Hugh Jackman, Skip Marley, and Katie Couric Headline a Night of Music for Harlem Village Academies

NEW YORK – MAY 10, 2018 – The Harlem Village Academies held a benefit at Jazz at Lincoln Center to support students from kindergarten through college. As has been widely noted, charter schools receive 75 cents on the dollar compared to students from district schools, which makes such fundraising opportunities a critical lifeline.

Throughout the night, an insistent theme was the importance of an HVA-quality education to the preservation of American democracy. As longtime HVA board member Hugh Jackman put it, “If there has ever been a time that we need to be elevating education it is now—we need strong leaders and strong citizens.” Journalist Katie Couric, another longtime board member, said that an HVA education “will prepare our students to be thoughtful citizens who will strengthen society.”

Jackman performed songs from his hit movie The Greatest Showman (2017), including “A Million Dreams” and “This Is Me.” “What’s happening at our schools in Harlem is a model for education in our country,” proclaimed Jackman. Artist and activist Skip Marley, fresh from Coachella, performed his own hit “Lions,” as well as his grandfather’s indelible “One Love” and “Redemption Song.”

Widely regarded as a jewel among NYC charter schools and known particularly for a focus on progressive education, Harlem Village Academies was founded by Deborah Kenny in 2003. Today, the HVA network consists of two elementary schools, two middle schools, a high school, a college support program, and a new teacher preparation program, the Progressive Education Institute.

Nathan Smith, a veteran HVA faculty member, said that “the original concept of a charter school was that in exchange for accountability, charters are given freedom from bureaucracy. That freedom was intended to allow charter schools to innovate. Deborah has placed HVA at the forefront of innovation by pushing the national charter movement to take that mandate seriously and move beyond the ‘pedagogy of poverty’—beyond the basics of behavior and rote learning for children in underserved communities like ours.”

At the height of the evening, HVA alumni Rosalee Washington (’11) and Sheck Mulbah (’16) were honored as HVA Rising Stars. Washington, a member of HVA’s first graduating class, just earned a dual Masters of Public Health and Social Work from the University of Michigan. She remembered that “HVA was intimidating at first—long hours, lots of homework, and really high expectations for behavior. But along with those high expectations, there was care and love.”

Her words were echoed by Mulbah, her fellow honoree, who spoke about how “Harlem Village Academies lit a fire under me” and emphasized HVA’s strong culture of independent reading: “HVA gave me a school culture where everyone loved reading. Teachers talked about books, they had kids recommend books to each other, and the teachers were always going out of their way to give us books we would enjoy. They turned me into an voracious reader.”

Mulbah, whose family fled the civil war in Liberia, recently earned a Gates Scholarship to study political science at Stanford University. He reflected, “I think back to myself as that scared four-year-old boy arriving in America and I just feel so grateful for all of the opportunities I received.” HVA, he said, made students want “to be leaders and to change the world.”