Richard Buery has spent his career fighting to advance equal opportunities for families and communities often left behind. In September 2021, Richard became the CEO of Robin Hood, one of the nation’s leading anti-poverty organizations. He talks about his career since graduating from Harvard and his experiences in working to eliminate poverty.
Key points include:
Will Bachman, Richard Buery
Will Bachman 00:02
Hello, and welcome to the 92 report conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe class of 1992. I’m your host will Bachman and I’m here today with Richard Berry, who’s the Chief Executive Officer at Robinhood. Rich, welcome to the show.
Richard Buery 00:19
Thank you. Well, thanks for having me.
Will Bachman 00:21
So Rich, maybe we could start. Talk to me about your journey since graduating from Harvard.
Richard Buery 00:27
Sure. Well, immediately after graduating from Harvard, I had a really great experience of going to Zimbabwe on the Rockefeller fellowship, where I taught, I taught fifth grade at a school, an orphanage school in Honduras, Zimbabwe and also travelled around the southern eastern part of the continent. So that was my image. Initial time after college, I had been admitted to law school and had deferred and planned to go to law school right after, right after my fellowship, but wound up coming back to visiting to visit Cambridge, after my year away, and was spending time with Greg Johnson, who was the executive director at the time at Phil’s Brooks House, which was a big part of my undergraduate experience. And Greg’s partner, can reef was running for reelection as mayor and had the the campaign manager and asked me if I would take another year off law school to go run this campaign. So I decided to do that. So I spent a year both running campaigns campaign, Ken and Greg are both also Harvard alums, from the 70s and worked in the mayor’s office until going to law school. So went to Yale Law School, spent the summers doing a lot of public interest law work spent one summer at the Legal Defense Fund doing capital punishment work another summer. I’m at the Public Defender Service of the SEC, and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights. And practice law very briefly clerked and worked for the Brennan Center for Justice as a civil rights law firm, but knew that I didn’t really want to be a lawyer wanted to do community based youth development work, the kind of work that I really fell in love with an undergrad at Harvard through my work in post books house, and wound up starting a career in nonprofits in New York started an organization called I mentor, started another organization called groundwork, which works with families in public housing in East New York, Brooklyn, the community where I grew up. From there went to was recruited to lead the Children’s Aid Society when New York City’s largest social service organizations from there went to City Hall where I was City Hall for four years, and then spent several years in the charter school space. First at KIPP Foundation. And now just power programs, the national network of charter schools, and that a place called achievement first, which is a network of over 40 charter schools in New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, where I was CEO, before joining Robin Hood, a little over a year ago.
Will Bachman 03:11
Incredible career. So for some of these, just tell me a little bit more about what those organizations do it all about. So let’s start with Robin Hood, which is, you know, for certain crowd, very well known as a lot of very big name funders, and I think is understand it’s kind of very data based on terms of measuring impact. Tell us about some of the work that Robin Hood does and kind of the philosophy and so forth.
Richard Buery 03:40
Sure. Well, Robin Hood’s mission is pretty straightforward. Our mission is to elevate New Yorkers out of poverty through a pretty straightforward mission. And we do that primarily by investing in high performing nonprofit organization in New York City, that are making a measurable and impactful difference in the fight against poverty. So we, we have a model that tries to understand what the impact of a particular or innovations programs are, and make sure that we are directing resources to, again, the highest performing nonprofits in the city that are working in the fight to help New Yorkers permanently escaped poverty. A couple of elements of that thing that make Robin Hood unique given unlike, you know, the Ford Foundation with the Rockefeller Foundation, we’re not an endowed foundation. So we every year we go out and raise money from New Yorkers and direct that money to the fight against poverty. And one of the things that helped us do that effectively is that our board our board, pays our administrative costs. So that means when you as a donor give money to Robinhood your money is going directly to the fight against poverty. It’s not going to our infrastructure because our board covers our infrastructure costs. The other thing that we do is in addition to sort of investing directly in high poverty, nonprofit organizations, we’re also looking to move the needle on public policy. Because we know that so much of the fight against poverty can’t be done with philanthropy alone, it also takes government making smart decisions and making effective decisions in terms of putting resources towards those programs and policy that are most likely to have an impact. So we also engage very directly in the policy, advocacy, sphere, funding advocacy organizations that are advancing particular, particular strategies that we know will help New Yorkers escape poverty, everything from increasing the child tax credit to reforming policies on how we provide emergency food relief, as well as directly engaging in policy debates, to try to move public policy forward in a way that will help New Yorkers most in need. So we’ve been doing that for over 30 years, we’ve we’ve invested almost $3 billion in high performing organizations over that time and work that we continue to do. Continue to make sure that we are really at the cutting edge of investing in things that work.
