"Give joyfully": Benaroya gift bolsters Brotherhood Initiative capacity

February 26, 2024

Nestled in the vibrant University of Washington Quad, the Brotherhood Initiative (BI) stands not just as a learning community but as a beacon of hope and transformation for young men of color. Joe Lott, Ph.D., associate professor of education and the founding director and passionate force behind the BI, not only addresses systemic barriers affecting Black men's graduation rates but also creates a close-knit community at the UW where academic challenges meet unwavering support and understanding. 

In a poignant moment during a luncheon in the fall of 2022 at Ivar’s Salmon House, Rebecca Benaroya found herself drawn into the BI's orbit. Witnessing the spirit of resilience among the BI student scholars and the nurturing environment fostered by Director Lott, she was impressed. "It's a wonderful thing he is doing," she remarked, captivated by the comfort and empowerment radiating from the students. For Mrs. Benaroya, it was clear she wanted to support the BI in its mission to uplift students.

From left to right: Paul Metellus, assistant director for student success; Noah Stanigar (student); Jordan Fisher (student); Joe Lott, founder and director of the Brotherhood Initiative; Aarun Hendrickson (student); Shamaar Thomas (student); Mrs. Rebecca Benaroya. 

During the luncheon, the BI students shared their experiences and journeys.  Jordan Fisher (BABA, Marketing, 2023), underscored the invaluable mentorship, affirming, “I did a lot of different networking and professional development events that I don’t think I would have necessarily been connected with or had the motivation to do had I not been in the Brotherhood Initiative; so now going into different job interviews and professional spaces I feel more prepared.” Noah Stanigar (BABA, Information Systems, Marketing, 2023) echoed the sense of belonging within the learning community, emphasizing its transformative influence on his journey in academia and beyond: “It’s a brotherhood; that’s the whole point of it. It doesn’t just end when you graduate, these are people that you have a lifelong connection with.” 

Connecting deeply with the BI mission, Mrs. Benaroya delved into the shared history of her family and her late husband Jack Benaroya. Both first-generation Americans, they witnessed the hardships many families experienced during the Great Depression and the ignorance and discrimination she and others faced as Sephardic Jews. She thought, too, about their shared commitment to supporting the underdog. She described Mr. Benaroya as dependable and honest; one who had a humble start working at gas stations and drug stores, delivering prescriptions, and serving customers at a local milkshake counter while balancing life as a student at Garfield High School. While she and her late husband were not able to attend college, they believed in the power of education and it spurred them to make education accessible for underprivileged students, planting the seeds for a lifelong legacy of philanthropy. 

Their journey began with pioneering programs like Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) and College of Success at the UW, a program that championed Black male students from Garfield High School by providing scholarships to attend the University. Their early support, especially for the Black community, displayed a forward-thinking approach to advancing educational opportunities. 

The Benaroya family’s philanthropic impact on the Pacific Northwest is profound, seen in landmarks like Benaroya Hall, research institutions like Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason Medical Center, as well as numerous arts organizations, industrial developments and business parks that have been synonymous with the Benaroya name for the past fifty years. Still, for Mrs. Benaroya, education remains the key to success in today's competitive world. "People need skills, talent, education to succeed," she emphasized, recognizing the vital role of higher education in empowering individuals.  

Mrs. Rebecca Benaroya in her home in Seattle being interviewed by the UW College of Education.

Inspired by her late husband's unwavering dedication and with the collaborative efforts of Director Lott and the UW College of Education leadership team, Mrs. Benaroya envisioned a lasting impact beyond immediate financial support. The result was the creation of a $3 million endowed professorship named the Rebecca and Jack Benaroya Distinguished Endowed Professorship for Equity in Education and a $2 million fund called the Rebecca and Jack Benaroya Fund for Excellence for the UW Brotherhood Initiative, marking the largest philanthropic support the BI has ever received. 

For Director Lott, this is a transformative gift. "I’m excited to share in the legacy of the Benaroya family to support students from communities who have historically been underserved by educational institutions,” he remarked. This professorship goes beyond scholarships, emphasizing meaningful connections and support for historically underserved communities. It will allow the BI to double the size of its first-year cohort, serving more than 200 men of color each year across all cohorts.  

With this generous endowment, students are not merely recipients of financial aid but active participants in a community that fosters personal growth, leadership skills, and a sense of belonging — students like Aarun Hendrickson, a senior neuroscience major and BI scholar. Inspired by the teachings and support he received within the BI, Hendrickson created a Brothers in Research course to address the need for belonging in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields for people of color, a course he designed and leads with the help of the BI staff. 

Reflecting on his motivation, Hendrickson shared, "In the beginning of each class, I cover two researchers of color on the UW campus, one from the STEM side and one from the social sciences side, to show students there are people of color in every space and even though you might have to look a little bit harder, with the right tools you can find people who have been in the position you’re in and found success." Through the BI, students are empowered to become catalysts for positive change within their communities and beyond. 

From left to right: Hunter Maag, Hakeem Hernandez, Po Saetia, and Dawit Hailu. Caleb Albright/UW College of Education. 

In the spirit of giving, the Benaroya family have an unyielding commitment to philanthropy that spans generations, illustrating that every act of support contributes to a brighter future. Quoting Shirley Chisholm, “Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth,” and Winston Churchill, “You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give,” Mrs. Benaroya draws inspiration from these quotes just as her late husband once did. She encourages students to "pay it forward," creating a ripple effect of generosity and positive change. “Give joyfully,” she said with a smile. 

Explore meaningful ways to support the Brotherhood Initiative by visiting their website.