Lang’s College Offer Inspires Action in Dallas, Interest in Other Cities

By Debra Viadero — September 17, 1986 2 min read

Inspired by Eugene M, Lang’s famous, spur-of-the-moment offer to send 51 Harlem children to college, Dallas philanthropist kicked off a campaign last week to do the same for 1,000 or more Dallas youths.

And Mr. Lang, the New York City businessman who tarted it all in 1981 with a promise to a 6th-grade class, said at least 19 other cities have expressed an interest in starting their own programs.

The STEP Foundation of Dallas, an umbrella group whose acronym stands for “strategies to elevate people,” has already collected enough pledges from local businesses and community groups to educate 1,000 6th graders from six schools in south and west Dallas. Foundation officials hoped to raise more pledges last week during a fundraising breakfast attended by Mr. Lang, Mayor A. Starke Taylor Jr., and city school officials.

Exchange of Letters

“Two of our board members, William and Elaine Farrell, read about the program about six months ago, and they began writing to Mr. Lang,” said Gainor Eisenlohr, a spokesman for STEP.

Mr. Lang attracted national attention in early 1985 after his promise to the Harlem students was disclosed.

In 1981, Mr. Lang was invited to speak to a 6th-grade graduating class at Public School 121, the school that he had attended as a boy.

Mr. Lang, the founder of Refac Technology Development Corporation, has said that he planned to make a traditional commencement day speech that day, but changed his I mind at the la,st moment. Instead, he infused the speech with elements of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s “I Have a Dream” speech and made an impulsive offer to the students: If they graduated from high school, he would give them each a $2,000 college scholarship and increase the sum for each year they stayed in school.

“We expect 50 of the 51 will get high-school diplomas,” Mr. Lang said in an interview last week. In contrast, the New York City Board of Education estimates that 35.3 percent of the city’s public high-school students drop out over a four-year period.

Other New Yorkers also joined the effort, reportedly pledging a total of $2.25 million--enough to enter 500 more 6th graders in the program.

Now, Mr. Lang said he hopes to open an ‘1 Have a Dream Program” office in New York City in coming weeks. He said the office will assist community leaders in other cities interested in setting up similar programs.

He said other cities ready to join the program include Baltimore; Birmingham, Ala.; Chicago; Cleveland; Denver; Detroit; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Jersey City, N.J.; Los Angeles; Miami; New Orleans; Orlando, Fla.; Phoenix; Portland, Ore.; San Antonio; San Francisco; Seattle; and Washington.

In Baltimore, for example, a group of college interns working in the mayor’s office this summer have already met with Mr. Lang and have raised $100,000 in pledges from local businesses. According to Pat Bernstein, press secretary to Mayor William D. Schaefer of Baltimore, the interns’ recommendations for the full program are now under consideration.

A version of this article appeared in the September 17, 1986 edition of Education Week as Lang’s College Offer Inspires Action in Dallas, Interest in Other Cities