The Broadway smash musical that tells the story of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton has important veins of philanthropy rippling through it. The storyline describes how Hamilton’s American experience was initiated by charity. As a destitute teenager in the Caribbean he survived a devastating hurricane and wrote a letter to the editor about it. Even in the midst of ruin and many other pressing needs, readers struck by his literary talent “passed a plate around—total strangers moved to kindness by my story raised enough for me to book passage on a ship that was New York-bound.”
Thanks to this generous intervention, Alexander Hamilton found himself in a place and time bursting with opportunity, in a nation that needed his talents, and that continued to lift up generations of others after him. The closing moments of the musical capture another philanthropic twist: New York City’s most successful orphanage was created by Hamilton’s widow as a tribute to her husband—the illegitimate orphaned foreigner who became our first Treasury Secretary. This incident is captured in The Almanac of American Philanthropy (excerpted in the feature section of this magazine).
Thanks to the Rockefeller Foundation, 20,000 low-income New York high-schoolers will get to see this exciting story play out on stage. The foundation donated $1.5 million to send students to Broadway and provide educational materials that will help teachers offer follow-up lessons. The students’ tickets are subsidized, not free—to encourage personal involvement, students will be charged $10 each (that’s the greenback that, for now, bears Hamilton’s face). Meanwhile, the show’s composer and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda, was recently awarded a grant from the MacArthur Foundation to recognize his fresh retelling of a classic American story.
This is an excerpt from Briefly Noted in the Winter 2016 issue of Philanthropy magazine.