Reco Charity is a member of CSF’s President’s Council and an attorney at Paul Weiss in New York City. Originally from Richmond, he earned a full scholarship to Virginia Tech and went on to graduate from Georgetown University Law Center. In 2018, he established the Reco Charity Fund “to serve and support inner city and low-income youth.” Recently, we sat down with Reco to discuss his motivation for philanthropy and giving back to the next generation.
Q: How did you find out about CSF and how does CSF fit into your overall giving plans?
A: I was getting involved with philanthropy and working with students back home in Richmond, Virginia (working with my high school alma mater and nonprofits in the area), but in recognition that New York is also part of my community, I wanted to be involved here as well. I was online looking for opportunities to give back in the New York area, and I stumbled across CSF. I thought, “Wow, this sounds perfectly aligned with what I’m trying to do.”
Going to events and listening to CSF Scholars tell me about their goals, their dreams, and their ambitions, I was just blown away with how intelligent, how articulate, and how smart these students are. Anything I can do to help on their journey, I want to do that. It’s about helping students get to their highest potential and not having their financial background be a roadblock.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your own education journey from Kindergarten to 12th grade and your transition to college?
A: The contrast between K-12 and college was pretty much night and day for me. In Kindergarten and all through high school, the demographic makeup of my school and community was predominately Black, and those who weren’t Black were Hispanic (however, we didn’t draw any distinctions between the two). It seemed as though everyone’s household was similar to mine (some may have been worse). Everyone lived in homes that were packed with way too many people. Sleeping on floors and couches was commonplace because there could be ten people living in a three-bedroom home. This was the norm.
Fast forward to college, the world turned upside down. I experienced life as a minority for the first time, and the differences between me and many of my fellow classmates in resources, upbringing, and even vocabulary were starkly apparent. I understood going into college that I didn’t grow up with the same resources and privileges as some of my peers. I understood I experienced a different type of adversity than that of some of my peers. However, what I did not anticipate was that some of the things from my childhood that I considered normal across the board were abnormal to my peers who grew up in communities vastly different from mine.
Q: What about academics? Was there a big difference between the way you’d been taught in high school compared with college?
A: My approach to academics and study habits was challenged my very first semester. Prior to college, I never had study habits; I never knew we needed them. In K-12, we couldn’t take our textbooks home—I guess this was because our school did not have as many resources as other schools. No one in my school had a laptop and smartphones were not available yet. So not having those resources, I never studied outside of school. I don’t believe anyone did. If homework was ever given, we did it when we got to school that morning or prior to basketball practice the evening before. Either way, our textbooks never left the school.
When I got to college – embarrassing story – I never took my books out of the shrink-wrap during my first semester. I just never built that habit. That first semester I got some of my worst grades through all of college. It seemed as though everyone else was doing very well, which left me thinking, “What happened?” That was a very eye-opening experience for me. Building those study habits wasn’t a part of my academic journey up until that point, and it was a tough thing to deal with. However, the following semester I finally opened my books and I made the Dean’s List.
Q: Despite the challenges you had, you must have been extremely motivated to apply for a scholarship to Virginia Tech. Where did that motivation come from?
A: My mom had a huge impact on me. For as long as I can remember, she’s been telling me, “You can do whatever you want to do if you just put your mind to it and do it.” Literally, that’s what she said about almost every goal I told her I had, no matter how ridiculous it sounded. She never told me no. And I think over the years, when anything happened that discouraged me or made me second guess my goals, I would always remember the thousands or maybe the millions of times she told me I could do it.
When I was in kindergarten, I didn’t know anything about college, and as I looked around my community, I realized no one else knew did either. No one had gone to college. Most hadn’t graduated high school. They were saying, “Hey, finish school, go to college, and your life will be better.” I absorbed all this, and whatever better was, I wanted it. However, this came with a new challenge, which left me thinking, “Okay, we can’t afford college. Everyone around me is already struggling to make ends meet. How am I going to get there? It has to be me. I’ve got to get a scholarship.” It was that push of seeing my surroundings and not wanting that for myself, for my family and friends, or for anyone that comes after me.
Also, I have a younger sister — she’s eight years younger than me. I think she is going to do phenomenal and amazing things in life (she’s already been working towards them). However, on her journey she may experience her fair share of obstacles and potential setbacks. In those moments, I want to be able to tell her, “I get it, I was there, but you can’t quit,” and I can’t tell her she can’t quit if I quit.
Q: Can you expand a little more on how you want to be an example for people coming after you?
A: I think there’s a saying that goes, “Be the person that you needed when you were younger.” And I really absorbed that and took it to heart. It’s really that ideal that fuels everything I want to do for the generations after me and the generations after them, because I know what I needed. I needed to see someone who did the things I wanted to do. I needed to see how they did it. Now that I have been able to do some things, I want to be able to give back to anybody that’s coming after me and tell them, “Okay, this is how I did it, now you do it and do it better than me, go further than me. And when you do it, go back and get two more people and have them go further than you.” I think that’s a big part of why I care a lot about the generations after me, because we can create such a large impact in an incremental, person-by-person manner. I don’t understate the value of that.
Q: Can you tell us about the Reco Charity Fund? Why was it important for you to be so organized about giving philanthropically now rather than waiting until you’re older?
A: It’s that idea right there, waiting. It’s like, “Why wait?” I want to be able to build things, change the world, impact the community, and create things. I also want to take a significant amount of the money I make throughout my lifetime and donate it to, and have an impact on, causes that are important. Education is one of those causes. I kept telling myself, “Wait until you have more money, wait until you have more resources, wait until you’re older.” Then one day it hit me, “Why? Why am I putting it off?” Habits aren’t something you just turn on one day. Habits are built incrementally, so I should be able to take that first step now.
I started with a scholarship idea at my high school. I pledged to give $2,000 between two students every year for the rest of my life. Then after writing those thousand dollar checks, I was like, “Okay, that didn’t kill me. Let’s go further.” Then I decided to give at least $100,000 by the time I’m 35. That was going to require me to give away at least $10,000 every year. How do you force yourself to give $10,000 a year (especially while still having student loan debt from law school)? The Fund was a way for me to just take the money out of my hands and set it aside, specifically for philanthropic giving. And since I’ve done that, the habit is still growing.
I’m 28, and I’m on track to hit that number well before 35, so now I have a new number that I’m aiming for. I’m building a habit of being a philanthropist now so by the time I would have otherwise “waited until I was older” to give, I will have built up that habit to a point where it’s second nature, and hopefully I will be in a position to help other people realize, “Oh, you don’t have to wait for this.”
Q: If you could share just one piece of advice with CSF Scholars and alumni, what would it be?
A: Read more! I think one thing that I would go back and tell myself in college, in high school, even in middle school, is to read more. And it’s not that hard. I’m probably as busy as I’ve ever been in life and I can still get about 40 books a year in (and in most instances reading those books at least twice). Being able to read and learn from other people’s experiences, you make these people your mentors in a way. You can learn from them and obtain a wider view of the world, while being able to connect different ideas, find synergies between and among concepts, and sharpen your ability to think in contrast to memorizing facts. I promise you, it’s not as tough as it sounds!
Q: It’s amazing that your last name is Charity and you’re involved with charity. Does that come up a lot?
A: [Laughing] Yeah, people bring it up all the time. I think it’s really, really cool. People say, “It was your destiny to help people.” Maybe, but maybe not because of my last name. I really care about education. I think being able to access resources to further one’s learning is one of the most important, most fundamental things we have as human beings and being able to provide that access is one of the most important things we can do for one another as a community.
A condensed version of this interview appeared in CSF’s Fall 2019 newsletter.