Efforts to develop the African and African American Studies program at George Mason University are being aided by a recent gift from businessman and philanthropist Alan Meltzer.
“We are working to grow this program at a very important time in the history of our country,” says LaNitra Berger, associate director of the African and African American Studies (AAAS) program in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Berger and AAAS program director Charles Chavis aim to deepen the program’s offerings and eventually advance it from a minor to an academic major.
Meltzer’s gift of $20,000 will be used to establish a study abroad scholarship specifically for AAAS students, to support two faculty who are on research leave, and to develop a multicultural fellowship program, where AAAS students serve as emissaries to other ethnic student organizations, says Berger.
“For example, we have one student who is an emissary to Mason Hillel. Her goal is to foster ties between Black student groups and Jewish student groups on campus,” says Berger. “I’ve seen how that is an incredible leadership opportunity for the students involved.”
Meltzer is the founder and CEO of NFP / The Meltzer Group, an insurance company based in Bethesda, Md. He graduated from American University, where he was the captain of the wrestling team, and remains strongly tied to that university, currently serving on its Board of Trustees. His support for Mason began in the 1990s, and he grew especially close to President Alan Merten and men’s basketball coach Jim Larrañaga.
Meltzer says that after he took a class at American about Black-Jewish relationships, a mutual friend put him in touch with Berger. The pair immediately clicked, connecting over their shared interest in developing a dialogue across the two communities, especially around issues of social justice and civil rights.
“LaNitra told me about what she is doing to build a program at Mason,” says Meltzer. “She and I became very involved with a group of Jewish and Black people who want to get to know each other better, and if there are tensions between Blacks and Jews, to learn how to help resolve them.”
“Alan has a heart of gold and is very intellectually curious,” says Berger, who is also senior director of the Office of Fellowships at Mason’s Office of Undergraduate Education. “He really cares about this issue, and likes to find and support the people who will talk about the problems openly and are working on solutions.”
In 2019 Meltzer and his wife, Amy, donated $2 million to create the Meltzer Fellowship for American University’s Center for Israel Studies, which is celebrated nationally as the first center of its kind. NFP / The Meltzer Group is highly regarded in the region for its employee-driven corporate philanthropy, and Meltzer has served on the boards of many charitable organizations, including the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the Wolf Trap Foundation, For Love of Children, and the United Jewish Endowment Fund.
“More people have woken up to this issue [of inequality] because of what happened to George Floyd, and maybe we’re reaching a turning point,” says Meltzer. “No one is going to be color blind, but everyone is God’s child, and if I can do a tiny bit to help so that more people can understand that and want to do something about it, then I’m a happy guy.”
—Rob Riordan, February 23, 2022