Henry Fairfax ’99 was the featured speaker at the 2nd annual George “Porgie” Smith ’67 assembly, held virtually on Feb. 22. Head of School Dr. John Nagl hosted the assembly, and acknowledged George’s son Sean, his childhood friend Wendall Holland, and donors to the George “Porgie” Smith ‘67 scholarship, who were in attendance.
Dr. Nagl began the assembly by celebrating the life and accomplishments of Smith, who was the first Black graduate of The Haverford School. Smith then went onto Lafayette College, and served in the U.S. Air Force for more than 20 years. “He was a man and a movement,” Dr. Nagl said.
Fairfax drew parallels between his and Smith’s life during his remarks. Smith was recruited to attend Haverford by former Head of Upper School Don McBride, and Fairfax was asked to attend the School by Don’s son, current Associate Head of School Brian McBride ‘82.
“George Smith was the catalyst who started the fire that blazed the trail that many of us have been fortunate enough to follow,” said Fairfax. “It’s impossible not for me to reflect on my journey at Haverford when thinking about Porgie.”
George Smith was the catalyst who started the fire that blazed the trail that many of us have been fortunate enough to follow. It’s impossible not for me to reflect on my journey at Haverford when thinking about Porgie.
His journey at Haverford, however, was hard. Fairfax told attendees stories about adjusting to the social class differences at Haverford, being the target of racial slurs, and feeling like an outsider as a student of color from Philadelphia.
“I’ve often explained to both students and parents that the value proposition for a person of color or anyone who feels a sense of other at Haverford is not necessarily found in its academic program, but in the rigor of trying to gain access and proximity to a world that feels so close, yet so distant,” he said.
He encouraged current students and alumni to continue the important work of diversity, equity, and inclusion. “With so much work around diversity, equity, inclusion, and/or belonging as it pertains to building community at our schools, it’s clear that there is much work to be done,” he said. “Moving forward, each Haverford School graduate has a responsibility to lean into this important work.”
Fairfax acknowledged what he called “the blessings of mentorship, sponsorship, and parenting” that he and Porgie received. He concluded his remarks with a call for students to be courageous and take advantage of the opportunities at Haverford.
You have to lean in. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Be courageous in the face of what will seem like unceasing adversity. Regardless if my or Porgie’s story resonates with you, I hope you will glean from it that while we certainly share parallels, we all have our own paths.
“The Haverford School, more than any other school I have been connected to, executes on its promise to ‘prepare boys for life.’ However, it doesn’t just happen by osmosis,” he said. “You have to lean in. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Be courageous in the face of what will seem like unceasing adversity. Regardless if my or Porgie’s story resonates with you, I hope you will glean from it that while we certainly share parallels, we all have our own paths.”
After Fairfax finished his remarks, Nagl opened the assembly to friends, family, and classmates of Smith to reflect on his life. Smith’s son, Sean, shared with attendees: “I just wanted to say thank you so much to everyone involved in keeping my father’s memory alive. This summer was the 10-year anniversary of his death. Nobody lives forever, but the thoughts, the words – it allows my father to live on.”
First held in February of 2013 to honor and commemorate George “Porgie” Smith '67 as the first Black graduate of The Haverford School, this assembly serves to remember Porgie, the scholarship that was established in his memory, and to recognize the impact he and other BIPOC alumni had on Haverford as well as the impact Haverford had on them.
Henry Fairfax ‘99 currently serves as the Founding Head of School at Revolution School-an independent place based, project based high school in Philadelphia. Prior to Revolution School, he served as Vice President of Enrollment and Institutional Advancement at Girard College, where he overhauled the enrollment, institutional advancement, and strategic repositioning processes and spearheaded a successful 5-year diversity plan. In 2016, Henry forged a strategic partnership with Girard College and A Better Chance. In 2017, Henry secured seed funding from the Abele Family Foundation and wrote and launched “DREEAMS” at Girard College-a middle grades partnership between Girard College and The Philadelphia School focused on diversity, resilience, English, engineering, arts, math, and science. From 2008-2015 he worked as Director of Admissions at The Haverford School achieving records in enrollment, diversity, and retention, as well as serving as the basketball coach. In 2011, Henry received his master’s in education from the University of Pennsylvania. He also served as Foundations Program Director at McDonogh School in Owings Mills, Md. Henry has been a co-chair for the NAIS People of Color Conference in Philadelphia and worked on the Call-to-Action Board which wrote the Principles of Good Practice for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at NAIS member schools. Henry serves on the boards of The Philadelphia School and the Girard College Foundation. He currently serves as a Mentor at both Drexel and Penn.