ICS’ Harry Bonsu Receives Top Award From SUNY New Paltz
Harry—who was joined by family and friends—was honored at his alma mater on October 19. SUNY New Paltz President Donald Christian presented Harry with the Heritage Award, the institution’s highest honor, which recognizes an alumni “whose devotion to the ideals of the college serve as an extraordinary example to the entire New Paltz community.”
Harry—who was born in Ghana—migrated to Brooklyn at the age of 5, and was raised in Crown Heights and East Flatbush. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and Finance at SUNY New Paltz, and later earned his Master of Business Administration at the University of Phoenix. Harry resides in Middletown, New York, with his wife, Pam, and their children, Justin, Jontelle, and Janae.
With 25 years of experience as a top-level administrator in the fields of health care, human services and small business, Harry—who previously served as chief financial and administrative officer at Safe Space NYC and director of administration at the American Red Cross in Greater NYC—has served on the ICS leadership team since 2008.
ICS recently spoke with Harry about receiving the award, his life changing experience at SUNY New Paltz, and how ICS holds a special place in his life.
What was your reaction to receiving the award?
I was contacted by the college and told that SUNY New Paltz President Christian had chosen me for the award. I was surprised and humbled by it.
How did it feel to receive such a prestigious award?
It is truly an honor. The day was during a reunion weekend for 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s graduates. Some fraternity brothers and administrators attended who I knew and that was nice.
I didn’t feel I was worthy. There are many alums who do so many things. But after a conversation with Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Erica Marks, she reminded me of the significance I have to the college. I visit often and speak at events. I mentor students who need career guidance, help with their resumes and have lunches with students. I joined the school’s fundraising campaign team to raise money for student scholarships. For 20 years, I have been giving scholarships to underserved students.
Erica told me, “You’re a person they can relate to. Whenever we call, you always say yes.”
It’s important for me that students know there is someone who cares about them and their development. When they read the accolades at the event, my family was very proud. And I have to thank my wife for being my rock. She helps me balance a lot of things, enables me to do what I do. It makes a world of difference.
How was your experience at SUNY New Paltz?
Growing up in Brooklyn, I never really migrated out. SUNY New Paltz was the most affordable option. It allowed me to be on campus and get away from the city. It’s a microcosm of the bigger world.
My first roommate—from Schenectady, New York—was never exposed to African Americans. I had never seen many Caucasians. We became the best of friends. We wouldn’t eat without each other. We looked out for each other. We taught each other a lot, and have stayed connected for 30 years. Kappa Alpha Psi, the fraternity I joined, is a big aspect of my life.
The political science curriculum was dynamic and rigorous, and forced you to think outside the box. Those were the best years of my life. I evolved into a man, I really broadened my horizons and discovered new cultures. I can’t speak enough about New Paltz.
What have you enjoyed about ICS?
It’s like no other place and that’s intentional. I love the mission of our organization. I didn’t understand the magnitude of the work until I came here.
We want the staff and members who come into our environment to know all that’s done is coming from a genuine place. We do what’s right by our members. That drives our approach to the work, and it starts with our leadership. I’ve grown to respect Rick Surpin and Regina Estela, and care for them as they care for me. During the tough times, we have stuck together. Sacrifices had to be made as part of our transition. We know we will rebuild, accomplish our goals, and turn our finances around.
You’re a board member and treasurer for the Dream Builders Foundation, a nonprofit committed to promoting education as a cornerstone of youth development and empowerment. Do you have time for any hobbies?
We raise money and give scholarships for college to students in the Northeastern region. As the treasurer, I’m very busy (laughs). I coached my son’s basketball middle school team and I’ll coach the high school team. When you coach, you’re more than a coach. Some kids come from places where parents aren’t really involved. You check on their grades, speak to teachers, and get them on the right track. You use sports to prepare kids for life—making tough decisions, focusing on team work, and being a leader.
Is there anything on your bucket list of things you’d like to accomplish?
I love working with young people. There’s a gym that I have a stake in, in Goshen, New York. It’s used for basketball training and tournaments and volleyball. Kids come in after school to play. There’s toddler training and adult leagues. There’s also midnight madness, where firemen, cops, and civic workers gather to play late at night.
Young folks know you, and gravitate to you. It’s so rewarding. After retirement, I always want to be around that environment. I will never stop doing that.
About The Independent
The Independent is ICS’ official newsletter, featuring the latest stories around ICS, its members and staff, as well as news on what’s happening in the disability community at large.