Reaching New Heights At the 2019 Educating for Justice Gala

Reaching New Heights At the 2019 Educating for Justice Gala

Reaching New Heights At the 2019 Educating for Justice Gala

This year’s Educating for Justice Gala marked an all-time high for John Jay College. The event raised a record-breaking $1,045,000 for the College’s Honors Program, and was filled with moving speeches, presentations, and events. Jules B. Kroll, John Jay College Foundation Board of Trustees Chair, kicked off the event with a heartfelt welcome. Pat Battle, Weekend Today in New York Co-Anchor, kept the crowd laughing and the night moving. And, special guest Angela Willoughby, Line Producer of The View, moderated a “reverse auction” that brought in $45,000.

During the reverse auction many board members, supporters, faculty, and staff raised their hands to personally donate money for the Honors Program. And, the students themselves got in on the act—every student athlete attending the event made a $100 donation for the upcoming Honors Program trip.

“This event puts a lot of powerful leaders in front of our students. It educates them about our students and shows them what incredible potential our students have,” said Nathan H. Lents, Director of the Honors Program. “It also helps the students see that they’re going to be those powerful leaders one day. They’re going to be these movers, shakers, and donors. I think that both sides learn a lot from this kind of interaction.”  

Nathan Lents
Nathan Lents

“This event puts a lot of powerful leaders in front of our students. It educates them about our students and shows them what incredible potential our students have.” —Nathan Lents

Lents went on to describe what the Honors Program students will be doing in the future. “The group will be going to Alabama to examine voting rights, specifically, enfranchisement, which connects with the Civil Rights Movement in the 60's, the Voting Rights Act especially, but it also connects with the current struggles that are going on regarding enfranchisement,” said Lents. “Whenever you slice the issue of voting rights, it always comes down to communities of color being the most disadvantaged, and the most disenfranchised.” The group plans to work with The Legal Defense Fund at the NAACP, visit the 16th Street Baptist Church, learn more about the Tuskegee Airmen, visit a plantation with standing slave quarters, and see the National Lynching Memorial.

Nathan Lents and Litna McNickle
Nathan Lents and Litna McNickle with our Honors Program students at the Gala

“The idea was that this is a historical and contemporary topic at the same time. We have the same struggles, they just take on different flavors. By connecting with our history, it becomes more relevant in the present, and it sort of lights a fire in our students,” said Lents.

President Karol V. Mason took to the stage and informed the attendees that the Honors Program was celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. She followed that with how incredibly proud she was of our students’ achievements. “Almost half of our students are the first in their families to go to college, but once our students get a taste of higher education, many of them obtain master’s degrees, Ph.Ds., and law degrees. Our students are becoming activists, psychologists, police officers, social workers, and attorneys, often serving in the very same communities that they grew up in,” said President Mason. “Right now John Jay is eighth in the country for minority students applying to law schools. And just this year one of our students, who applied to 12 law schools, was accepted to 11 of them, including Cornell Law School.”

Karol V. Mason proudly telling the crowd about John Jay students
Karol V. Mason proudly telling the crowd about John Jay students

“Our students are becoming activists, psychologists, police officers, social workers, and attorneys, often serving in the very same communities that they grew up in.” —President Karol V. Mason

A high point of the evening was when Tony West, Uber Chief Legal Officer and the evening’s Honoree, spoke to the crowd. First, he thanked President Mason for her heartfelt introduction, friendship, and service to the country—the two worked together in the Department of Justice during the Obama administration—and he thanked his Uber colleagues, a company that donated $500,000 for John Jay’s Honors Program. Then he went on to explain how connected he felt to John Jay’s students and their passion for public service.

Tony West
Tony West listening to Karol V. Mason introduce him

“In her introduction, Karol mentioned my dad, Franklin West, who was born nearly 80 years ago to a poor family in Georgia, a family of sharecroppers. It offered him little hope that his future would be much different than his family’s past. But my dad discovered that he could free himself through education, like so many of the students at John Jay, and thereby unlock opportunities in his life,” said West. “Eventually dad, like so many of our John Jay students, became the first in his family to attend college. He attended an HBCU [Historically Black Colleges and Universities] Talladega College in Alabama where he met my mother, and together the two of them left the south to California to raise my two younger sisters and me.”

Tony West
Tony West addressing the Gala audience

“Our story as a nation has been about many things—it’s about opportunity and progress, about change and challenge, about hope, but one constant thing has been that of service to others.” —Tony West

West told the crowd that his father instilled in him an expectation of service, a lesson he also learned from his late mother-in-law Dr. Shyamala Harris. “When I think about the all-too-short life journeys of both Mother Harris and my dad, I can’t help but think of how they embodied the best of America’s great story,” said West. “You know our story as a nation has been about many things—it’s about opportunity and progress, about change and challenge, about hope, but one constant thing has been that of service to others. That sense of collective responsibility that so often inspires us to transcend narrow self-interest and express what Lincoln called ‘the better angels of our nature.’” West connected that sense of service directly to the John Jay community. “That is precisely what this College is all about, and it’s why this honor is so humbling and so special, because you, the John Jay College community, your teaching, your faculty, your students, your alumni, you like Mother Harris, like my dad, you embody the best of America’s great story.”

View photos of the Educating for Justice Gala 2019