Tenement Museum Gala Announces New Strategic Direction, Raises $1 Million For New Initiatives

Tenement Museum Gala Announces New Strategic Direction, Raises $1 Million For New InitiativesThe Tenement Museum's 2018 Gala raised over $1 million, money that will be used to support the Museum's ambitious new strategic direction aimed at defining the Museum's role at a time when immigration is a front page issue.


The Ziegfeld Ballroom welcomed almost 500 attendees on Tuesday night, a crowd comprised of leading immigration advocates, New York City politicos and museum professionals.


In his speech, Tenement Museum President Kevin Jennings, a former Obama Administration Department of Education Official and founder of GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network), outlined the Museum's new objective: to reach and meaningfully engage millions annually with Tenement Museum programming. In his call for pledges, Jennings announced the launch of several new Museum initiatives in need of funding aimed at achieving this goal, including virtual reality programming, school curriculum development and Museum partnerships.


"We seek to both increase visitorship to our historic buildings on Orchard Street as well as to educate people who may never even visit New York," Jennings said.


Gala honorees included Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and leading voice for the human rights of immigrants Jose Antonio Vargas, Museum founder Ruth Abram, former Museum Board Chair Paul J. Massey, Jr., and The Boston Consulting Group, whose pro bono help was instrumental in developing the way forward for the Museum.


Read Tenement Museum President Kevin Jennings' Gala speech in full:

I'd like to read you an email I got two weeks ago:

"I recently enjoyed the 'Under One Roof' tour. I work as a Nurse Practitioner and I couldn't help but reflect on the lives of Chinese immigrants that we see in the hospital. I have met immigrants who live in illegal buildings with no water and heat. I also had another patient who at the young age of 91 lives with 4 families in an apartment and sometimes sleeps in the hallway due to lack of space. This makes me realize that the immigrant experience is not just one of the past but of the present. "

"The immigrant experience is not just one of the past but of the present. " The writer's words reminded me of those of my fellow southerner, William Faulkner: "The past is never dead: it isn't even past." Today's headlines have echoes in the headlines of the past, echoes that remind us that America has often struggled to live up to its ideal of being a place where the tired, the poor, the huddled masses spoken of on the Statue of Liberty could indeed find refuge and build better futures for themselves and their families.

We live in one of those times now, a time in which our country is deeply divided over immigration and many feel we should close our doors to newcomers, some of whom come from unfamiliar lands and practice an unfamiliar religion. The debate too often descends into the language of ignorance and bigotry, language which has no place in America...language I grew up with.

As you might be able to tell from this picture of my mother's family, our roots are in Appalachia. Not far from my hometown of Lewisville, North Carolina, there was a billboard that I remember well from my childhood. My partner gave me a historic photo of that billboard a few years ago. This is what it said.

My uncle was a member of the United Klans.

I know what ignorance and bigotry look like.

I also know how you overcome them. President Lincoln once said, "I do not like that man: I must get to know him better." Once you know someone, once you know their story - truly know them, as a fellow human being - it becomes nearly impossible to hate them.

That's what makes this the perfect time for the Tenement Museum to launch a new phase in its own history. In a time when ignorance pervades the public discourse, our superpower - our ability to tell stories, stories of real people who came to this country to build new lives and, in the process, built a new nation - is the antidote to fear and ignorance.

We know this works. For three decades people have walked the halls of 97 Orchard Street and learned the stories of the Moores, The Baldizzis, the Levines, and the other families that lived there and have left with a new appreciation of what immigrants have done for America. As I often put it, nobody's life was ever changed by a PowerPoint presentation: stories are what move hearts and minds, stories stir our spirit, stories change our lives. And the Tenement Museum is really good at telling stories.

We now need to reach millions - not thousands - with those stories.

Our new strategic plan, developed with the pro bono help of tonight's honoree the Boston Consulting Group, will help us take what we have perfected on Orchard Street to the rest of America. We seek to both increase visitorship to our historic buildings on Orchard Street as well as to educate people who may never even visit New York. We plan to use various channels to do so, including:

  • In New York State, for example, the study of immigration is required in 4th, 8th and 11th grades. By developing and implementing comprehensive curriculum about immigration, we can potentially reach 400,000 young people in New York State alone each year.
  • OK, tell the truth: how many of you have been on your phones tonight? Good. We're planning to meet you there. Through virtual reality tours, augmented reality programs, podcasts and a host of other device-based interventions, we plan to take the tenement experience to your phone and enable you to learn from us no matter where you are logging on from.
  • Every place has its own history, and I believe people are hungry to know where they've come from. By using our expertise at telling stories in partnership with museums and historical societies outside of New York, we can help build understanding for our immigrant forbearers in cities across America, just as we do every day here in New York City.

By these and other means we plan to dramatically increase our reach and impact over the next five years, so that we have meaningful interactions with a million people annually. We plan to educate America on how immigrants built - and continue to build - this nation.

To educate more people, we'll need substantially more resources. I know you've already been generous, but we're hoping to raise an additional $200,000 to kick off some of the new initiatives I have spoken of tonight. The Zegar Family Foundation is putting up the first $25,000 we need to reach that goal. On your table there are pledge cards. I hope you'll consider making a special gift to help us educate even more Americans in the years to come.

I believe in the power of education. Education took me from a trailer park on an unpaved dirt road in an unincorporated town in rural North Carolina to Harvard, where I became the first member of my family to graduate from college. Education changed my world, and I know it can change lives. Help us reach into the heart of America, and-through the use of education and the telling of stories -- replace fear and ignorance with appreciation and respect. Thank you.


About the Tenement Museum

At a time when immigration is at the center of our national conversation, the Tenement Museum is more relevant than ever. Since 1988, the Museum has forged emotional connections between visitors and immigrants past and present, through educator-led tours of its historic tenement buildings at 97 and 103 Orchard and the surrounding neighborhood, enhancing appreciation for the vital role immigrants play in shaping the American identity. The Museum has become one of New York City's preeminent cultural and educational institutions, welcoming more than 238,000 visitors, including 55,000 students, each year. With the Museum well positioned for continued success, the Museum now aims to use every medium at its disposal to dramatically increase the impact of its programming-reaching millions not thousands-- with its message of how immigrants built and continue to build America.


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