Will Bachman 06:21
Now, I’m curious to hear what you’ve learned about, you know, leading this organization and what the organization has learned about what works and what doesn’t particularly maybe you could share some examples, not naming names of any specific nonprofits, but like, what are some things that intuitively might seem like, oh, that seems like a good worthy cause? Let’s put money against that. But when you looked at the impact that, that those programs were doing, they weren’t as they weren’t sort of what you would hope for or expect, like, yeah, and maybe some surprises in the other direction, like, wow, I wouldn’t have guessed that if you make this tiny intervention. It has this big impact downstream.
Richard Buery 07:07
Yeah, well, I’ll try to answer the question, I may step back and answer just slightly different way than then try to come back to example. So I guess I would step back and say, one of the challenges in this work generally is that relatively if it too often, there is not enough evidence about policies that work. We don’t necessarily invest enough resources and actually understanding what strategies work and helping families permanently escape poverty. So wonder that we don’t know as much as we should. But to is that even where we do have a clear sense of the policies that work. We as a society at every level of government, federal, state and city government, unfortunately, the evidence of what works is rarely the primary thing driving the strategies that we pursue, and that there’s often a very big disconnect between understanding that something that’s good and what we continue to do a great example, just over the past couple of years, are federal policies, such as the child tax credit, which literally cut poverty in half, and a place like New York by putting much needed financial resources in the hands of families needed during the pandemic, even though there was overwhelming evidence that that policy was particularly effective in fighting poverty. We the society allowed that policy to lapse. So the real story on this work is really about how little we have the society actually. Let the evidence guide us when it comes to what children and families need, in order to thrive in order to make sure that the American Dream is truly accessible to all New Yorkers. In terms of like, stories that I’m really excited about in our history, I mean, there there are tons of intervention that I think Robin it’s really proud to be a part of. And I think where we get really excited is where we can help demonstrate the idea of a successful one. And then be part of the plan to make sure that a project that we help develop can then be adopted at scale by the public sector. So one of my favorite example is a program called CUNY ASAP, for CUNY City University of New York, a quarter million students. New York City, flagship public higher education system is a system that overwhelmingly educates in New York City public school system students. And in the system that is actually a true driver of opportunity. Often cases, including in places like Harvard, where the placement Harvard does, it takes students who really already had a lot of privilege and it helps launch them along the path of their preexisting privilege, right. You know, not to say that critically, but we know that they did at the core of what a place like Harvard mostly does. A place like CUNY have a number of campuses that have actually been shown distinct students who enter the system poor and launch them into the middle class. Truly New York City then didn’t have opportunity. But one of the challenges of CUNY that because students often enter the CUNY system, with financial challenges with life’s challenges with academic challenges that can keep them out of school. CUNY have very low graduation rates. Historically, the to the graduation rates for our communities, two year colleges associate degree programs have I think hovered at slightly above 20%. So what CUNY ASAP is a program that took a relatively straightforward approach to trying to turn that around. It’s a relatively straightforward intervention and includes a few things. It includes money for books, it includes a free MetroCard so that students can get to and from class. It includes intensive college advising, so really helping and staying on top of students when they’re the flag or some indication that they’re not going to be able to pursue stay in school. And also, to some extent, simplified course choices, so that students throughout the process of choosing classes and figuring out what the right plan if for you is a little bit less intimidating. And what can be found is that through a relatively cost effective intervention, pretty inexpensive intervention, they were able to more than double graduation rates at the two year colleges. This started out as a small privately funded program. Now the city government has invested significant dollars in being the bring community effect to scale. And now, Robbins had another partner, they’re actually investing in evaluating how the same approach can work at the four year campuses in addition to the two year campuses. So it’s a great example of how a relatively straightforward intervention, really when they get that the heart of wise to understand well, why aren’t students graduating? It’s not because they don’t have the passion or the smarts. But what are the things and often it’s not academics, it’s life. It’s childcare, the need to work and family crisis, in something as simple as having enough money to be able to afford to take the subway to film school. But relatively modest and straightforward target interventions can have an outsized difference. And for students who are going to a place like CUNY, where we know that going to CUNY can really launch you launch your career in a different direction. This small intervention, changing 1000s of lives and through partnership with the public sector sector is now able to do it at scale.
