Mr. President, I rise this afternoon to honor William H. Gray, III.
As I have every year since my election to the Senate, starting back in January 2007, I have come to the floor at this time of the year in commemoration of Black History Month.
This year we are privileged to honor a man whose outstanding accomplishments are of vital importance to African Americans as well as to all of America. For his entire life Bill Gray has been a minister and a shepherd for his congregation, his constituents, historically Black colleges and universities, and to all Americans in need of a stronger voice. I have known Bill Gray for a quarter of a century, and I know his life's work is a testament to a single principle, one that has infused all of his work at the Bright Hill Baptist Church in Philadelphia, as a Member and leader in Congress, and with the United Negro College Fund.
Bill believes in the principle of a ``whole ministry,'' that the church must tend to all the needs of its entire congregation. Bill grew up learning that the ministry was not just something one did on Sunday morning but, rather, the action one took in the streets on issues ranging from housing to economic justice to excellence in education. Bill has called his position as pastor of the Bright Hope Baptist Church the most important job he has ever had, one that cultivated the skills and priorities that have shaped his life's work.
Today, I am proud to share some of the achievements that have resulted from Bill Gray's dedication to a ``whole ministry.''
Bill grew up in a family of educators and ministers who taught him the value of both professions to empower others. He was born in the State of Louisiana to parents who were both educators. His father was president of two historically Black colleges: Florida Normal and Industrial College and Florida Agricultural and Mechanical School. His mother was both a high school teacher and served as dean of Southern University in Baton Rouge, LA.
When Bill was 8 years old, his grandfather passed away and the family moved from Louisiana back to Philadelphia, PA. There in Philadelphia, Bill's father assumed his own father's position as pastor of the Bright Hope Baptist Church in north Philadelphia, and Bill cemented his roots in that community. He has spoken of the powerful impact of those years, moving from a region where Jim Crow laws reigned to a large northern city where his family had strong ties to other clergy and community leaders. Because of de facto segregation in housing at the time, north Philadelphia was a neighborhood with African Americans from all walks of life, including many role models for the young Bill Gray.
Hobson Reynolds across the street was the leader of the Elks. Cecil B. Moore, a future member of the city council and head of the NAACP of Philadelphia, lived two doors down from Bill's family at the time. Other neighbors included the renowned architect Frederick Messiah and Sadie Alexander, the first woman of any race to obtain a Ph.D. in economics in the United States of America.
Of course, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a frequent visitor to Bill Gray's home at that time, as were Dr. King's parents who were close family friends of Bill Gray's family. Both the elder and younger Kings as well as other ministers influenced Bill's understanding of the ``whole ministry'' and encouraged his education and career as a minister.
Bill graduated from Simon Gratz High School and went on to Franklin and Marshall College. When Bill considered leaving Franklin and Marshall before graduation to join civil rights protests in the South, Dr. King encouraged him to stay in school and to hone the skills necessary to continue the struggle later in life. This idea of education as a key to African-American advancement would guide Bill for the rest of his life.
Bill graduated from Franklin and Marshall, and in 1966 he obtained a master's degree in divinity at Drew Theological Seminary and in 1970 a master's degree in theology from Princeton Theological Seminary. While at Drew, Bill's talents were recognized by the prestigious Union Baptist Church in Montclair, NJ, and he was later chosen to be a pastor there as well. The King family presided over the installation ceremony.
In his first parish, Bill Gray worked to serve the ``whole community,'' advocating aggressively for the needs of his congregation and the community's most vulnerable members. As the city of Montclair undertook urban renewal, he helped to form a development corporation to ensure that relocation resulted in safe, decent housing for his parishioners and their neighbors. This issue of housing hit Bill Gray personally when he tried to rent an apartment while studying at Princeton and was told the unit was unavailable. He sensed immediately that it was because of his race, and he found a friend who was White who volunteered to go look at the apartment, at which point the landlord said it was open.
Bill filed a lawsuit and for the first time sought damages for the psychological impact of discrimination. While the monetary award was small, his victory in the suit set a precedent that those who discriminated based on race could be held liable for monetary damages.
In 1971 Bill married Andrea Dash, with whom he has raised three sons, William IV, Justin, and Andrew. In 1972 Bill's father died unexpectedly and tragically, and the congregation of Bright Hope Baptist Church called on Bill to return home as the new pastor. Bill was reluctant to go back as the preacher's son, but two church elections finally convinced him to return. He became the third generation of his family to serve as pastor of Bright Hope. Under his leadership, the congregation quickly grew to over 4,000 souls.
Bill also taught as a professor at Jersey City State College from 1968 to 1969, St. Peter's College in Jersey City from 1970 to 1974, Montclair State College from 1970 to 1972, and Rutgers University in 1971. He also continued his important advocacy on fair access to housing, and he cofounded the Philadelphia mortgage plan to help low-income individuals obtain homes.
This dedication to helping his community and concern about their welfare led him back to the political world. In 1976 Bill ran an underdog campaign to challenge Congressman Robert N.C. Nix, a long-time congressional incumbent. Despite a close defeat in 1976, Bill launched another campaign in 1978 and successfully earned nomination and election to Congress.
The U.S. House of Representatives provided another pulpit from which Bill could pursue his ``whole ministry,'' and he did not squander the opportunity. He said:
If you can pastor a black Baptist Church, maneuvering in Congress is easy. It's nothing compared to the choir, the usher board, the deacon board. You run a volunteer organization and you run it on persuasion.
