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Mercy Announces $1.2 Million Gift to Establish World-Class Leadership Institute

Front Row, L to R: Paul Speranza, Dr. Bernice King, Back Row, L to R: Depty Mayor Cedric Alexander, Sandra Simons, Van White, Jerome Underwood

By Tracie Isaac

Bernice A. King, daughter of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Corretta Scott King, was the main feature to announce a $1.2 million donation to Our Lady of Mercy School for Young Women.

The generous donation was given by Paul and the late Cheryl Speranza—who was a graduate of Our Lady of Mercy in 1965 to create the Cheryl Speranza Leadership Institute.

The announcement came last week during a general assembly at the school attended by students, administrators, community leaders and Rochester City School District representatives.

“My wife and I saw that there were not enough women in high-level leadership positions, as well as women of color were underrepresented in the areas of government, non-profit, business and public services. We wanted to do something to change that. ” Paul Speranza said. “The Cheryl Speranza Leadership Institute will provide world-class leadership development for all girls in grades 9-12 currently and in future classes.”

Dr. Bernice King delivered a riveting speech which highlighted the journey of her mother’s life, Coretta Scott King as a woman who was a youth community activist and a civil rights activist as a college student.

The vision of this institute is to provide experiences, resources, opportunities and scholarships for young women. “This type of world-class development will provide young women who may not have the resources or exposure to the areas of life, business and government decisions the ability to make an impact in the areas that affect their lives and many others with similar circumstances,” King said.

“Many people think that my father’s legacy was myopic in terms of just race. He fought a multiple of issues that included poverty, racism and militarism, which obviously sexism is part of that as well. This institute continues his legacy in that way,” she continued. “It is essential that if we are going to have a just and equitable society that women have positions in places of leadership. Not just being represented but being included in the decision making and out comes.”

Cheryl Speranza passed away earlier this year from Pancreatic Cancer. Her husband Paul Speranza is continuing the vision and noted that Cheryl had a passion for serving others including Rochester’s young women and youth.

Our Lady of Mercy is the only college preparatory, faith-based private school in Rochester exclusively for young women of all incomes, races, and faith affiliations in grades 6-12. Mercy, founded through the vision of Catherine McAuley and the ministry of the Sisters of Mercy, builds life-changing competence, confidence, and compassion that prepares and inspires young women to achieve the highest level of success in college, in career, and in the community.

The keynote address from Dr. Bernice King and the vision of the Cheryl Speranza Leadership Institute emphasized the importance of encouraging young women to become who they were meant to be.