George Zimmerman is in jail… again, my friend Demetria Lucas is starring in “Blood, Sweat and Heels,” a new reality show on Bravo and I’m still floating on air after throwing a killer The Best Man Holiday Spiked Hot Chocolate Party with my girls, a soiree I know contributed to the film’s super weekend success, which means I’m having a helluva Tuesday. But the story of millionaire hotelier Harris Rosen’s generosity toward the children of a mostly Black, poverty-stricken community in Orlando, totally made my MyBrownBaby day today.
Rosen, a former Disney wonk whose entrepreneurial spirit led him to both acquire and build an impressive portfolio of Florida-based hotels and found a hugely-popular hotel management college within the University of Central Florida, put his millions where his heart is and did something amazing: he adopted the neighborhood Tangelo Park. What came of this adoption? The Tangelo Park Program, since its inception, has provided free preschool to all two-, three- and four-year-old children living in the community, and, get this, an all-expenses-paid education for Tangelo Park residents accepted into public higher education institutions in the state of Florida, from vocational schools to four-year colleges. That’s right: you live in Tangelo Park and your babies get the critical education they need to succeed when they start school, and the tuition, housing, book and supplies fees they need to go to college when they graduate high school.
There are no “catches” to Rosen’s program—no hoops to jump through or promises to keep or red tape to cut. The directive is simple: you live in Tangelo Park, you get free daycare and college tuition, courtesy of Rosen—period. Parents also get access to parenting classes, vocational courses and technical training, if they so choose to use it.
The results of Rosen’s program, started in 1993? The graduation rate, at a pitiful 25% when Rosen rode in on his white horse, has risen to 100 percent. Nope—that’s not a typo. One hundred percent.
Now, the Tangelo Park Elementary School is being hailed as a grade-A school. Nearly 200 students have received a full Harris Rosen Foundation scholarship. And 75 percent of those who pursued higher education on Rosen’s dime graduated from college—the highest rate among an ethnic group in the nation. High school GPAs are increasing, babies are starting kindergarten with on or above-average knowledge, and even crime has gone down in the neighborhood, the Tangelo Park Program says on its “Our Results” page.
Why has Rosen dedicated his millions to a neighborhood full of Black folks? “I fell in love with the neighborhood,” said Rosen simply in an interview with Pegasus, the official magazine of the University of Central Florida. “I knew I wanted to do some type of scholarship program for them.”
And the community, about 90 percent African American, with most of the residents living below the poverty level, is grateful. “When people have the resources to go and succeed, there’s a ripple effect,” said Donna Wilcox, who earned a bachelor’s degree in interpersonal/organizational communication at UCF, and an M.A. in mass communications at the University of Georgia. “It becomes generational. No one in my family ever went to college before, but now, my baby sister can’t even picture a life without college. My mother even went back and got her degree. I showed her that she could do it.”
As of summer 2012, Rosen has spent $9 million on Tangelo Park, and he told Pegasus there’s only one thing that could stop his giving: “I will be involved in the program until Tangelo Park is a gated community and the average home is selling for $1 million. Then I’m gone.”
God bless Howard Rosen and his huge heart. A MyBrownBaby salute to you, sir.
* Hat tip to Victoria Sanders, who tagged me in a We Are the 98% post about Rosen and his work in Tangelo Park.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.