One fateful day in June 1981, Eugene Lang, a successful New York City businessman, gave a graduation speech to a group of sixth graders at the very same elementary school in Harlem from which he had graduated 50 years earlier.
Prior to giving his presentation, he was told by the principal that 75% of the students would probably drop out of high school and most of those who did graduate would lack the skills needed for college. This so shocked Mr. Lang that he decided to make an extraordinary promise: Each sixth grader who met the challenge of completing high school would be given a college scholarship!
In his speech to the students, Mr. Lang shared his own personal experience during the 1963 March on Washington where he heard Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech.
He went on to explain that they must have their own dreams, and added that he would do everything he could to help them achieve their goals.
In the weeks and months that followed, through personal interactions, he began to know his “Dreamers” and soon realized they needed structured support. A full-time social worker was hired to be a Project Coordinator and with the support of various organizations it grew into a community-wide effort.
A story on the front page of the New York Times and a segment on 60 Minutes let to nationwide interest. The “I Have A Dream” Foundation was launched, and since then, “I Have A Dream” projects have sprung up all over the country.
Currently, over 3,000 Dreamers are on the pathway to and through college in 15 cities, following the nearly 16,000 Dreamers who came before them. Dreamers often graduate and enter college at double the rates of other students in the local population, and surpass the overall statewide average for students in their peer group. External evaluations have found that our students demonstrate improvements in grades and school attendance; are better able to resist peer pressure; and show higher aspirations and more positive attitudes about school, life, and the future. “I Have A Dream” has also inspired other initiatives across the nation, including the federal program GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) and nonprofit organizations including Say Yes to Education. In addition, many of our Sponsors, while new to education when they first became involved with “I Have A Dream”, have since become some of the nation’s most influential educational leaders.
The National “I Have A Dream” Foundation
The national “I Have A Dream” Foundation established in 1986 to coordinate and expand the network of “I Have A Dream” sites, now numbering 16 affiliates running 36 programs around the country. To learn more, please click the link highlighted below.