Cheryl L. Baxter - "Why I joined the PEF Board: my full circle moment"

Cheryl L. Baxter – “Why I joined the PEF Board: my full circle moment”

Posted: December 13, 2023

I want to share with you why I joined the Philadelphia Education Fund (PEF)’s Board of Directors.

Let’s just say, my election to the board was a full-circle moment. The culmination of a journey that began when I was a Philadelphia high school student and was punctuated, this summer, when I accepted the H. Naylor Fitzhugh Award of Relevance at the 45th Annual National Black MBA Association Conference.

In my acceptance speech, as I shared the outline of my Philadelphia story and my journey to PEF’s board, I worked my way through my remarks to what I thought, for sure, would be the applause line. Instead, mid-sentence, I was interrupted by thunderous applause.

What elicited the audience’s reaction? My simple story of hope and promise.

Today, I am an executive at a Fortune 500 company. But, I told them of my humble Philadelphia upbringing. I explained how as a student at the John Bartram High School Motivation Center Annex in Southwest Philadelphia, I earned good grades and performed well on the SAT, but the college advising at our school was lacking. All of the students had the potential, but most needed that guidance. I sought that guidance.

That’s when I learned of this thing called, the “College Access Center.” Located, in those days, at The Gallery Mall in downtown Philadelphia – mere steps from where I was receiving the association’s award – the “College Access Center” proved a lifeline for me.

Could this college access center help me?

During my senior year, I would take public transit to the “College Access Center,” meet with counselors and receive personalized support with the college application process. When it was time to apply to college, and I realized I would never be able to afford the application fees, the counselors helped me secure fee waivers.

When I walked into that “College Access Center” all those years ago, I had no idea how the trajectory of my life would shift. I applied and was admitted to my dream school, Howard University, on a full merit-based scholarship. After graduation, I earned my MBA from Temple University and later a JD from Brooklyn Law School.

My full-circle moment.

A “College Access Center” gave me agency over my future. So, earlier this year, when I learned that the Philadelphia Education Fund was recruiting for its board of directors, I was really excited to submit my name for consideration because of my attraction to the mission. I learned of its work providing FREE college and career advising services to low-income Philadelphia students. I was excited to see that my alma mater, John Bartram High School, was one of the six high schools in which its services were embedded. Recognizing my financial challenges as a student, I was thrilled to learn of its robust scholarship program, Philadelphia Scholars. And, working in financial services, I was also delighted to learn of its efforts to support more students in their pursuit of STEM education and STEM careers.

During the nomination interview, as I learned more about the thousands of students and teachers, PEF supports on their educational attainment and career journeys, I was struck by a question: Was it possible that this “College Access Center” that changed my life, was in fact the Philadelphia Education Fund’s College Access Center?

It was! Access opened doors to a brighter future.

During my remarks at the awards ceremony, as I reflected on the power of this full circle moment—it wasn’t until the crowd burst into applause that I truly understood its magnitude.

All those years ago, I imagined a brighter future for myself. I had no idea how to get there. I didn’t know where to begin. And, I had no idea how I would be able to afford the associated costs.

A “College Access Center” – the Philadelphia Education Fund – offered me hope and the opportunity to fulfill my promise. PEF opened doors for me. They helped build my confidence. They enabled me to build a life full of options and now, as one of its newest board members, the opportunity to give back to future generations.

I am so grateful to the Philadelphia Education Fund for my full-circle moment. And, today, I ask you to join me in making a gift to PEF and enabling future Philadelphia students their “full-circle” moment.

Your gift will provide 1:1 mentorship, support, and resources to underserved students from middle grades through high school to college – providing them with the opportunity to achieve access—to work toward their college and postsecondary goals that will change their lives for the better.

Your gift to the Philadelphia Education Fund, today, would honor my story and PEF’s role in it. I thank you for your consideration and your support of PEF and the thousands of students we serve, every year.

Warm regards,

Cheryl L. Baxter, MBA, Esq.

Board of Directors, Class 2023

Philadelphia Education Fund

Vice President – Head of Corporate Advocacy

S&P Global

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