Will Bachman 12:47
When you think about eliminating poverty, reducing poverty, what are some of the main things that need to happen? And is there you know, one or two of them that are sort of 80% of it, like, you know, affordable housing or, you know, better access to job training or something like that? Is there sort of the Pareto Principle kind of 8020? You know, a couple big things that not or is it lots and lots of smaller things?
Richard Buery 13:18
Oh, well, yes. And no, I mean, I think, I guess one way to think of it as a simple thing. One way to think of it, that the simple thing is just that fundamentally understanding that poverty, at its heart is a lack of money. Right. So if you want to simplify complex challenges, that poverty ultimately is that people don’t have any money, I have enough money to make ends meet to deal with the crisis to pay for affordable housing to to get health care, to get healthy food. So in some ways, the most essential intervention we can make to affect poverty is by putting dollars in people’s pockets, pockets. That could be putting cash directly in people’s pockets. And we’ve seen and again, the child credit, is a great example of us how when you give poor people money, they use that money wisely. They use it to win everything from paying rent to quality food to having great experiences for their kids, to buffering against crisis, but you can also do it by you can help put money in people’s pockets by subsidizing by simply diving resources that people need. Food housing, childcare credits, so on the one hand, it’s simple on the sunset, if you can figure out how to get money in the hands of people who need it. You can do amazing things for the lives. It’s also true that the challenge issues that people face people who are living in poverty. They are. They are multifaceted, multifaceted, I’m sorry, they’re multifaceted. So it is often the combination and the interplay between the schools that your child has access to the quality of the air in the neighborhood, the access to healthy foods, the role models, so levels of crime, all these things come together. And so you can’t necessarily just target one of those things, you have to have a comprehensive approach. But what I would say is even by the example that I give is, so many of those things are tied to place. You know, in a place like New York, there are concentrations of poverty, and those communities where poverty is concentrated, or the communities that have the least performing schools, and the least access to healthy, nutritious and affordable foods, and poor quality housing, and high crime rates. And all those things can often be understood as a function of place. So I think the more you can think about strategies that understand that if you can help make community stronger if you can increase the resources in communities, if you can break up the dynamics that separate us separate just by race, or just by class, if you can break those things up. You can also get at the heart of the opportunity gap that live in America, between those who live in communities of opportunity, communities have access to all those things, quality health care and quality schools and, and strong social networks, and those communities, and the people who live there, like our communities of oppression, where the where society is not organized for the well being and the success of the people who live there, not because of any difference in talent or aspiration. But simply because our society doesn’t give everybody a fair shot.
Will Bachman 17:08
How do you measure and compare across different nonprofits to determine the impact given that they’re working on very different things like the CUNY ASAP improving college graduate graduation rates versus another one that might be working on housing versus food security? How do you put it all into a same the same Metro same units.
