On June 2, some 650 business executives, elected officials, nonprofit leaders and high-profile New Yorkers — longtime partners, friends and constituents of Abyssinian Development Corporation — joined parents and kindergarten-through-twelfth-grade students in Shepard Hall at the City College of New York for ADC’s Harlem Renaissance Day of Commitment Leader-ship Breakfast.
While the breakfast, which raised more than $1 million, highlighted ADC’s investment in public education in Harlem, its larger purpose was “to ensure that our community has top-quality public education institutions for our children and that these institutions can continue to serve as models to others throughout the country,” said Sheena Wright, ADC’s president and CEO.
“Education is an essential element to ensuring and building truly successful communities.”
At 21 and with a current operating budget of $12.4 million, Abyssinian Development Corporation can boast that it is making a physical and psychological difference in New York City’s Harlem community through its Education Movement, Abyssinian Neighborhood Plan and Displacement Prevention Strategy. Founded as a nonprofit in 1989 by the Rev. Calvin O. Butts III, D. Min., pastor of the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church, ADC is dedicated to improving the quality of life for Harlem’s families.
From large-scale commercial investments, creating opportunities for affordable housing and homeownership, and developing small businesses, to fostering education, providing an array of social services to seniors and heightening community awareness on critical life issues, the organization to date has pumped more than $600 million into the social and economic revitalization of the predominantly Black residential, cultural and business center that it calls home.
“I was a terrible student,” says Michael Booker, a senior at Thurgood Marshall Academy for Learning and Social Change, one of the three education institutions developed and sponsored by ADC. About 90 percent of the academy’s graduates go to college. Booker is one of six male and four female academy seniors who staffed a branch of Capital One Bank at their school this year, after intensive training that began last summer. Supervised by a professional banker, the branch offers savings accounts for students and savings and checking for teachers and staff. Student staff are paid at the school branch and at other Capital One branches where they work on weekends and during vacation. “It’s not about the money. It’s about putting yourself on the right track in life,” says Booker, who will begin college in the fall.
Wright, a Columbia University Law School graduate and a 2006 Network Journal “40 Under Forty Dynamic Achievers” awardee, was named president and CEO in 2002. Since then, ADC has completed the academy’s permanent site, a state-of-the-art facility and the first high school built in Harlem in more than 50 years. It also launched a Displacement Prevention Strategy aimed at thwarting wholesale uprooting of low- and moderate-income families from Harlem as “gentrification” drives up rent and the purchase price of homes. The strategy entails building additional affordable housing units and preserving those that already exist through acquisition (negotiating deeds in lieu of foreclosure), rehabilitation and effective management of units.
The construction of additional housing units complements ADC’s Abyssinian Neighborhood Plan, a priority initiative that targets the Central Harlem area anchored by Abyssinian Baptist Church. The plan calls for developing approximately 200 additional homeownership units where none existed; a state-of-the-art facility for Thurgood Marshall Academy Lower School for 450 children and their families; developing approximately 15,000 square feet of commercial space, 33,000 square feet of community facility space at the historic Renaissance Complex and much-needed open space; and deploying programs and services for area residents.
The work of building a successful community spans all facets of life, says Wright. “We are up to the task,” she says.