New Fund Expands Opportunity for African American Students

Picture of Dean James accepting the check from Bailey and Woods, Kendall Rankin, WG’24
Dean Erika James, in red, with WMYC Co-chairs Heather Jones, Erika Lawrence, Sierra Martin, and Elon Cornelius, WG'23, at left; and board members Larry Bailey, WG'76, and Lana Woods, WG'90, at right

In 1971, President Richard Nixon delivered the eulogy for Whitney M. Young, Jr., whose work as head of the National Urban League inspired President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. “He leaves his own monument,” said Nixon, “not one, but thousands, thousands of men and women in his own race who have a chance, an equal chance, that they otherwise might never have had except for what he did.”

Two years later, a group of African American students at Wharton formed what is now the School’s longest-running student-led conference and named it in honor of Young.

This past December, the 49th Whitney M. Young, Jr. Memorial Conference brought together hundreds of Wharton students, alumni, faculty, and professionals for two days of networking and programming, culminating in a black-tie gala at the W Philadelphia hotel, to build on Young’s legacy and empower African American students at Wharton.

For a number of past and present Wharton executive board members — including Milton Irvin, WG’74, one of the founders of the Whitney M. Young, Jr. Memorial Conference; Larry Bailey, WG’76; Suzanne Shank, WG’87; Anré Williams, WG’90; Lana Woods, WG’90; and David R. Jones, WG’93 — the event also represented the culmination of a dream: to make the full cost of a Wharton education, including activities that take place beyond the classroom, accessible to all Wharton students.

In recent decades, Woods notes, Wharton has evolved: “There are international trips — there are all these wonderful excursions that happen — and it’s very important for us that all students are included.”

On the first day of the conference, Woods and Bailey presented a $3 million check to Dean Erika James on behalf of Wharton’s African American alumni. “Wharton is committed to diversity,” said Bailey, who helped organize the third Whitney M. Young, Jr. Memorial Conference.

The African American MBA Student Support Fund will underwrite fellowships and extracurricular experiences for years to come. “One of my great joys and opportunities,” said Dean James, “is to help expand the narrative about Wharton and all that it has to offer.”

The two days of programming that followed demonstrated the achievements of Wharton’s African American community. Reggie Love, WG’13, spoke about navigating a career that has taken him from professional sports to the White House to the financial sector. Nafis Smith, WG’22, described growing up in North Philadelphia, only an hour’s drive but a world away from the headquarters of Vanguard, where he now leads the Taxable Money Market Practice. The Small Business Series and the New Venture Competition brought together Black-owned companies with diverse judges and mentors and distributed over $100,000 in prize money to contestants.

For the students in attendance, the gift raised by Woods, Bailey, and their fellow African American alumni promises to be transformational. “The $3 million gift is nothing short of extraordinary,” said Heather Jones, WG’23, one of the conference’s co-chairs. “It’s a demonstration of the generosity of Wharton’s Black alumni and their dedication to maximizing the opportunities for current Black students at Wharton.”

On the first day, while watching Dean James accept the check from Bailey and Woods, Kendall Rankin, WG’24, said, “I’m hoping that in 50 years, that’s $100 million, and we’re able to fund Black students, regardless of their financial background.”