Richard Buery 17:33
So we we use a methodology that we call a benefit cost calculator, really where they’re trying to understand the economic impact on a person living in poverty of a particular intervention. So like one, one, like straight, maybe straightforward way to think of it is, let’s say I have a program that, well, if youth can separate the program, let’s say that they have a program that if doubling the graduation rate from a two year college, and we know that being a graduate of a two year college have an economic value, and we are looking at evidence, looking at the research basis to show that that if you graduate, I’m making up this number, I don’t know what the number of my head. But let’s say that if you graduate with an associate’s degree, that is worth a million dollars in your lifetime. If we have a school that before our grant, before this program, 10 people graduated, but now 20 people graduated, that’s 10 people, each of whom has a financial impact of this degree, you can look at that benefit, you can subtract the cost of that program, and you can come up with a rough indicator of the economic value of the program. Now this is a is a rough way of measuring. And you can measure that across different programs, right, you can look at a childcare program, you can look at a food bank, you can look at a school, you can look at a housing program, a job training program, and try to measure based on the best research we have available. If this program is able to lead to a different outcome, that people in this program are doing differently than you would expect. And we can tie it in economic value to the outcome, you can, again assign a poverty fighting number which is really measured by the economic impact to the people who are in the program. Now this is not this is far from perfect, right? It depends on having strong, strong research base for the intervention that you’re looking at, involves making all kinds of assumptions, you know, hopefully educated assumptions, but assumptions nonetheless. And also, of course, even if you measure those things across programs, it’s not like if it’s not like if, if all housing program has a higher result than all education programs, then you would put all your money in housing, of course, because I would just say you know, people don’t only need housing, they need schools and nutritious food, they need open spaces and access to transportation, a number of things. So we don’t use it to sort of make the decision, but we use it to inform our thinking. We use it to help make sure that we’re being rigorous about what is our theory of change? What is the model that we’re operating with? How do we sort of think about at the portfolio programs? How much do we get into one type of intervention versus another, it also helps us understand where we as a society need more research, because we don’t really understand the the implications of a particular program or intervention. But we use this model again, not that you can really compare apples and oranges, but to help us, help us inform our thinking so that we’re being rigorous and thoughtful. And to make sure that if we’re putting $1 in program x, we can say to our donors, with a high degree of confidence, so we know that this is a highly impactful program. If it continues to do what it’s been doing, it will lead to this many results for the people who benefit from it. And we know it’s better than other programs that we’re not investing in even programs and other types of spaces. And we’re not investing.
Will Bachman 21:08
Let’s talk for a minute about your time as Deputy Mayor of the City of New York. I’m particularly curious here as a resident of the city, first Orient, listeners and me how many Deputy Mayor’s does New York City have and what was your role? And we can go from there, but I’m very curious to hear more about the inside of City Hall.
Richard Buery 21:32
Yeah, so it depends on the mayor. So when I was deputy mayor, there were four deputy mayors. But some have had fewer, some have had more. It’s all about. It’s all about how the mayor decides to organize their government. That’s the short answer. New York City, obviously, you live here for the North, the best city in the world. It’s also a really big complexity. Approaching 9 million people. Our city government has about 350,000 employees of the New York City government have a pretty big and complex beast. But we had four deputy mayors during my time City Hall.
Will Bachman 22:09
And tell us about no you had some city government experience. You mentioned earlier in the show that you ran a campaign and served in the mayor’s office after can one tell me about your experience there. What was surprising to you about being in city government?
