*The late U.S. Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown (1941-1996) was a dedicated public servant whose untimely death during a trade mission to Croatia on April 3, 1996 ended his life far too soon.
His vision continues to be important and today’s work at the Department of Commerce builds on his legacy. “Ron Brown embodied the values and the ideals, that sense of possibility that is at the heart of the American story” stated President Barack Obama.
Appointed by President Bill Clinton in his first term of office, Brown, a rising star in the Democratic Party, was the first African American to serve in that office. In 1996, the Ron Brown Scholar Program (RBSP) was established to provide academic scholarships, service opportunities and leadership experiences for young African Americans of outstanding promise. Since that time, the Program has awarded more than $26 million in aid to college students.
This year, RBSP established The Ron Brown Scholar Program Undergraduate Scholarship Fund at Harvard College in honor of David L. Evans, senior admissions officer at Harvard Club of New York City, to pay tribute to the remarkable legacy of Evans as a pioneer in higher education.
On Saturday, October 26, 2013, RBSP hosted a black-tie celebration gala at the pristine Harvard Club of New York City to pay tribute to the contributions of Evans for his more than four decades serving students in the Harvard community and beyond, paying tribute to his long-standing leadership and dedication to helping the Harvard community to truly represent our nation’s diversity and multiculturalism. Beginning in 2014, the endowed scholarship will fund at least one undergraduate student at Harvard. Each recipient will receive funding and be mentored and advanced throughout his/her career via internships and the network of friends and advisors who admire Evans.
Escorted by his wife of 40 years Mercedes Evans, the honoree was greeted by many well-wishers at an exclusive cocktail reception for sponsors and friends hosted by Deborah C. Wright, chairman & CEO of Carver Bancorp, Inc. A delicious dinner followed. Guests dined on Mizuno Watercress Salad topped off with the famous Harvard Club’s Popovers; Breast of Chicken, Fire Roasted Sweet Peppers, Artichoke and Capers with Lemon Mascarpone Sauce; Warm Apple Charlotte, English sauce; coffee and a selection of fine teas. Fine wines and champagne were served throughout dinner.
In addition to a warm welcome by Michael A. Mallory, president, Ron Brown Scholar Fund, and executive director, Ron Brown Scholar Program, the stellar program included tributes from Attorney Charles J. Hamilton Jr., senior counsel, Windels Marx, Dr. William R. Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid, Harvard College, keynote speaker Harvard Law Professor David B. Wilkins, Damian Williams, Ron Brown Scholar (’98) and Adora I. Mora, Ron Brown Scholar (’06).
In his years at Harvard Evans says that he has been influenced by a maxim from his childhood: “A changing of the guard without a guarding of the change is movement without maintenance and might well be counterproductive.”
“David’s efforts at Harvard and the work of the Ron Brown Scholar Program have been mutually reinforcing. Of the 314 Ron Brown Scholars, 105 have matriculated at Harvard and 8 are currently enrolled in the freshman class. Each year, a new cohort of twenty students receives $40,000 over 4 years toward college expenses and become a lifelong member of a group advancing David’s dreams. Like Mr. Evans, many of our Scholars have overcome significant personal challenges and have demonstrated that when presented with opportunities, they exceed expectations and soar,” remarked Mallory.
“It is hard to imagine that Harvard College would be the place it is today without David Evans. I am honored to have worked with and beside David in the Harvard College Admissions Office as friend and colleague for more than forty years. For all those years, David has championed the cause of making Harvard College a realistic option – an affordable and, even more importantly, a welcoming place — for talented students, especially students of color, who may never have dreamed of an Ivy League education but have all that it takes to excel if they can get here. Year by year, key elements of his vision have become reality – Harvard now has a superbly generous financial program in place, and we are welcoming more low-income and minority students than ever before. Our campus is now diverse and vibrant, yet David never rests from his mission,” added Fitzsimmons.
