By Alexandra Céspedes Kent ’01
Although Harold and I graduated from Amherst decades apart, we are united by the idea that there is more to do, no matter your age.
Harold’s father died when he was only 8. Inspired by his working mother, Harold began working at age 10 and nurtured a lifelong goal to extract promise from children of whom others expected little. Not surprisingly, he became a teacher and educational leader, directing foundations, private schools, education systems, community colleges and public-private coalitions over his vast career.
But, after more than 40 years, Harold says he “became increasingly dissatisfied with my lack of success in opening doors for low-income students much like myself in my childhood. I never thought about giving up on this goal.”
In 2003, at age 68, Harold became a social entrepreneur, founding the After School Arts Program (ASAP) for LA’s BEST (Better Education Students for Tomorrow) to improve the lives of public school students in Los Angeles. The organization brings the distant universe of art into the lives of students at underperforming Los Angeles elementary schools by introducing them to successful artists from their own communities. ASAP introduces youngsters to new subjects and activities, including a youth orchestra based on L.A. Philharmonic Director Gustavo Dudamel’s El Sistema Program in Venezuela.
Today, LA’s BEST serves 28,000 students at 180 schools at no cost. Since 2003, more than 50,000 students have completed 10-week ASAP residencies in the visual or performing arts. Studies find ASAP has reduced absenteeism, while increasing participation and success in school and classroom activities.
I met Harold in my position as director of The Purpose Prize, a multimillion-dollar initiative to identify and invest in people over 60 who are helping to meet society’s biggest challenges. A commentator for NPR called the program “a kind of MacArthur genius award for retirees.” Each year, The Purpose Prize awards up to $100,000 each to 10 people in encore careers and names 50 fellows. Harold was named a Purpose Prize fellow in 2008 for his work with LA’s Best.
Harold shows us that innovation is hardly the sole province of the young, and that experience can and does lead to high-quality solutions to some of our toughest problems.
He is a great role model for others who want to do more to leave the world a better place. Harold is living a life of passion, purpose and consequence, inspiring others to do the same, myself included. It’s my ambition just to match his level of energy, enthusiasm, creativity and drive in the course of my own career.
To nominate a friend or classmate whom you admire and would like to honor, or to read about other lives of consequence, please visit www.amherst.edu/campaign.