Richard Buery 22:28
Yeah. Well, yeah, I didn’t really have really had much city government experience. So like, after college after my Rockefeller fellowship, I spent a year working in Cambridge City government. But that’s a very different scale than New York City government, right. And Cambridge is also a city manager form of government. So the mayor of Cambridge is not managing the government, they the City Council hires a city manager, who is actually in charge of government operations in New York City is very different. The mayor is truly the chief executive of the city. So you know, I would say actually, when the government with very little experience with the city government with very little confidence that they had any of the skills or experience it would take to be successful. When I when I joined the administration, and I wasn’t looking, I was running the Children’s Aid Society, which is an amazing child welfare organization in New York City. It’s one of New York City’s oldest and largest nonprofit organization that the place had invented foster care that operate in the 21st, the country’s first school feeding program, and it’s sort of this amazing place that we’re very happy to be at. But I met Bill de Blasio when he was before he was mayor and had stayed in touch and when he was elected after he joined the administration, primarily primarily to launch the city’s pre K from sorry, you can hear you can prove them in New York City. You can probably hear the sirens in the background, all
Will Bachman 23:53
that podcast, very tasty. So that is such it’s
Richard Buery 23:57
can’t be I have an office on Broadway in New York City. There’s no way to avoid that. So,
Will Bachman 24:02
while you’re talking about being the deputy mayor, that’s perfect. Good timing. Perfect.
Richard Buery 24:06
Timing. Right. So you know, I I, primarily the primary reason that the mayor asked me to join the government was to lead to build his pre kindergarten program and to build a universal after school program for the mayor had made this promise during his campaign that he was going to provide free high quality full day pre kindergarten, every four year old in New York City within a year and a half of the election. So at the time, there were 19,004 year olds and full day pre kindergarten. We had estimated we estimated that would be about to get full pre K for every four year old who wanted one. That would be about 70 75,000 Kids in full day pre K so 19,000 to 70 plus 1000 Kids in the year and a half, which is just sort of a ridiculous thing to professor, it basically like saying, we’re going to add an entire grade to the New York City school system, just the size of that program that’s bigger than the school system of Boston or San Francisco, or any number of major cities around the country. So he wanted me to come into City Hall to help direct that effort. And I was reluctant and actually said no, initially, in part because I didn’t think I was, I was the right person for the job. But, you know, fast forward, I did take the job. I wound up being the promise, within a year and a half, you’re able to enroll to provide a seat to every four year old, whose parents or guardian wanted one. We since expanded the program for three year olds. We’re not in full saturation for three roles yet, but we also support three roles. During my time with the government that was able to lead that program, I was able to lead a number of really amazing initiatives, including mental health reform initiative called Thrive NYC. We launched the Mayor’s Office of Minority Women Business Enterprises, they will to lead those efforts in the field to a billion dollars in funding and contracting for city for Minority Owned Business Enterprises for the first time in the city’s history. basically doubling the uptake from the previous more than doubling the business contracting with minority women led businesses from the previous administration. We created universal after school for every middle school student in New York City. I got the late lead a range of agencies from the Department of Human Development Department for the Aging on the Department of Probation and others, and got the crate unsupervised the creation of the first new city etc. Many years, the Department of Veterans Services, I really had an amazing time and city government. I’m so grateful that I that Mayor de Blasio gave me the opportunity and so grateful that I didn’t listen to the naysaying voice in my head and took the opportunity and really feel like I had an amazing experience. And guys, I got to contribute to the life of the city in ways that I’m really proud of.
Will Bachman 27:17
So you almost didn’t take it. You said no. I thought you weren’t qualified. You had this amazing series of accomplishments. What did you learn from that experience about what it takes to actually make change happen in a massive city bureaucracy like New York City?