President of the Harvard Black Alumni Society, Lawrence E. Adjah commented, “We cannot do his legacy justice in mere words, still, we’d be remiss to speak about Mr. Evans without drawing upon one of his own more commonly shared and memorable proverbs. He always reminded us about the importance of giving our Time, Treasure & Talent to help the lives of others. To no surprise, his legacy at Harvard can be described within the prism of that triumvirate theme. As much as we can place a value on the millions of dollars raised for scholarships established in his honor, we’ll never be able to put a true value on the opportunity afforded to each of us by David Evans. Many of us would never have stepped foot on Harvard’s campus if it wasn’t for Mr. Evans. He didn’t just have a hand in you getting into Harvard, in both a personal and institutional manner he made it plain that you belonged at Harvard. As simple as remembering your name and story, to as grand as being a part of the guard that made a Harvard education free for those whose families have much lower incomes, he made it clear that you mattered.”
This noble gathering was co-chaired by Norma C. Barfield (’74) and William M. Lewis Jr. (’78, ‘B’82), with honorary co-chairs Kenneth I. Chenault (L’76), chairman & CEO of the American Express Company and Mrs. Kathryn C. Chenault.
Generous donations from key sponsors and friends helped to make this elegant evening possible. RBSP especially thanked Kenneth & Kathryn Chenault, George W. Haywood, William M. Lewis Jr., Neil Brown, BET Networks, Frank & Nina Cooper, Jill Ford & Diarra K. Lamar, Jason & Melanie Goins, Michael Lynton, Henry & Celia McGee, Hilda M. Ochoa-Brillembourg, Franklin D. Raines, Marco Rodriguez, Elsie Wilson Thompson, Digitas and Publicis Groupe, Dr. Bruce Dunson, Hon. Lisa Wilson & Robert H. Edwards Jr., Michael & Valerie Guthrie, Carla Harris, Albert & Katharine Merck, Deborah C. Wright, and the Verizon Foundation.
In commemoration of this elaborate get-together, guests were gifted with the book “I Have Risen, Essays by Ron Brown Scholars.” Visit www.ronbrown.org for additional information. (Photos by E. Lee White)
About David L. Evans
Evans was born the fourth of seven children to Black sharecroppers at Wabash in Phillips County on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi River Delta, his parents had a combined six years of formal education and both died before he turned seventeen. Even so, all seven of the children attended college; five graduated, and three earned post graduate degrees from Northwestern, Princeton and U. C. L. A. Evan’s undergraduate and graduate training was in electrical engineering at Tennessee State and Princeton Universities, respectively.
Although he and his three younger siblings were technically orphans when their mother died, their older sister, Maxine, (the first family member to attend college) would hear no such thing. She, therefore, left LeMoyne College in Memphis a month before graduation to come home and head the household to prevent an unthinkable fragmentation of the family. Through the benevolence of certain school administrators she was able to work as a substitute teacher during the week and commute up to Memphis on weekends and graduated the next year. She was then offered a full-time job teaching at an elementary school.
Like so many other Black youth in poverty-stricken Phillips County, Evans worked part time at any job he could find — including catching trucks to the fields to pick cotton in fall and winter or chop weeds from its rows in spring and summer. Typical pay for a day’s work in the fields usually amounted to three or four dollars.
During his final two and a half years of high school he worked after school and on weekends for merchants in downtown Helena at miscellaneous jobs to meet his own expenses and help with household expenses. That work and his outstanding performance in high school brought him into conversations with men and women who appreciated the transformative value of a college education and whose wise counsel reinforced advice Maxine had offered.
These conversations and the interests they aroused set Evans on a path to college that eventually led him to Nashville and Tennessee State University. From necessity, however, his perspective in college (and several years thereafter) was through a split vision where concern for himself was always shared with a concern for his siblings back home.
Upon graduation he was employed in the aerospace industry for Boeing and Lockheed in such far-flung places as Seattle, WA, Vandenberg AFB, CA, Minot AFB, ND, Whiteman AFB, MO and Huntsville, Alabama. As the economic status of the family improved, he considered graduate school and broached the topic with Maxine. Unselfishly, she approved, although Evans would later learn that, without his contributions, things were difficult back home.
