This evening, I will once again attend the spectacle that is Fight for Children’s Fight Night, the 28th year for this gala that has raised more than $60 million dollars for children’s health and education. The event was created by Fight for Children founder Joseph E. Robert, Jr. Over 2,000 guests will be entertained in the Washington Hilton ballroom which will feature for the first time mixed martial arts (MMA) match-ups through the Professional Fighters League. In fact, the bouts can even be seen live-streamed at ProfessionalFightersLeague.com, Facebook Live, YouTube, Periscope, via the FITE TV app, and on the Kiswe Mobile App. The musical performance features the popular rock group Royal Machines, a band that includes music legends Mark McGrath, Chris Chaney, Josh Freese, Donovan Leitch, Billy Morrison, Steve Stevens, and special guest Sebastian Bach.
This year, more than ever, we could use the presence of Mr. Robert, who sadly passed away due to brain cancer at the end of 2011.
There are numerous tremendous contributions we think about when we remember this man. The $150 million gift he arranged six years ago from the government of Abu Dhabi to D.C.’s Children’s National Health Center comes immediately to mind. His establishment of the Washington Scholarship Fund, the precursor to the Opportunity Scholarship Program, provided tuition scholarships to children living in poverty in the nation’s capital. The Three-Sector Approach that he championed, the Congressional funding that gives equal dollars to DCPS, charters, and the voucher plan, lives on to this day and resulted in the OSP being reauthorized last year. Fight for Children, under the strong leadership of president and CEO Keith Gordon, is continuing Mr. Robert’s mission by focusing on improving the pedagogy taking place in early childhood education in all of our city’s schools, whether they be traditional, charter, or private. I interviewed Mr. Gordon earlier this year
But there are many less headline-grabbing actions he took during his life to make this world a better place. An astonishing example was recently provided by Children’s Hospital’s president and chief executive officer Kurt Newman in his fantastic new book “Healing Children.” It details, among other heartwarming stories spanning Dr. Newman’s 30 years as a pediatric surgeon, Mr. Robert’s fierce determination to improve the patient experience that came as a result of his son having surgery under the Children’s CEO’s care.
There is one more of his accomplishments I would like to highlight. Mr. Robert had a great many friends in his lifetime across diverse spheres. Among them were entertainers such as Quincy Jones and Babyface. In the political world he was extremely close to General Colin Powell, and he convinced D.C. Mayor Marion Barry to support school vouchers. Businessmen such as Raul Fernandez, vice chairman of Monumental Sports & Entertainment who is also chairman of Fight for Children’s board; Kevin Plank, whose company Under Armour is a Fight Night sponsor; and the late Jim Kimsey, one of the founders of AOL, were associates. In fact, the lineup of people just trying to greet Mr. Robert at this annual fundraiser could last into the early morning hours.
Those who loved Joe Robert crossed party lines, races, religions, and ethnic backgrounds. He had this purely magical ability and undeniable spirit around a supreme effort to bring individuals together and get them to donate their time and money to assist those less fortunate than themselves. It is a quality of mankind we so desperately need today.