Richard Buery 27:38
That’s a great question What, like trying to step back, and I think a couple of things. One of the reasons why we were able to be successful with pre K is that, um, we, it was very clear to everyone involved and very, and the mayor made it very clear that it was a priority of the city. So it was his priority. And so what that meant was, you know, when I find that it’s hard to do 20 things very well, you can’t have 20 priorities. But when you have a relatively small number of priorities, you can really direct attention, you can direct resources. And so a big part of the battle was just making it clear that this was the main thing that we had to do. And that was really important for a variety of reasons. Coming in, you know, Mayor de Blasio, he was a progressive legislative, progressive city councilor. And then he was the city’s public advocate, coming after several years of Republican independent rule, and first Mayor Giuliani and Mayor Bloomberg. But he sort of came into office with a very, like very intentionally progressive vision. And the biggest knock was that and particularly can something big, like pre K, the biggest knock was that, you know, it’s hard to really be against universal full day pre kindergarten, I mean, no, but nobody’s really against that. But the biggest criticism or complaint was that it wasn’t that it wasn’t worth doing with that New York City would never be able to do it. It was too big, it was too complex, and certainly, a progressive mayor was gonna be able to do it. Because you know, progressives are all about, you know, big dream, but not getting things done. Right. That’s sort of that’s sort of the narrative. So we knew it was very important to get this big thing done that he had promised, precisely because no one thought that we could do it. But if we could get that done, it created the opportunity to do other things, and to achieve other parts of that agenda. So part of it was just sort of a clear, singling and prioritization. I would say related challenge was just recognizing that it was an interdisciplinary activity. There are there are probably two dozen city agency that were involved in a meaningful way in the launch of pre k for all and so it was very important to have that happen. Have at City Hall, someone whose job it was to coordinate and to drive all over the agencies towards this goal. And for all those commissioners to really feel like they were accountable to me for the execution of that goal. And again, that really started with the mayor’s leadership. But having that place in city hall that can really direct resources and priorities across any government to get this big thing done, was also very critical. And I can go through a bunch of things that had to happen from that to work, we had to do the big political effort to get the resources to do it from the state budget. There was a huge resources and effort in terms of teacher recruitment and training, a real effort in terms of recruiting organizations and finding space to deliver pre kindergarten for all those students. A real effort in terms of making it easy for families to apply for pre kindergarten, right, making it easy for families to what had been a very complicated process to make it a very streamlined process where you can go online, see all the programs available to you see what special programs they offered, apply everything in one place. But in some ways that the challenge was being able to take the big thing and break it down into its constituent parts. And make sure that we had a strategy for delivering on all the pieces that had to come together for pre K that come to place come to being
Will Bachman 31:26
I keep thinking about the statistic that you gave about it’s basically adding the entire Boston Public School System. What what would have been the what if there had been one thing that derailed it or that wrote was the roadblock like what was the thing that was the toughest roadblock to overcome?
Richard Buery 31:44
I find that almost impossible to name one thing. I mean, I guess it’s the toughest road, I mean, certainly the toughest roadblock to overcome was so overly critical, I don’t mean it to be critical. But it’s just it’s just the way that government operates. bureaucracy that exists for good reasons often can just make it hard to do complex things quickly. And well. So just to give an example, one of the challenges were that, you know, we we had to bring in a bunch of spaces online, public school spaces, but also private spaces, storefronts, churches, different places that were now going to be part of this pre K system, because part of the system was delivered in public schools were part of a system was delivered in private spaces. Either that the city operated or that in many cases, private nonprofit organizations operated or even for profit organization that he contracted with, to deliver pre K. So you can imagine, you know, New York City for lots of good reasons, there are lots of hurdles to getting a space up to speed and time you got to lack of regulation when it comes to childcare facilities, lots of different public entities from the health department to the fire department, buildings department and others who have to come and inspect different inspect spaces to get them up to speed and give them their license to operate. And that can be really hard to navigate. And you’re I mean, when you were a big, when you’re a big organization, much less when you were a small child care organization, can be really hard to navigate. And so one of the things that we had to really do is turn the whole process of bringing faces up to speed on its head. You know, normally, if you’re operating a childcare center, and you want to get a new classroom open, you have to track down all these public agencies, the fire department might come and they might come and say, well, we can’t give you we can’t certify you now because the building department has to come and check that first. Then they leave here to track down the building’s department and it can be really hard and make things slow and expensive. Can we turn that on its head? You know, we knew all the organizations, of course, that we had awarded contracts to we knew all the spaces that need to be licensed. But rather than putting the onus on the individual providers to go track all the things down, we put the onus on the city, we brought all the key decision makers, from all those agencies together on a regular basis, with on a weekly basis run by my colleagues at city hall with a list of all the spaces that need to get the need to get approved and licensed and really forth with organizations according among themselves, who’s going when, who’s going what is the problem, what’s stopping this space. And when necessary, we even brought city resources to bear to go in and make them prove it do last minute construction, to make sure that those spaces can get licensed on time. So a lot of tech is just sort of thinking outside of the box. And the way that often you know city agencies aren’t you know, just for obvious reasons aren’t organized to to approach questions. There all sorts of cases like that were really the challenge with figuring out how do we get this Ready to do things in a different way. So that the normal barriers don’t get in the way of getting the thing done well, and getting these things done on time.