In 1964 he entered graduate school at Princeton on full financial aid and, in 1966, earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering. He then returned to Huntsville, Alabama to work on the Saturn Apollo Project for IBM’s Federal Systems Division.
While working in Huntsville he noticed that few talented and deserving Black students from hardship backgrounds were getting to college from the newly-integrated schools. Using his own family model as inspiration, he set out to find one or two such students and counsel them for college as Maxine had counseled him and his younger siblings. In looking for those two, he found many and his efforts were successful beyond his fondest dreams. A little more than two years of spare-time effort produced recruits who were admitted to Amherst, Boston University, Brandeis, Brown, University of Chicago, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Hampshire, Harvard, Pembroke, Princeton, St. Mary’s (of South Bend, Indiana), Smith, Stanford, U.C.L.A., Washington State, Wisconsin, and a half dozen historically Black colleges in the South.
News of his success circulated and he was made formal job offers by Harvard, M.I.T., and the College Entrance Examination Board. He was most impressed by Dr. Chase N. Peterson, dean of admissions at Harvard, accepted his offer and joined the staff during the 1969/70 year on a “two-year” leave-of-absence from IBM to serve as an assistant director of admissions.
After months of conversations with John Harwell who, a year and a half earlier, was the first Black person hired by the Harvard Admissions Office, meals with dozens of Black students as well as several faculty members and administrators, he was convinced that something profound was happening at Harvard and on other college campuses around the country. He was also influenced by an offer from Dean of Freshmen, F. Skiddy von Stade, to become a proctor and advisor to freshmen in Harvard Yard.
Combining these experiences with his meeting Mercedes Sherrod, a student visiting campus from the University of Pennsylvania, and he decided that college administration was more his life’s work than the Saturn Apollo Project. The “two-year leave-of-absence” is long forgotten now and Evans has helped to admit 44 classes to Harvard and has been married to Mercedes for 40 years.
During his four decades at Harvard, Evans has served as a freshman proctor for seven years, assistant dean of freshmen for four years, a freshman advisor for 21 years, member of the advisory committee to the Harvard Foundation on Race Relations since 1981, a trustee of St. George’s School in Newport, Rhode Island for 15 years, is currently a member of the Board of Trustees of Roxbury Latin School, a member of the community advisory board of television station WGBH in Boston, a member of the board of directors of Harvard Student Agencies, a tutor in an after-school program at Charles Street AME Church in Boston.
In 1986 he received the “C. Clyde Ferguson Award” that was given annually to the person “who has done most to enhance the diversity of Harvard University,” he was recognized by President George W. Bush as the 311th “Daily Point of Light” in 1990 for his volunteer work at Charles Street AME Church, was accorded “Harvard University Special Volunteer” recognition in 1995, was invited by President Bill Clinton in 1997 as a special guest to the 40th Anniversary Observance of the 1957 Little Rock Central High School Crisis, was awarded Harvard’s highest honor given to an administrator, “The Harvard Administrative/Professional Prize” 2002, and had a scholarship fund established in his honor by African American alums at the Black Alumni Weekend of 2003 hoping to raise $250,000 by 2006 that actually raised more than $1,000,000 with Ray McGuire ’79 and Martha Newton ’79 as co-chairs of the effort. At about the same time David’s former proctee, Edward M. “Ned” Lamont ’76, endowed a “David L. Evans Scholarship” for a student from Bridgeport, Connecticut.
About The Ron Brown Scholar Program
The Ron Brown Scholar Fund is a 501(c) 3 public charity. Named for the late Secretary of Commerce and inspired by his dedication to public service, the Ron Brown Scholar Program was established in 1996 to provide academic scholarships, service opportunities and leadership experiences for young African Americans of outstanding promise. Since that time, the Program has awarded more than $26 million in aid to college students. For more information about the Ron Brown Scholar Program and to learn about the Ron Brown Scholars, please visit www.ronbrown.org.
New York based award-winning journalist Audrey J. Bernard covers entertainment, fashion & beauty, film, lifestyles and travel for the Electronic Urban Report and other outlets. Contact her via: [email protected]