A Legacy of Leadership

Date Posted:  Friday, June 4, 2021

Harlem Academy is deeply saddened by the loss of former trustee Bruno Bich, a longtime Harlem Academy supporter, advisor, and friend who passed away on May 30, 2021.

For more than a decade, Bruno demonstrated a commitment to the success of our mission and our students. His wisdom and strength of character were invaluable as a trustee and, later, as an integral part of the school’s advisory council.

Harlem Academy’s mission, creed, and guiding principles are the school’s driving forces, and Bruno offered wise counsel in the development of all three. More importantly, he offered care and respect to our students. Every visit to the school would find Bruno engaged in conversation with students – asking questions, actively listening, and always encouraging.

As the Chairman and CEO of Bic, Bruno held himself to the highest standards and motivated the same in those he met, especially young people. He helped to develop our middle school entrepreneurship curriculum, bringing a business acumen and expertise that strengthened the program and inspired the students.

Years ago, he told us that he wanted to direct his energy toward the education of children and to make a real impact. He definitely fulfilled that goal. Bruno was vital to the strongest realization of our mission, and we are so grateful that he was a part of our community.

With warm regards,

Vinny Dotoli
Head of School

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Tags:  leadership

Welcome to the Board

Date Posted:  Wednesday, May 5, 2021

We are excited to welcome Joshua Easterly to Harlem Academy’s board of trustees. Josh is a co-founding partner and co-president of Sixth Street, a $52 billion alternative asset manager. In addition, Josh serves as the chairman and chief executive officer of Sixth Street Specialty Lending, Inc., a publicly traded specialty finance company.   

Prior to co-founding Sixth Street, Josh was a managing director at Goldman, Sachs & Co. in the Americas Special Situations Group, which invested Goldman’s capital in both the public markets and private transactions in distressed and special situations. 

Josh graduated from California State University, Fresno with a Bachelor of Science in business administration, magna cum laude.

Josh’s commitment to Harlem Academy will make an invaluable difference in the fullest realization of our mission. 


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Tags:  leadership

Welcome to the Board

Date Posted:  Wednesday, March 10, 2021

We are excited to welcome Avi Banyasz to Harlem Academy’s board of trustees. Avi is a partner and co-head of TPG Real Estate, the dedicated real estate equity investment platform of global alternative asset firm TPG. 

Prior to joining TPG Real Estate in 2011, Avi served as a managing principal of Westbrook Partners. At Westbrook, Avi had primary responsibility for investing in the United States, but additionally spent several years focused on Westbrook's Western European business. Prior to his 13-year tenure at Westbrook, Avi worked at Bear Stearns & Co.

Avi serves as the chairman of the board of Enlivant and TPG RE Finance Trust, Inc. and is also on the board of directors of Alloy, Strive Communities, and B2R Partners. He holds a B.S. in economics and finance from the University of Toronto. 

Avi’s passion for educational opportunity and Harlem Academy’s mission will be invaluable in helping to move the school forward. 


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Tags:  leadership

A Young Change Agent Makes Her Mark

Date Posted:  Thursday, January 28, 2021

Harlem Academy alumna Madisyn Cunningham ’19 has always been a leader who stands up for what she believes in. Now, as a sophomore at Riverdale, she is having an even greater impact as co-founder of Black Students Demanding Change (BSDC), an organization working to implement racially equitable reform in private schools. “What started as a fun group chat for Black private school kids in New York City soon turned into a group of dedicated students ready to make change,” says Madisyn. “We amplify Black voices and translate concerns into actionable steps.” 

The organization set out to achieve its goals by writing a reform agenda, a list of demands to school administrators covering culture, accountability, representation, education, and support – all aimed at helping private schools become more inclusive, equitable, and anti-racist. “We want to strengthen our school communities,” says Madisyn.  And they are. So far, thirteen schools in New York City have committed to implementing BSDC’s reforms, and the group also has a chapter in Maryland. “Our main goal for the future is expansion,” she says.  

Madisyn is helping to spread the word by saying yes to opportunities to share her group’s mission. Last November, she was asked to participate in CUNY Graduate Center’s “Youth Leaders for Black Lives” Zoom panel, sharing her insights with an audience of Ph.D. candidates in urban education. “Speaking on the panel was great,” says Madisyn. “I was honored to have my hard work recognized, and it was nice to meet other young Black activists. During the panel, I talked about how schools can better support Black students by fostering conversation and de-stigmatizing efforts to confront biases. Confronting bias is not wrong; it needs to be done.”