Will Bachman 35:09
That sounds to me, like a case for the Harvard Business Review. If you’re listening Harvard Business Review, this sounds like a good case study for Harvard Business School. I mean, how to make city governments are the people at by coordinating all these agencies perfect. I mean, I bet like a lot of people trying to open a restaurant or a retail shop would would love it if someone was coordinating the city side for them.
Richard Buery 35:34
And the city and to give us any credit and the city. I mean, a lot of the initiatives of the city are really are trying to figure out how do you make this to use our current mayor’s land was the city of Yes, like, how do you make it so that? And again, those requirements all are meaningful? Do you want things to be faith or we want, you know, we then sends about ignoring requirements is about how do we make it more accessible for a small business owner, to be able to, to tackle all the challenges that can stand in the way of providing goods and services to New Yorkers and building wealth among business owners. So it’s a big part of, but it’s proof again, that that city actually can behave differently. Once the incentives are there. Once you know you have a mayor who says, look, the normal excuses and normal barriers are going to work for us, we’re going to find a different way. The good news is that the people for anybody who lives and works in New York City, well, you should be really excited about that you’ve got like that workforce is the most talented workforce in the world. I mean, some of the smartest, most creative, most tell people I’ve ever met are people I met working for the government. And when you really unleash their potential and give them real targets, but then say to them, you know, you’re you’re free to think outside of the box to achieve the target. I’ve seen firsthand that the city can city government can really deliver. When you put it in the right direction.
Will Bachman 37:05
I’m going to turn back the clock for a minute. And back to call college. I didn’t even mention that you graduated from Stuyvesant at 16 years old, according to LinkedIn. Wow. What? We could probably talk about that, but I want to ask you different questions. Tell me about at Harvard, what professors or courses have continued to shape you or activities, because you mentioned Phillips Brooks House, so you could talk about that if you want or there’s any professors or courses or activities that kind of shaped your shaped your career?
Richard Buery 37:37
Well, I’ll start with activities because I would honestly have to say that folks, Brookhouse was the most was a defining part of my undergraduate experience. It’s sort of why I do what I do now. I came to Harvard like most people actually tell most people at least I came to Harvard, without any real sense of where I wanted to do just sort of amazed that I got in.
