Richard Buery ’97—A Continuing Commitment to Social Justice
As an undergraduate in Harvard College, Richard R. Buery Jr. ’97 co-founded a summer camp for children in Roxbury, MA. In the years since, he has often referred to it as a defining experience in his life. He graduated from Harvard committed to the idea of social justice but unsure of how to approach it as a career. “I knew that I did not want to be a lawyer,” he wrote in an email, “but I did not have a career plan after college other than wanting to continue a commitment to social justice I had begun to develop as an undergraduate.”
Today Buery is President and Chief Executive Officer of The Children’s Aid Society in New York City. For more than 150 years, the organization has provided comprehensive aid and services to children and families in need. Prior to joining The Children’s Aid Society, Buery founded and oversaw Groundwork, Inc., a nonprofit organization serving children and families in Brooklyn housing projects, and iMentor, which connects high school students with professional mentors over the Internet.
Though Buery entered YLS with little interest in becoming a lawyer, he discovered a place to continue his public service work. In the clinical program, he served as a student director in the Advocacy for People with Disabilities Clinic and worked with Professor Brett Dignam on a lawsuit challenging New York State’s felon disenfranchisement laws. His best memories, he writes, “are of the tremendous friends I made in law school. I met incredible people who today are changing the worlds of education, business, and politics. I met people who will be lifelong friends.” These people would include his wife, Deborah Archer ’96.
Upon graduation, Buery faced a choice: practice law or return to organizing public service projects. He spent a year clerking for Judge John Walker, and then a year as a staff attorney at the Brennan Center. While representing community groups in Louisiana that were challenging the siting of petrochemical facilities in minority and low-income neighborhoods, he came to a realization. “As I traveled to Louisiana and met with the organizations and community organizers in this movement,” he recalls, “it occurred to me that I would rather have their jobs than my own. I also missed the rush of being a leader and entrepreneur—I didn’t really like working for other people, and I was anxious to build organizations of my own.” Buery left the Brennan Center and went on to found iMentor and Groundwork.
As head of The Children’s Aid Society, Buery is in charge of an organization unlike any he has worked with before. He credits some of his success to the skills he acquired at YLS—critical thinking, writing, and people skills. At Children’s Aid, Buery is leading the agency’s efforts to increase its capacity to demonstrate its impact in the low-income communities it serves, to create new initiatives to bridge the achievement gap, and to improve fundraising and communications. He hopes to continue his life’s work at The Children’s Aid Society, helping to bring equal opportunity to the children of New York City.
Photograph by Michael DiVito, courtesy of the Children's Aid Society