For Madisyn, the work of social justice is deeply personal. “As a Black, gay, young woman in America, I would have no rights if not for generations of activists before me,” she says. “That’s why activism is important to me. So much more needs to change, not only for my communities but for every marginalized group.”

At Riverdale, as she juggles classes like algebra 2 honors, sports, and clubs, Madisyn also uses her leadership skills to empower younger classmates. “I love Riverdale!” she says. “The workload isn’t light, but I’m managing well. I’m also on varsity basketball and track. However, my proudest moments are when I talk to middle schoolers of color here and tell them it’s possible to make a difference at any age,” she says. 

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Tags:  alumni leadership

Pursuing Science at Carnegie Mellon

Date Posted:  Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Alumnus Miles Williams ’16 embraced leadership during his four years at Lawrenceville: captain of the rock climbing team, captain and co-president of the Quiz Bowl team, editor of the school magazine. When he saw an opportunity to motivate others, he took it. “Across all of my leadership positions, I wanted to share what I'd learned from my experiences,” says Miles.

He hopes to do the same at Carnegie Mellon, where he is currently a freshman. “Right now, I'm mostly looking to do well in my classes, but I have plans to organize more rock climbing and get involved with the Black student union.”

What really excites Miles, though, is studying chemistry. “I've always been inquisitive and chemistry is where the answers are,” he says. “It's an unending field of possibility for knowledge and change.” Miles has his eye on a combined B.S./M.S. program in chemistry and knows he’ll have to prove himself before applying in his sophomore year, but he’s confident in his abilities. 

“Harlem Academy set me up for academic excellence,” says Miles. “I was in an environment that nurtured my curiosity and my potential. I'm thankful for the path I'm on, and it started here. Harlem Academy is a part of my origin story.” 

As Miles’ story continues, he sees a future fueled by education, science, and the pursuit of a Ph.D. “My dream is to make my mark on the great arc of chemistry knowledge, with generations of future students studying a concept that I discovered.” 

Thank you to the Harry Winston Hope Foundation and Con Edison for supporting our middle school science program.


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Tags:  alumni college leadership

Alumni Advocate for Social Justice

Date Posted:  Monday, November 2, 2020

Harlem Academy alumni are making their voices heard in the fight for social justice and equity, continuing to exercise the leadership skills they developed as students here. We caught up with a few of these young activists to hear how they are effecting change in their communities and making their mark on the world.

A Safe Space for Students

Arielle Benjamin ’17, a junior at Spence, is advocating for students of color at independent schools in New York City. Earlier this year, she connected with a group of students of color whose schools are members of the nonprofit organization Interschool. “Our goal is to create safe spaces for minority students,” she says. “Many of the racial issues we’re trying to tackle have been affecting students of color all over the country for ages.”

As she and her peers craft statements and demands to help alleviate the struggle many students of color face as they navigate predominantly white secondary schools, Arielle is hopeful that their efforts will make a difference. “It’s exciting to see so many students from different schools and backgrounds come together in this way.” 

Diversity at Camp

Adia Lara-Thein ’13, a junior at SUNY Purchase, spent this summer advancing diversity and inclusion at Dance New England, a family summer camp in Massachusetts. “There is a lack of diversity in the camp,” she says. “The community is big; about 1,000 people come. But my family has always been one of the few Black families there.”

After a few people spoke out about ways Black campers were made to feel uncomfortable, the camp’s board developed a committee charged with creating a more inclusive community. Adia was asked to join. “During my first panel discussion, which was held on Zoom with more than 80 members watching, I spoke about my experiences with racism and the importance of strengthening the camp community,” she says. “I’m happy to be a part of the committee because I want to be a catalyst for change.”

Demanding Justice

The Black Lives Matter movement has spurred many young people to action, including alumni Jalen Nougues ’13 and Kennedy Murray ’16, both of whom participated in peaceful protests this year. “My mom and I made signs, and we attended a Black Lives Matter protest together,” says Jalen, a junior at Catholic University. “It was a very moving experience for me. A lot of people are misinformed because of what they see on social media. You learn a lot more by actually being there.”

Kennedy Murray, a junior at George Washington University, couldn’t agree more. She has attended Black Lives Matter and immigration reform protests this year. “As an Afro-Latina, I have Hispanic and Black family members, so I can personally relate to both situations,” she says. “It's not fair that Black college students, Black women, Black children, and especially Black men have to go through such hardship every day because of the color of their skin. The immigration protest also hit home for me because I couldn't imagine my family having to leave this country after creating a life here for more than 15 years.”

She and Jalen hope their participation in these critical movements inspires others to do the same. As Jalen puts it, “This time, this moment, is different.”


