If there is one thing that we have learned from Jeremy Nowak and H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, two of our most respected and essential civic leaders and philanthropists, it is that the real power of change lies within us.
Mr. Nowak saw our city’s problems clearly and poured himself into solutions. He founded the Philadelphia Reinvestment Fund, an innovative solution to funding community development and long-term progress, and led the William Penn Foundation in new and different ways to address Philadelphia’s most urgent and complex needs. He created a digital space to inspire everyday citizens to speak up and act on solutions to the city’s toughest challenges, and he enlisted philanthropists with heart to march with him toward progress.
Mr. Lenfest, in concert with his wife Marguerite, transformed the philanthropic landscape of Philadelphia by vowing to do the greatest good within their lifetimes. Collectively, their philanthropy exceeds $1.3 billion, given to more than 1,100 organizations—a number that has created extraordinary, if not unparalleled, impact throughout the Philadelphia region. But it was his vision for preserving the future of journalism through the Lenfest Institute for Journalism that may be his most lasting gift – one of truth and accountability – to our future citizens.
As we reflect on all of their accomplishments, philanthropic endeavors, and the visionary roles that they have played for our city, I can’t help but feel that we are at an undeniable crossroads. Who, among us, will carry this work forward?
The fact that Philadelphia sits atop the list of poorest cities and that we rank 43rd out of 50 of our nation’s most philanthropic cities, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, underscores our need to continue the legacy of service lived by both Mr. Nowak and Mr. Lenfest. Neither shied from stepping into those critical moments that can change another’s life, and each devoted a lifetime to addressing complex issues through advocacy and philanthropy.
And so must we. They were willing to put everything on the line for what they believed in, and they’ve left us at a time of urgent need. Honoring their legacies will mean discovering, articulating, and acting on that which we can uniquely do to help those in need, and putting a sacrifice worthy of their memories behind those efforts.