Despite his lack of previous formal political experience, after winning the 1978 primary election Bill started working to persuade other Members of Congress from his party to support him in committee elections. Through dogged determination, thoughtful strategy, and a clear explanation of his goals, Bill earned himself the freshman seat on the policy and steering committee which sets committee assignments for the party and influences policy. This established him as a rising star and a friend to many other incoming Members of Congress whom he helped land desirable committee spots.
Bill obtained seats on the following committees: the District of Columbia Committee, the Budget Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee, and later a seat on the Appropriations Committee, the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, and the House Administration Committee. Leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus elected Bill Gray as its secretary, and in his second term he served as the vice chairman of the caucus.
In Congress, he acquired a reputation as a thoughtful, honest, and effective leader in a diverse party, often building surprising alliances as he maintained his commitment to budgets that provided for the neediest Americans.
Bill rose quickly through the ranks of leadership during his 12 years in Congress. In 1985 he assumed the chairmanship of the Budget Committee just 6 years after the time he was elected. Just a few years later, in 1988, he was elected to chair his party's House caucus, and then in 1999 he became the House majority whip, the third ranking leadership in the House of Representatives.
While serving in Congress, Bill remained an active minister, tightly connected with his district in Philadelphia through his actions on the issues for which he fought. I just happened to be a constituent of Bill's in 1982 and 1983 when I was serving in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in north Philadelphia, and I know at that time he returned to Bright Hope Baptist Church twice a month to preach, and in Congress he supported the programs upon which his constituents and his congregation relied.
In a time of concern about fiscal discipline, Bill believed that compassionate spending was also critical and said:
A balanced budget is good for the country, poor and the affluent alike. I seek a budget that doesn't sacrifice programs for the poor and minorities, one that is fair and equitable.
He produced budgets in line with his priorities, challenging opponents to produce spending cuts that did not hit the most vulnerable. On the Foreign Affairs Committee, Bill championed aid for Africa and sponsored a bill to provide aid to African villages as well as appropriations to ensure minority-owned business participation in African aid programs. Bill took a strong and early stand against the Ethiopian Government and its role in making the famine worse. He was also a prominent critic of the South African apartheid regime.
In 1991 Bill Gray made a bold transition to minister in a new way on a topic of paramount importance to him, his family, and others. Of course, that topic was higher education.
He said at the time, and I am quoting:
Woodrow Wilson used to say, ``My constituency is the next generation,'' and, you know, that's why I left Congress, because my constituency, really, is the next generation.
He accepted the position as president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund, the so-called UNCF, a philanthropic organization that helps more than 60,000 minority students each year to obtain a higher education. The United Negro College Fund not only manages 400 scholarship and internship programs which benefit 10,000 students but also provides operating funds for 38 historically Black colleges and universities. Tuition at these colleges averages 30 percent less than tuition at similar universities.
Bill Gray has said he wanted to support historically Black colleges and universities during a period when Black students were choosing to attend a wider range of colleges. During Bill's 12 years as president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund, his success in supporting these institutions was unprecedented--and that is an understatement. Bill sought innovative ways to attract new investment and increase existing funding. By the time he left the United Negro College Fund 12 years later, Bill and his team had raised more than $1.54 billion. To put this in context, UNCF had raised a total of $3.3 billion in its 67-year history.
He found new ways to solicit donations, increase the amount of in-kind contributions, and solicited from previously untapped foundations and individuals.
In 1999, Bill Gray secured a $1 billion grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to advance minority students' access to higher education in the science, math, engineering, and education fields. This grant created the Gates Millennium Scholarship Program and marked the largest philanthropic donation in the history of higher education in the United States of America. Bill's success at the United Negro College Fund put higher education within reach and ensured brighter futures for thousands of students across America.
We know, and those who know him know, that Bill Gray has never rested and he is never satisfied with one job at a time. While leading the United Negro College Fund, he was asked by President Clinton in 1994 to lead the efforts to restore democracy in Haiti. His work there earned him the Medal of Honor from the President of Haiti.
After leaving the Fund in the year 2004, Bill started Gray Global Strategies, Inc., and has served as director on multiple corporate boards including Dell, JPMorgan Chase, and Pfizer. He has also served as vice chairman for the Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care and has served on the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. He is currently the chairman of Gray Global Strategies, a worldwide business consulting and government affairs strategies firm.
Bill Gray has said that he has ``always been taught by my folk, parents, grandparents, that service is a sort of the rent you pay for the space you occupy. And so, what I've tried to do is direct my life towards service based on faith and commitment and social justice.''
Well said by a great leader, Bill Gray.
In the Senate today we express our gratitude for the excellent work of Rev. Bill Gray, Congressman Bill Gray, and you could add a few other titles as well. We express that gratitude for the excellent work of his ``whole ministry,'' a commitment that has touched literally millions of men, women, and children across the world. His vision and achievements have reached far beyond the walls of his church and the Capitol where we stand today. We honor him on behalf of the people of the Bright Hope Baptist Church, the U.S. Congress, historically Black colleges and universities, and many more people around the world. We commend Bill Gray today. I congratulate him. We look forward to seeing him with us today.
I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.
The clerk will call the roll.
The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.
Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.
Without objection, it is so ordered.
- October 1, 1996
- April 19, 1999
- March 16, 2006
- February 17, 2011
- November 19, 2008
- October 2, 2008
- March 12, 2004
- April 14, 2010
- July 8, 2013
Honoring William H. “Bill” Gray, Iii For His Countless Contributions To Education And The Black American CommunityFebruary 16, 2012