Berson $150K Gift Helps Put Marion Wright Thompson Lecture Series on Solid Footing

The Marion Thompson Wright Lecture Series has been a pillar at Rutgers University-Newark for more than 30 years. But funding the annual two-day black history conference has required ongoing effort.

The series recently moved one step closer to a secure financial future when Rutgers University-Newark alumnus Mark Berson donated $150K to an endowment set up to preserve MTW in perpetuity. It’s the largest private gift of its kind so far.

“We’re honored to have the Berson Family step up and help us in a big way with this cause,” said Rutgers University-Newark History Professor Clement Price, who co-founded the series in 1981 and runs it through his Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience. “Mark has done a tremendous amount for the city of Newark, and we are grateful for his family’s support.”

Price’s remarks came in June at a ceremony at the Institute, where Berson and his family were honored. A room in the Institute’s second floor is now named the Berson Community Room.

Berson (RC ’66, NLaw ’68) is founder and chairman of The Fidelco Group, a private investment firm, and chair of Fidelity Realty Group. A lawyer and philanthropist, he is a founding member of the Board of Trustees of the NJPAC and a member of its Executive Committee. He is a former trustee of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra and the Paper Mill Playhouse.

Berson spoke at the dedication ceremony, noting the importance of the Institute’s work.

“Clem and the Institute have played a pivotal role in the work they do, in bringing African American history beyond the classroom and into the community,” said Berson. “I saw Newark at it’s darkest hour. At the end of the day, sharing our stories and learning from one another is about ethics. It’s about coming together and treating people well.”

Berson’s gift will go officially to the Clement A. Price Endowment for the Humanities, which Price set up in 2010 to sustain the Institute and its work, including the MTW Lecture Series. He did so with an inaugural gift of his own: $100K.

Shortly thereafter, his Endowment received a $250k Challenge Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The grant stipulates that Price and his team raise three times that amount, or $750K, to be eligible for the federal dollars.

Berson’s gift moves Price’s Endowment closer to that goal, putting the Challenge total raised at $450K. The Price Endowment must raise the remaining $300K by July 31, 2015, for the NEH’s money to follow.

“I think we can do it,” says Price. “I have faith that more people like Mark [Berson] and his family will come aboard.”

Who to contact:
Lawrence Lerner