Sixers’ Tobias Harris gives $1 million to education philanthropies

More than $600,000 of the total is going to groups in Philadelphia.

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris is interested in educational justice and in giving back to his adopted home.

At a glitzy event on Tuesday dubbed Tobias Community Draft 2019, the basketball player gave away $1 million to nine organizations, including three in Philadelphia that collectively received $625,000 of the total. His focus is on promoting literacy and supporting excellent teaching.

Among the recipients were the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia, which received $100,000; the city’s Read by 4th campaign, which received $200,000, and the Center for Black Educator Development, which received $300,000. Team Up Philly, a nonprofit that works to empower girls, received $25,000.

Among the other organizations that received money was the fund supporting schools in Orange County, Fla., where he used to play for the Orlando Magic.

Harris, 27, who signed a $180 million contract with the Sixers last summer, has directed his philanthropic endeavors toward helping underserved communities, focusing on literacy and on supporting teachers and the education profession.

The event, held at Mastery Prep Charter School in Nicetown, was in the style of an NBA draft, with Harris counting down from nine to one in highlighting each organization. The recipients knew they would be recognized, but didn’t know the amount of their award until it was announced.

Harris and his team read about the Center for Black Educator Development and reached out to the organization, Harris said. The organization was founded this year by former Mastery-Shoemaker principal and longtime city educator Sharif El-Mekki.

“It’s a great organization. I really love what they are doing for African American teachers,” said Harris. “This will really give them a platform. The numbers don’t lie.”

He was referring to a study by Johns Hopkins University showing that black children who had just one African American teacher during their school careers were far more likely to graduate from high school. If they had two, their chances of attending college are significantly better.

The center is working on building a pipeline for African American youth to consider teaching careers, while also offering workshops and professional development to teachers.

Jenny Bogoni is executive director of the Read by 4th campaign, a coalition of many organizations working toward a day when all Philadelphia children read on grade level by the end of 3rd grade. When children reach that milestone, it is a predictor of future academic success.

“We’re trying to reinvent early literacy. … It takes more than one author,” Bogoni said in accepting the award. The money will help expand the presence of reading coaches “in all areas of the city.”

Donna Frisby-Greenwood heads the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia, which raises money and funnels it into specific District schools and programs.

The money, she said, will be split among four elementary schools that made their needs known through its Philly FUNDamentals initiative, which enables principals to publicize their wish lists and match them with donors. The schools that will benefit from this grant are Bethune, H.A. Brown, Kenderton and Penrose.

“We did a lot of groundwork in picking the right [organizations] in line with what I wanted to get across,” said Harris. As for Philadelphia, “This is a place I want to make home.”