Ian Rowe: Embrace Agency, Not Victimhood

On a Sunday evening in September 1977, 12-year-old Ian Rowe did something “unthinkable”: he challenged his parents.

His Queens, New York junior high school had become an epicenter for racial unrest because more Black families like Rowe’s were moving into his neighborhood, which was predominantly white at the time. The school board’s solution was to open a second school in a neighborhood with more white families.

All the white students were going to transfer to that new school, leaving Rowe’s junior high a virtually all-Black, segregated school. Rowe’s parents, on the presumption that the school with white students would be better, were going to transfer him too.

“Something about this just didn’t seem right,” Rowe, now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and founder and CEO of Vertex Partnership Academies, explained in a new Philanthropy Roundtable video. “Why does one school have to better just because it has white kids, and why does the other one have to be worse just because it has Black kids? I didn’t accept this.”

Watch the video below to learn what happened next:

This experience was Rowe’s first encounter with “agency,” which he defines as “the force of one’s free will guided by moral discernment,” and he literally wrote the book about this concept earlier this year. In other words, agency means embracing empowerment instead of victimhood, and Rowe says his calling is to empower disadvantaged children to claim agency over their own destinies, just as he did as a child.

Cultivating empowerment and fostering a sense of agency is a crucial part of Philanthropy Roundtable’s True Diversity initiative, and as Rowe says this mindset led to his personal success and the success of others.

“It’s True Diversity that’s helped me achieve my mission and serve my community better,” he said.

True Diversity is an equality-based, holistic framework for embracing diversity. It values every person as a unique individual and empowers charitable organizations with the freedom and flexibility to advance their missions and help those in need. Learn more here.

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