Newton Inspires has a big night, showcases rockstar Newtonians

Newton Inspires, a Newton Schools Foundation gala featuring five inspiring speakers with Newton connections, was held on March 14.

Over 100 people attended the evening event, held at Newton South High School, with an Indian dinner provided by Newton Highlands’ Shiva’s Kitchen and amazing pastries from Newton Centre’s SALT Patisserie. Attendees included Newton Public School parents, former students, and current and former teachers, along with city officials and business owners.

Newton Inspires is a community fundraising event that typically raises about $30K. Besides donations from attendees, event income came from sponsors, including The Village Bank, Northland, and Wegmans, with additional funding from the Rotary Club of Newton and Newton School Committee. According to Joe De Vito of The Village Bank,

“We love what Newton Schools Foundation does for the kids of Newton.” Newton Inspires co-chairs Sally Brickell and Patty McCabe report that Newton Schools Foundation awarded $4 million in grants since 1985, including 60 grants in 2023, totaling $243K with at least one grant going to each public school in Newton.

Dr. Adrian B. Mims Sr.

The first speaker, Dr. Adrian B. Mims Sr., is founder and CEO of The Calculus Project, which partners with Newton Public Schools to enable Black, Hispanic, and low-income students to become successful in mathematics and pursue STEM careers. Currently, around 200 Newton students are enrolled across grades 8-12. Students are given background math courses over the summer and academic support during the school year.

According to Dr. Mims, “The goal of the Calculus Project is closing the math achievement gap among low-income and minority students.” Dr. Mims provided data showing that students in this program reached achievement levels comparable to other Newton students, highlighted by acceptance into leading universities.

The audience could choose between two speakers for the second session:

Marguerite A. Fletcher

Marguerite A. Fletcher is a Newton resident and former attorney who now works as a consultant on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Her main clients are companies, non-profit organizations, law schools and law firms, and professional organizations. She provides guidance, gives presentations, and runs workshops on issues including hiring and retention practices, planning for diversity and inclusion, and leadership training.

Thom Solo

Thom Solo, a graduate of the Underwood School and Bigelow Middle School, designs high end women’s shoes for models, entertainers, and actresses such as Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, and Lana Del Rey, and sells a ready-to-wear line. An exhibit of his shoes is currently at the Peabody Essex Museum, and a new exhibit will open April 13 at the Museum of Fine Arts.

During a discussion with former style editor, Newton resident, and parent Jill Radsken, Solo explained his unconventional career path, stating, “I don’t like rules. I was a big rule breaker in high school.” But he knew he wanted to work in high fashion. When asked what inspires him, he replied, “Every collection is a love letter to women. These shoes accentuate the power of women.” He emphasized that his shoes are designed for comfort and durability, as well as luxury and beauty.

Thom Solo and Jill Radsken stand in front of a screen featuring Solo’s shoes. Photo by Richard Primack

Anike Tourse

The keynote speaker was Anike Tourse, who recently wrote, directed, and acted in a feature film, “America’s Family,” about a family in the U.S. who are broken apart by the immigration service and seek to reunite and remain in the country. Tourse said that the film, which took her 23 years to make, was influenced by her background as a Jewish woman of color. The film is currently available on streaming platforms, and efforts are also being made to distribute the film to educational markets.

Tourse spoke appreciatively of the Newton teachers who had a positive influence on her, many of whom were in the audience. In talking about her time as a Newton student she said, “My experiences in Newton schools taught me to be a critical thinker and to make decisions myself.”

Anike Tourse speaks to the Newton Inspires audience about her film. Photo by Richard Primack

Newton Inspires was a successful and educational night, with engaging speakers and opportunities to connect during the dinner and post-talk reception.

Thiago Silva of SALT Patisserie provided dessert to the Newton Inspires event. Photo by Richard Primack
Newton South High School senior Michael Chang has been sponsored by the Newton Schools Foundation to run the Boston Marathon. Photo by Sally Brickell