Will Bachman 38:00
When you done public service stuff at Stuyvesant, were you that
Richard Buery 38:03
that? No, not really, not really wasn’t? Right. I think I volunteered for a campaign. I had done some tutoring. But no, I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t say that I was particularly passionate or aware. I mean, I think what I was, what I understood when I was in high school was that I went to Stuyvesant High School, if you decide what you know, as I’m sure folks probably know, an exam school in New York, one of the most prestigious public high schools in the city, if not the country. And the school that sent tons of people to Harvard. But I grew up in Brooklyn, I grew up in a low income community in Brooklyn, that didn’t send a lot of kids to Harvard at the fact that it didn’t feel like he had to stay with him for that matter. So part of my experience going to Stuyvesant was was really within the first time in my life where I was sort of spending time outside of like, you know, East New York and Bushwick and brown. I grew up in East New York, Brooklyn. So it’s my first time going to school. Outside of like, in meeting people outside of eastern central Portland’s really my first time engaging with folks who weren’t black or Puerto Rican, for the most part. It was a really, it was a really sort of jarring social experience. But one of the thing was it did it. It helped make crystal clear to me that I’m just like I was saying before, and I was talking about Robin Hood that just life is not organized fairly in this city, that people in East New York had a completely different set of expectation that outcome and supports, then the kids who are lucky enough to get into cyber. And and so I had a real sense of that. unfairness. Didn’t really know what to do with it, but I sort of knew that like Kids in one city were having opportunities. But there was this whole other city where kids did not have opportunity those kids didn’t deserve any less, they just didn’t have it just just the city wasn’t organized for their well being. And so Phillip Brooks has, it’s very important to me, because it was just, it was like, like finding your purpose. For me, I started volunteering and after school program and the mission Hill houses, the mission hill after school program, and, you know, fell in love with the other students that Brooks half, but really just fell in love with its neighborhood with this community, these kids and these families. And you know, by the end of my freshman year, I was spending four days a week there, three days after school, and then Saturdays, really just sort of immersing myself in this community. It really just gave me a real sense of purpose, like, like maybe doing this work is the reason why I had this incredible opportunity to go to Harvard after my sophomore year, so my freshman year, I came back to New York, and I worked at a childcare center here in New York, on Governors Island, and then went back to college. And you know, I remember going back to Mission hill at the beginning of the semester, and being really excited to see all the kids and ask them, you know, how you Summer Go, what you do, and sort of hearing that, you know, most of the kids didn’t really have a lot of activities in the summer, most of them didn’t really do much. There were a couple of programs that some of them went to but, but mostly they just hung out. And me and some other friends decided to start the mission Hill summer program. You know, Brooks House has a number of summer youth programs and other communities in Cambridge, CYP and Franklin field and Academy homes, other housing developments around Boston, in the Boston area, we didn’t have one in Mission Hill. So we started the program in Mission Hill. And that was sort of my real first experience, like, trying to start something, you know, raising money and recruiting people and designing a curriculum and getting families to trust us with their kids and all that good stuff. And so yeah, it was really, um, that, that experience more than anything, I mean, it gave me a sense of purpose, but it didn’t really like made me realize what I wanted to do with my life, which was start organizations and communities that I cared about to make sure that all kids and families would have the kind of opportunity that I had to be blessed to have. And so I would really say probably more than any particular course. My experience at PVH has some great courses too. I started off with a social studies major. And then, you know, our senior year, I’m sure you remember it was when Skip Gates and Spike Lee Anthony Appiah. joining the faculty really as part of the the revive the growth of the African American Studies Department. And so I switched majors, my June into my junior year, I had just enough frm credits so they could take, I could become an afro am Major and still graduate on time and just sort of this decline, I thought it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to take a film with Spike Lee and take black literature seminar with Scriptcase, to a course on African American philosophy with with Anthony Appiah, who’s now at NYU. And so those experiences academically my senior year were really amazing. And one other class, I will mention, which I’m convinced I wonder if I had taken this class earlier, if I would find that a different career is EO Wilson’s course and evolutionary bio, you know, part of the core course I think I took that my senior year and I just loved that class. Sometimes I wonder if I had taken that person one year where there was, I love their class so much, I wonder where they’ve taken an entirely different professional course. But those are some of the courses I remember.
Will Bachman 44:06
Amazing. Rich, I’m just so full of amazement and gratitude and appreciation of the service you’ve done to our city. And where would you point classmates if they want to find out more about your own personal career or about Robin Hood? Where would you point them online?
Richard Buery 44:28
Well, you can come to Robin hood.org. That’s the best place our ob INHO d.org Robin hood.org, you can learn all about our work. You can support us financially, because like I said, we’re not in doubt. You know, we we raise money. And we give that money back to the community. You can find me on LinkedIn. And Thanks. And thank you all for coming on LinkedIn, obviously. And thank you for this. Taking the time to create this record of our class. It’s pretty cool. Appreciate it.
Will Bachman 44:58
Thank you very much. And listeners You can find a transcript of this episode and every episode even sign up for a weekly email to get notified at 92 report.com That’s nine to report.com Thanks for listening