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Tags:  alumni leadership creed

Reflections from a Harlem Academy Graduate

Date Posted:  Thursday, June 25, 2020 Byline:  Jade Morton-Alexander ‘16

I came to Harlem Academy as a shy first grader, and being able to spend all eight years there has made a big difference in my life.

My teachers always encouraged me to challenge myself. And they did it in a way that made me feel accepted for who I was. My shyness was never treated as a negative; they simply helped me gain the confidence to come out of my shell.

When you spend years in a school community that is so supportive, it’s normal to wonder if high school will be the same. I’ll admit, I was nervous when I arrived at Westover School. During my freshman year, I relied on Harlem Academy’s School Creed to help me adjust to life at a boarding school. I would recite lines to myself like a mantra: I am bold and creative. I take opportunities to lead. I don’t give up.

Thanks to the values instilled in me at Harlem Academy, I was able to overcome the fear I had my first year of boarding school and fully embrace that incredible opportunity. I earned leadership positions at Westover, including proctor and head of our diversity club. I tried new sports and became a varsity athlete, and, as a senior, I was selected to give the convocation speech at the start of the school year and to be the senior class speaker at graduation.

Without the push of Harlem Academy, I truly doubt that I would have gone to boarding school, experienced life away from home, and challenged myself in ways that have made me who I am today.

Now, I’m excited for what comes next: attending Tufts University this fall. When I found out that I’d been accepted early decision, the first person I told after my family was Mr. Dotoli, Harlem Academy’s head of school.

Even as I was preparing for this next step on my journey, Harlem Academy was there for me. The school was a critical resource during the college application process, helping to pay for ACT tutoring for me, which ensured that what I put forward was a true reflection of my abilities.  

I’m looking forward to majoring in biology at Tufts and taking hard classes because I know that I’m capable of pushing myself to higher limits. I am no longer the shy girl, but the girl trying everything she possibly can. And I know that Harlem Academy will continue to be there for me every step of the way.

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Tags:  alumni college leadership

Supporter Spotlight: Tom and Sera Reycraft

Date Posted:  Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Tom and Sera Reycraft first became involved at Harlem Academy in 2006 and have remained among our most committed supporters. Since 2009, Tom has served on the board of trustees and has chaired the committee on trustees, playing a key role in shaping the school’s growth and success during the last decade.


Harlem Academy’s mission to drive equity of opportunity resonated on a personal level for Tom. “My father was given an opportunity to attend a private independent day school on a scholarship, and that was the break he needed to rise out of poverty,” he explains. “I decided to support the school because I really believe in its mission to target high-potential kids who might otherwise be overlooked.”

For Sera, Harlem Academy’s leadership and size were strong draws. “Vinny Dotoli, the head of school, had a clear vision for what he wanted to accomplish and the drive to see it through,” she says. “Tom and I also liked the scale of the school. Whatever you do to support Harlem Academy has a direct and meaningful impact on the students.”

As founders of the Benchmark Education Company, which publishes PreK-12 literacy resources, the Reycrafts understand what is needed to support student growth. “Harlem Academy’s focus on high expectations serves children well,” says Tom. “In our work at Benchmark, Sera and I have learned that children can accomplish great things, but only if they are encouraged, supported, and expectations are high. When you lower the bar for excellence, performance quickly drops.”

The couple appreciates the power of rigorous early education for children from underserved communities – a belief that is at the core of everything Harlem Academy strives to achieve. “Research shows the importance of educating students early in life,” says Tom. “Once past middle school, the die is cast. So catching these students early can make an enormous difference in their lives.”


That’s why the Reycrafts are thrilled by what’s ahead for Harlem Academy: a new, permanent home at 655 St. Nicholas Avenue that will include kindergarten for the first time. “We’ve accomplished so much in the school’s current setting, but I have no doubt that the new campus will further strengthen the program and the success of the children,” says Tom.

They are particularly excited about the expansion of the school’s library, which will support our extraordinary reading culture. “A library is perhaps the most important room in a school,” says Sera, publisher of her own children’s book line, Reycraft Books. “It creates opportunities for deeper learning.”

With a new, bigger campus comes greater impact. The Reycrafts look forward to Harlem Academy being able to serve and graduate twice as many students – and to spending time with more of them. “Any time Sera and I can connect with the students on an individual level, we can’t help but get excited about all that Harlem Academy does,” says Tom.


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Tags:  supporters donors trustees leadership

Lessons of a Leader

Date Posted:  Tuesday, October 16, 2018 Byline:  Malik Middleton ’18

Every spring, Harlem Academy’s eighth grade class visits Washington, D.C. to meet with some of our nation’s leaders. The four-day trip gives our students a tangible way to reflect on our country’s past and present – and to consider their role in its future. Here, one eighth grader shares his inspiring experience meeting Congressman John Lewis.

