Tonight, as I have for more than a decade, I will head over to the Washington Hilton to attend Fight for Children’s Fight Night Gala. This one will be the 30th anniversary of this event. It will also be the last. I cannot believe it is over.
Fight Night has raised over 65 million dollars to support low-income youth in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. It was the creation of Fight for Children founder Joseph E. Robert, Jr. who raised nearly a billion dollars for healthcare and education for children living in poverty. He passed away at the age of 59 at the end of 2011 from a brain tumor that was diagnosed at the hospital where I work. I was with him when he received the diagnosis. That was not a good day.
I so wish Mr. Robert were here. He would be proud that his organization recently announced that it has donated five million dollar to Children’s National Hospital to create the Fight for Children Sports Medicine Center.
The press release announcing the news states that it will be “the region’s first sports medicine center dedicated exclusively to the needs of youth athletes. The new center, expected to open in the later part of 2020, will not only provide world class clinical care and rehabilitation services for sports-related injuries, but will also offer programs on injury prevention and performance evaluation, including a state-of-the-art motion analysis and performance lab. In addition, the Center’s mission will include conducting research on youth sports-related medical care, as well as providing a home for education and other community outreach activities. Fight for Children’s gift will ensure that the benefits from the Center will be available and accessible to all youth in the region, particularly those from underserved communities. The Center will be located at the lobby level of the former Discovery Communications headquarters in Silver Spring, MD.”
Children’s Hospital was a favorite cause of Joe Robert, ever since his son had surgery there as an adolescent. He contributed millions of dollars in his own name to the organization, and in 2009 coordinated a 150 million dollar grant to the facility from the United Arab Emirates.
There is more to celebrate this evening. Word from Capitol Hill is that a bill is moving through Congress that would permanently authorize the SOAR Act, the legislation containing the Opportunity Scholarship Program, that provides private school vouchers to low-income children. The law is supported by Senators Ron Johnson, Dianne Feinstein, Tim Scott, and Mike Braum. The move has also received strong backing from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. The OSP was a favorite of Mr. Robert, who fought hard for its passage in 2004 and who fiercely challenged attempts by President Obama and his U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to shut it down. His own Washington Scholarship Fund was for years the administrator of the program until it became impossible to carry out this function under the Obama administration.
There are currently approximately 1,700 students taking advantage of the OSP. Additional funding up to 75 million dollars contained in the current legislation would raise this number to 2,000. The SOAR Act contains equal funding for private school vouchers, D.C. charter schools, and DCPS. This three sector approach was championed by Joe Robert.
Permanently authorizing the SOAR Act will be a crowning achievement of Mr. Robert’s legacy. The bill is expected to pass.
We will raise a glass to toast Mr. Robert’s amazing work later this evening.