My Friends Select Experience as a Black Student

I do not accept racism and have always confronted it with an equal level of intensity, if not more, than it was ever delivered. Whether that meant shutting a manager’s door on a job and asking, “Do we have a problem?” or checking an investor’s ego with “Excuse me, we’re here to talk about a real estate deal, and I’m not sure where your negative disposition is coming from,” or flat out swinging a baseball bat in a playground, racism is a non-negotiable issue for me.
 
I entered Friends Select School in 6th grade after graduating from Patterson Elementary School in Southwest Philadelphia. I lived about six blocks from there in Penrose Park, a planned development built in the 1960s for working-class Black families amid an established working-class neighborhood of Irish, Polish, and Italian families. My father, a former police officer and state parole officer, moved us there from West Philadelphia around 1966. 

By the time I started attending Friends Select, a cross had been burned on my next-door neighbor’s lawn; the first interracial couple to move into the neighborhood had had their house burned to the ground; the swimming pool at Finnegan Playground and the Elmwood Skating Rink were largely unavailable at the time without parents there; and there were numerous times when the police had to be present when children in the neighborhood were walking home from school and Saint Clement’s School got out early. The “N” word was a daily reality, but that seemed like a minor inconvenience. Having adapted to that environment, it would have taken some blatant actions to get my attention during my time at Friends Select; and my parents expected me to handle anything short of that. 

From day one, I was comfortable at Friends Select. I got along with my classmates and teachers. More importantly, the environment allowed me to adapt and evolve in a setting conducive to learning. But it was not my social life—far from it. I would say that was the case for many Black students at that time. I know because we would occasionally see each other at the movies or at parties with our respective friends. This eliminated the need for me to stress over how to fit in or imposter syndrome. I was there for the learning environment and availed myself of everything that the city offered on the weekends (Belmont Plateau, block parties, arcades, movies, clubs, etc.). 

Friends Select’s teachers, from my perspective, were equally tough on everyone. I cannot say who my favorite teachers were, but Janet Goldstein ’57, Larry Butler, and Bill Blauvelt ’63 had a great impact on me. Obviously, Janet for her writing prowess; Larry for teaching his analytical approach to research; and Bill for really stretching me in my classes with him, which to my recollection, included Shakespeare and public speaking. (A fellow classmate recently reminded me how Bill tortured me in class for whatever reason, although I never took offense, and it has been a pleasure serving with Bill on the national alumni board.) 

Finally, there was Josie Whitlock, the upper school registrar who was nothing short of a second mother. With the sofa in her office, Josie became my therapist, and she was not shy in telling me or any other students when we were “full of it.” Initially, she was the main reason I visited the school after I graduated. Other extraordinary memories include the freshman camping trip, senior class trip, and the trip to Washington, D.C. with Byron W. and John B. to volunteer at a soup kitchen for the weekend. That exposure to service was instrumental in shaping my volunteer activities today. 

Initially, I was not an overly enthusiastic alumnus. First, I attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where I joined Alpha Phi Alpha and was more focused on recreation. That changed when I transferred to and graduated from Temple University. There I applied myself to using Friends Select standards, both as an undergrad and when I returned to pursue an MBA a dozen years later. I would return to Friends Select to visit Josie and attend the Thanksgiving alumni basketball games. I would communicate every five years to get everyone thinking about a reunion that Chuck Block ’81 and others would ultimately put together.
 
Fast forwarding to today, my service to Friends Select includes being the president of the national alumni board; I have served on the board since 2009. For the last several years, Rob Einhorn ’81, Chuck Block, and I have made ourselves available to assist the school, along with the rest of the board, on any matter. I have also been lucky to have fellow alumni to assist with the Alumni of Color group, which was started in 2019. Members of the school’s Black Student Union expressed a need to have an affiliated alumni group for informal mentorship, internships, and just a sounding board for any issues. The Alumni of Color group also provides opportunities to engage with the school, network with fellow alumni, and assist the school in its endeavors to dismantle institutional racism.
 
My service to students plays a big role in my volunteerism in general. Currently, I am a Temple University Fox School of Business advisor to MBA students participating in their final capstone course. I recently volunteered to be one of the advisors to the undergraduate chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha at Temple; I am also the housing chairman of Alpha House, Inc. After listing and selling the fraternity’s house of 50 plus years in North Philadelphia, I am tasked with finding new headquarters and a partner to facilitate its mission of providing opportunities that can turn around the lives of juvenile delinquents. Finally, I serve on the Collective, an organization of Philadelphia Black developers who seek capital for their respective developments in disinvested areas of the city. I believe my spirit of service is due to Friends Select and Alpha Phi Alpha.