Even before my classmates and I arrived at Congressman John Lewis’ office, I knew it would be an experience I’d never forget. However, I didn’t realize the magnitude of the moment until he came out to greet us.

This is a man who embodies the civil rights movement. He has looked racism in the eye and has never averted his gaze. He has walked unflinchingly toward hate and terror to make life better for others. I shook his hand and instantly realized how fortunate I was to have this opportunity.

He led us into his office and the first thing I noticed was a poster of Nelson Mandela hanging on the wall. I remember thinking, “This is Black Excellence.” That feeling was amplified when Congressman Lewis brought us into an interior room so that we could all have a more intimate conversation. The room was filled with memories. There were pictures of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and other civil rights heroes, and meaningful items he’d collected throughout his life. I was overwhelmed by the realization that I was in the presence of an historical icon. I felt honored that he would take the time to talk to us.

“Are those your chickens?” I blurted out. Here I was, in the presence of a civil rights leader who changed the world and continues to do so today. And I asked him about chickens. The room went silent, waiting to see how Mr. Lewis would respond. He looked at me, and then turned to look at the painting of chickens behind him. “Yes, those are my chickens,” he said.

A few weeks before coming to Washington, D.C. I had read the first book in his series March, a retelling of his life story as a graphic novel. In it, he talks about how as a child growing up on a farm in segregated Alabama, he would care for and preach to the chickens. As he answered my question, he talked about those early childhood experiences, some of which I recognized from his book. The entire time he spoke he looked me in the eyes, and I felt a powerful connection that I can’t really explain. It felt like he was looking into my soul.

The rest of the conversation went by so quickly, and I was hooked on every word Mr. Lewis said. He spoke about the hardships he’s faced throughout his life and his experiences marching in Selma and fighting for social justice. Then he told us something that will stay with me forever: “You are the future and you have to be courageous enough to stand up for what you believe in. You have to lead.”

Before I knew it, it was time to go. Mr. Lewis shook our hands and gave each of us a hug. Shaking his hand was incredible in itself. But the hug made me happier than I can even describe. I had just hugged a living legend.

He also took the time to sign his business card for me and each of my classmates. That business card sits on my dresser. Every morning, I look at his autograph as a reminder of what was sacrificed to give me the opportunities that I have today and how I should make the most of them. I also keep it as a reminder of who I can become – a leader who can change the world, too.

Malik Middleton, pictured at far right, wrote this essay during his eighth grade year at Harlem Academy. He is now attending Trinity School.

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Tags:  leadership middle school trips

Building a Bond

Date Posted:  Thursday, August 8, 2019

September is right around the corner, and sixth-grader Amadu is looking forward to more than entering seventh grade. He’s also looking forward to seeing Tanner Powers again – his mentor at Harlem Academy for the past two years. “I really like working with him,” says Amadu. “He’s helpful, caring, and a really good person to talk to.” The two have built a close bond – one that benefits the mentor as much as the mentee.

“I wanted a way to give back, and mentoring at Harlem Academy allows me to do that,” says Mr. Powers, a senior financial services advisor at EY and member of our Junior Board. “Being able to see the progress you’re making with a child is pretty cool.” 

Mentoring gives volunteers the opportunity to work one-on-one with a student on academics and to connect over conversation and fun activities. Pairs meet once a week throughout the school year.

Mr. Powers and Amadu typically spend their hour-long sessions discussing Amadu’s grades and going over recent quizzes and classwork. “We review anything that I didn’t fully understand, and he gives me helpful feedback on how I can improve,” says Amadu. “He explains what I did wrong on a test and how to do better on the next one. And he lets me take things at my own pace. Mr. Tanner really cares about me, and he’s helped me get my grades up.”

Mr. Powers tailors his approach and his message in order to empower Amadu and bolster his confidence. “Amadu struggles a bit with math. But just because you’re struggling with something doesn’t mean you can’t do it,” he explains. “It just means that you might have to work a little harder and spend more time on it. That’s something that Amadu and I focus on.”

When time allows, the two finish up their session with a fun activity. “We’ll just hang out, talk, and play a game,” says Mr. Powers. “Meeting consistently is nice because Amadu has become more comfortable. We’re able to talk about things in his future, like applying to high schools.”

Amadu believes it’s important for kids his age to have mentors, and Mr. Powers agrees: “Having someone else to talk to about grades besides parents and teachers makes it a little easier for kids. It gives them a safe space to bounce off ideas.”


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