February 2022 • Edition 6
Wharton Impact is celebrating Black History Month by highlighting alumni who had, and have, an empowering role in the struggle for equality and justice. Read about an alumnus born into slavery who helped lay the foundation for Black History Month; learn how a white graduate — because of a long-ago misunderstanding — went on to become an active philanthropist supporting the value of access to education; and congratulate this year’s Whitney M. Young alumni honoree who encourages Black MBA students to be the change needed for growth.
Wharton Graduate Born Into Slavery Helped Create Black History Month
President Abraham Lincoln signed the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery on February 1, 1865. That date would eventually become the first day of the Black History Month we celebrate each year, thanks in part to the efforts of a former enslaved person, Richard Robert Wright Sr., who in his 60s graduated from Wharton.
Born into slavery in 1855 in Georgia, Wright WEV’21 became a trailblazing thought leader, military officer, educator, politician, civil rights advocate, and bank entrepreneur. He, together with others, encouraged President Harry S. Truman to create the President’s Committee on Civil Rights, which resulted in the desegregation of the federal workforce and all branches of the military.
Wright also advocated for national and local leaders to formulate plans to set aside
February 1 to memorialize the signing of the 13th Amendment. After Wright’s death in 1947, both houses of Congress passed a bill to make the day National Freedom Day — one of the forerunners to Black History Month.
Wharton Alumni Connection Creates Lasting Change
Jon Brumley, WG’63, and Isadore Maximilian Martin, Jr., W’30, WG’32, met in 1961 when Brumley, an MBA student arriving on campus from Texas, found himself viewing a West Philadelphia apartment owned by Martin.
Through the course of their interactions, there was an exchange of perceived verbal slights and misunderstandings that caused bad feelings — so bad that Martin brought the exchange to Wharton’s then-dean. Questions were raised about Brumley’s suitability as a student, and he was advised to return to Texas.
But a second chance was offered by Martin, and accepted by Brumley, who went on to graduate from Wharton and achieve distinction in the energy field. Martin lived out his life as a staunch and eminent NAACP advocate and activist for equal housing and equal rights in Philadelphia.
And all these years later, Brumley has created a named fellowship in honor of Martin because of that impactful but serendipitous connection. Wharton alumni working to pull together like this can, and does, change lives — and can even change worlds.
Each Wharton graduate is an essential part of a worldwide network of 100,000 alumni. And Wharton connections can energize everything from starting friendships to beginning a new enterprise. The connection between Brumley and Martin inspired changes that have created a lifetime of impact — and became a small but significant part of the narrative of the civil rights movement.
“Be Your Own Cavalry” Call to Action for Black MBA Students
At the 48th Annual Whitney M. Young Jr. Memorial Conference, Egbert Perry, CE’76, GCE’79, WG’78 — the 2022 alumni honoree — addressed attendees with his thoughts of where the Black community has been and where he sees it heading. The conference, a business and leadership forum, is hosted each year by the Wharton African American MBA Association. Praising attendees for their leadership skills, Perry said, “You are in charge of your own destiny … but I challenge you to think about how to put your destiny into action.”
Perry is chairman and chief executive officer of the Integral Group, a company he co-founded in 1993 to build urban housing communities and whose mission is infused with Perry’s innate need to address injustice. Invoking the spirit of activist Whitey M. Young said, “The crime of poverty is about more than a lack of money.”