Honoring the Legacy of Eugene M. Lang

We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our founder Eugene M. Lang (Mr. Lang to us), on April 8 at the age of 98. Our thoughts are with his family during this difficult time. Mr. Lang made Dreamers out of all of us, and we are honored to be carrying on his tremendous vision and legacy.

Photo: Mr. Lang’s original Dreamer class in East Harlem. Clockwise from top left: Juan Martinez, Project Coordinator Johnny Rivera, Askia Bing, Eugene Lang (center), Maria Paniagua, Darryl Gallishaw, Aristedes Alvarado, Alma Ceballos and David Nieves.

In 1981, businessman Eugene M. Lang returned to P.S. 121, the elementary school he had attended in East Harlem 50 years earlier, to address a class of graduating sixth graders. He intended to tell the students, “Work hard and you’ll succeed.” But on the way to the podium, the school principal told Lang that three-quarters of the school’s students would probably never finish high school, prompting Lang to make an impromptu change to his speech: he promised college tuition to every sixth grader who stayed in high school and graduated.

Lang told the class about witnessing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 March on Washington. He urged the students to dream their own dreams and promised to do all he could to help them achieve their goals.

By August of 1985, all of Lang’s Dreamers were still in school, and as word of his generosity spread, he sparked a national movement. In 1986, Lang formed the national “I Have A Dream” Foundation to help launch a new generation of “I Have A Dream” Programs.

“You live for those periods when the ideals you cherish and the opportunities to fulfill them come together.”

-Eugene M. Lang

Of Mr. Lang’s original Dreamer class, more than 90% graduated high school, with 60% pursuing higher education. And thanks to Mr. Lang’s promise in 1981, there have been over 200 “I Have A Dream” programs-touching the lives of 18,000 Dreamers making their way to and through college. Many Dreamers now have children of their own, and have gone on to become doctors, actors, social workers, and diplomats.
We owe the work we do every day to Mr. Lang, and our work will not be complete until every child has an equal opportunity to succeed in school, college, and career.

Photo: Mr. Lang at the Dreamer Conference at the University of Georgia in 2008
Above and beyond the scale of Mr. Lang’s impact, we remember his deep personal

Above and beyond the scale of Mr. Lang’s impact, we remember his deep personal commitment to each and every one of his Dreamers-his warmth, humor, and willingness to keep an open door to talk through every obstacle and big dream. If you have any stories, photos, or memories of Mr. Lang you would like to share, please feel free to do so in response to this email. We will continue to compile these stories as we honor and share Mr. Lang’s tremendous impact on the lives of so many of us: as he said himself, “nothing you do will ever go to waste. The ripple effects can be beyond imagination.”

You can view Eugene M. Lang’s full obituary here, and our full note here.

We look forward to honoring the memory of Mr. Lang at our annual “Spirit of the Dream” gala on June 6th.