I grew up in the neighborhood, in Dayton, Ohio, "the other side of the tracks." My family had all of the essentials that money could buy: food, shelter and clothing. But more importantly, we had all that money could not buy: love, honor, respect, integrity and, most importantly, faith.
I am the product of this upbringing ... a single mother who was a social worker and grandparents who raised my two brothers and me. We were provided for through their sacrifices.
It was in those early days that I remember reading the great philosopher Epictetus who said, “Only the educated are free.” That has stuck with me throughout my journey. I recognize that without education I would not be where I am today. I left the neighborhood school, Irving, at an early age. My fifth grade teacher, Ellen Moore, identified some of my talents and urged me to seek the most rigorous, local education, the Miami Valley School. When I had excelled there my eleventh grade teacher, Robin Melnick, suggested that since I had accomplished all that I could at Miami Valley, (No. 1 academically, president of the school and captain of the basketball team — 28 points per game with a smooth, lethal jump shot), that I should "test myself against the Big Boys in the East.” I asked, "Where are they?"
I landed East at the Hotchkiss School. After passing that test, I then went on to graduate from each of Harvard College, Harvard Law School and Harvard Business Schools.
In a “Republic of Letters,” education has been and always will be the foundation especially for the Black community. There is nothing that substitutes for education. Without education there is limited to no hope.
Today, the thing that concerns me the most is the education of Black and brown children, or the lack thereof. It used to be the case that society could absorb the under educated especially in places like Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, which were bedrocks for United States manufacturing. They would work at one of the General Motors plants or Frigidaire and be part of an assembly line. Today, those assembly lines no longer exist and there is no way for this society, that has transitioned from a manufacturing-based to a service-based economy, to accommodate the uneducated. Without education the ability for this demographic to participate in mainstream society does not exist. Dire facts describe the crisis that is taking place in this country. If a third of Black men are either on parole, on probation or in prison, you can understand that the trend is at a crisis stage. That’s what I’m worried about.
This is the primary reason that I am involved with education and the arts. For example, one of the most effective responses to the crisis is schools like De La Salle Academy in Manhattan. It is a private, independent school in New York City for academically talented, economically disadvantaged girls and boys in grades six through eight. I am privileged to be the chairman of the board. Each year under the leadership of the school's founder, Brother Brian Carty, and the other trustees, we help to raise over 80 percent of the school's annual budget from sources other than tuition. The school educates the students so that they can go out into the community as leaders with a core set of values that are unshakable.
In my professional life and in my philanthropic work, I abide by the principle that those who have scaled the rough side of the mountain ought to extend a hand to those along the way. My life has been a walk of faith. When you get to a position of respect where you can help the next generation move along, that is something that I feel compelled to do. I know what got me here and I know what a difficult journey it has been. I know of the distractions. If I can make it a little easier for young professionals, including financiers, especially Black, coming along by giving them some benefit from the experience that I’ve had, then there's an enormous return on investment. There are a few who invested in me and on whose shoulders I stand; Leo and Mamie G. Wilson (grandfather and grandmother), Franklin A. Thomas, Vernon Jordan and Joseph Perella to name a few. And of course my dear mother without whom I would not be.
These are examples that we can emulate who have competed and competed effectively, whose records are ones of performance against the harshest critics and circumstances, against whatever the metrics. The most enduring example that I can set is to spend time with my wife and our family and the next generations, including and especially our children and our newest blessing, our son, Leo.
And in the end, mine should be a legacy of being a good husband and a dutiful son, an engaged and dedicated father, a legacy of faith, a legacy of unassailable excellence against the odds, a legacy of philanthropy, a legacy of grace, humility, gratitude and a legacy of honor for those who allowed me to stand on their shoulders first and foremost.
Raymond J. McGuire is Citi’s Global Head of Corporate and Investment Banking. He has advised on transactions valued at more than $500 billion. In addition to mentoring and motivating African-Americans in the financial sector, McGuire serves on several boards including: De La Salle Academy, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the New York Public Library, the Studio Museum in Harlem, Whitney Museum of American Art, the Citi Foundation, the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies, the Alex Hillman Family Foundation, the International Center of Photography and New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
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(Photo: Earl Gibson III)