for sponsoring this article.