Name: Ian V. Rowe
Profession: Chief Executive Officer, Public Prep
One Word That Describes You: Father/Husband
What does being one of the BEMM 100 Men of Distinction mean to you?
It is an honor and great recognition to be part of a group of black men changing the narrative for what is possible for the generations of young men to come.
What are you doing as a BEMM to help support black male achievement now or in the future?
As CEO of Public Prep, I oversee all-girls and all-boys public charter schools that serve almost exclusively low-income, children of color. As an example, I run Boys Prep Bronx, the first and only all-boys public elementary and middle school in the Bronx. Because of a breakthrough public/private financing model, we are building the permanent home for Boys Prep Bronx, which will be a state-of-the-art 80,000-square-foot facility in the heart of the South Bronx.
What are some examples of how you turned struggle into success?
In elementary school, my family moved from Brooklyn to Queens. This area in Queens had been predominantly white, but was becoming racially integrated. Our junior high school, which had historically been mostly white, was rapidly becoming mixed. And so a number of the white parents from my school pushed for an annex school to be opened in a nearby neighborhood.
My parents presumed the education would be better in that other school, so they were going to send me, too. I was 11 years old. I remember one Sunday crying and crying to my parents and begging them to keep me in my current school. They ultimately relented. And it was so meaningful, because I’d made such a big deal, and my parents had said “OK.” I now had a duty, a responsibility, to do good things in that school. I also remember thinking to myself, “Why should the other school be better? Why should the education suddenly go down in my school just because most of the kids who are going to be left are black?” There’s no doubt that struggle influenced me for the rest of my life—professionally and personally—to create equal opportunity, regardless of the school that one enters, no matter race, income level, or zip code.
How do you ordinarily impact?
I write. Whenever I am stuck on an issue, or trying to figure out a position, or understand the correct path forward, I write. When I do not know, I write, then read, then write again. Writing is a permanent record that forces me to distill my understanding, expose my ignorance, and clarify what I must do to take action. Words are powerful. My greatest impacts have usually come after I have argued with myself on paper, studied the data, then emerged with a point of view that is defensible and forward-facing.
What is an important quality you look for in your relationships with others?
I most value individuals who have two qualities: (a) empathy for people living in challenging conditions; and (b) the ability to critically assess data and trends to understand why those challenging conditions exist in the first place. The quality I look for then is someone who combines that empathy and analytical ability to create solutions that respect existing conditions, while also addressing the underlying factors like the impact of structural barriers and individual choices. Most squarely, I apply these ideas to working with people committed to breaking the inter-generational cycle of poverty, and understanding the series of life choices that most likely lead to life success.
What are some immediate projects you are working on?
I have been writing a series of essays about what I call the “silent tsunami.” This refers to the often-not-spoken-about explosion in unplanned, non-marital births that is having a devastating impact on kids of all races. 40% of all babies in America are now born out-of-wedlock, and more than 70% of babies born to young women aged 24 and under, which in the vast majority of cases leads to almost certain poverty for the parent and child. We can change that. As someone who leads a network of schools, I am very cognizant that educators cannot control the structure of the families into which our current students are born. But we can influence how our students think about the family structures they form and the series of life choices that will likely lead to their life success and that of their children.
What is the best advice you ever received?
Model the behavior you seek in others. Make long-term commitments to your spouse and your family; to your work; to your faith; to your country; and to those who have not yet had a chance to experience success but who can benefit from your wisdom and service.
What is some advice you have for other men who want to make a difference?
Never lose your ability to empathize with the people for whom you are trying to make a difference. Simultaneously, be brutally honest in understanding why the conditions exist that we are fighting to change. Be brave in naming both structural barriers and individual choices, in changing conditions across generations.
How do you prep for an important business meeting and/or event?
First: Be clear on the meeting’s desired outcomes, not the agenda checklist. Frequently, people list agenda items, versus what the meeting is supposed to accomplish.
Second: Know who is in the room. Understand their objectives, perspectives, and past history. All of this influences how you may need to frame an issue or comment, to ensure your voice is heard as intended.
Third: Forecast your individual contribution. Think before the meeting about the unique point you want to make and how you want to shape the impact of your presence and voice in the meeting. Too often, I see strong black men shrink back because of perceived limitations, and end up giving up power.
Four: Be clear about next steps. Know who is responsible for action items. Most critical, you do what you committed to do. Otherwise, you won’t have many more important business meetings.
As a busy Modern Man, how do you unwind on vacation?
Harbour Island in the Bahamas has become our beloved home away from home. My wife and I were engaged on Harbour Island 11 years ago; we were married on the pink sand beach of Harbour Island 10 years ago; our two kids were baptized there; and our family visits once a year. It is a tiny island with rich history, beautiful people, and a beautiful spirit.
If you could travel and stay anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
Four years from now, my wife and I are considering doing a “family gap year” with our two children. We want to live in another country for a year, so we as a family experience a completely different culture and language, bond together as we all exit our comfort zone, and overcome adversity as a strong team. I will let you know in a few years what we decide!
Anything else you’d like to say?
While the evidence is sometimes hard to see, our country has made significant progress on race. Despite all the structural barriers of racism, sexism, etc., nearly 2 million black young women and men are in college today, on their way to the middle class and beyond. While we all fight to dismantle those barriers, and fight to overcome racism and poverty, remember this: Family structure and stability matters monumentally to the ultimate success of all of our children, and ironically may be the best support to empower young people to have the personal agency to overcome racism, poverty, or adversity of any type. The greatest men of distinction never lose sight of this.