Vision

One day, all children in the New York metro area will have the opportunity to pursue higher education and to fully capitalize on their talents, aspirations, and leadership to have fulfilling careers and create a better world.

Mission

The mission of the “I Have A Dream” Foundation - New York (IHDF-NY) is to motivate and empower children living in low-income communities to reach their educational and career potential by providing a long-term program of academic support, mentoring, enrichment and tuition assistance for higher education.

Reality

Today, less than 40% of children in under-served communities will graduate high school, and only 10% will earn a bachelor’s degree.

Our Solution

We are changing this reality by providing a program of academic support and a comprehensive youth development program for our ‘Dreamers,’ from their early elementary years all the way through college. Upon high school graduation, each Dreamer receives tuition assistance for higher education. Learn more about our program >>

 

"I Have A Dream" Founder Eugene Lang with one of the Dreamers from the first ever "I Have A Dream" program.

New "I Have A Dream" classes continue to provide opportunities for New York metro area children.

 Eugene Lang with U.S. Secretary of Education, and former "I Have A Dream" Sponsor Arne Duncan

Eugene Lang with U.S. Secretary of Education, and former "I Have A Dream" Sponsor Arne Duncan

History

An impulsive move on the part of one visionary man sparked a national movement to positively impact the lives of children in low-income communities from coast to coast...

In 1981, businessman Eugene M. Lang returned to P.S. 121, the elementary school he had attended in East Harlem 50 years earlier, to address a class of graduating sixth graders.

He intended to tell the students, "Work hard and you'll succeed." But on the way to the podium, the school principal told Lang that three-quarters of the school's students would probably never finish high school, prompting Lang to make an impromptu change to his speech: he promised college tuition to every sixth grader who stayed in high school and graduated. Lang told the class about witnessing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech at the 1963 March on Washington. He urged the students to dream their own dreams, and promised to do all that he could to help them achieve their goals.

The first ever Dreamer class (Click to zoom)

As he came to know his "Dreamers," Lang realized they needed more help than he could give all 61 of them on his own. He hired a full-time Program Coordinator, Johnny Rivera, and enlisted the support of a local community-based organization to provide services and support to the children through high school graduation.  At the same time, he maintained close personal relationships with all of the Dreamers.

By August 1985, all of Lang's Dreamers were still in school. He began connecting with news media in the hope that others would be inspired to replicate what he had done. It worked. A front-page story in The New York Times and a segment on 60 Minutes led to widespread national attention. Thousands of inquiries began pouring in, and in 1986, Lang formed the national "I Have A Dream" Foundation to help launch a new generation of "I Have A Dream" programs. Since then, over 200 "I Have A Dream" programs have operated in 28 states, Washington, D.C., and New Zealand, together serving over 16,000 Dreamers.

"I Have A Dream" traditionally sponsors entire grade levels of students in under-resourced public schools and housing developments, offering programming that has dramatically changed the lives of the children it serves.

In the New York Metro Area alone, 35 “I Have A Dream” programs in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Long Island, and New Jersey have supported over 2500 Dreamers on their path to and through college. 

Today, five "I Have A Dream" NY programs serve 230 school age and college age Dreamers across the region, and supports over 270 Dreamer Alumni who are beyond college and are pursuing their careers.

In 2013, "I Have A Dream" - NY launched its flagship program at PS 7 on East 120th Street in East Harlem.  The program heralds a new era for "I Have A Dream" - NY, as the nonprofit builds on decades of success and offers students robust academics, cultural enrichment, health and wellness literacy, and mentoring – all of which are not readily available in their neighborhoods.

"I Have A Dream" also shares its model with government agencies, corporations, individuals, religious and community groups to generate similar support programs to establish stronger pipelines to college.

And Lang's original 61 Dreamers?

Of the 54 who remain in contact with the organization, more than 90% have earned their high school diplomas or GED certificates, and 60% have pursued higher education. The Dreamers have received degrees from Bard College, Barnard College, Swarthmore College, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, CUNY Hunter, and other colleges.

Almost all of the P.S. 121 Dreamers hold fulfilling jobs, and those who are now parents themselves vow that their children will have the same opportunity to go to college.