For a career in education, activism, and social justice, and a life of service to church and community, Reverend Dr. Calvin O. Butts, III, pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church of New York City for more than 30 years, has been named the recipient of Riverdale Country School’s 2022 Jolli Humanitarian Award. Established in 2010 and given each year by members of Riverdale’s sophomore class, the award, founded by Gregg Hymowitz, recognizes exceptional humanitarian contributions.
Throughout his extensive career, in addition to serving as the 20th pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church, Dr. Butts has served as president of SUNY College – Old Westbury, and was influential in the establishment of both the Thurgood Marshall Academy for Learning and Social Change – a public, state-of-the-art, intermediate and high school in Harlem, and the Thurgood Marshall Academy Lower School. Additionally, he is the current chairman of the Abyssinian Development Corporation, a community-based, non-profit organization responsible for over $1 billion in housing and commercial development in Harlem, where Abyssinian Baptist Church has been located for nearly a century. His work has included efforts to eradicate homelessness, care for senior citizens, and enable youth empowerment.
Dr. Butts has a close connection to Riverdale: three of his grandsons are Riverdale students and his daughter-in-law, Tiffany Ellis Butts, is a trustee and president of Riverdale’s Parents Association. In fact, when he was a sophomore last year, Calvin Butts V nominated his grandfather for this recognition.
At the event, Calvin Butts V ‘24 introduced his grandfather by reading from the essay he wrote to nominate him for the award. “Reverend Dr. Calvin O. Butts, III is a profound educator, scholar, activist, and humanitarian who has made this world a better place for everyone he has interacted with,” he said, “The career of my grandfather has been focused on bettering the quality of life for all humans and that is why he’s the perfect candidate for the Jolli Humanitarian Award.”
In his remarks, webcast over Zoom, Dr. Butts said, “Our education teaches us not to judge people by the color of their skin but by the content of their character; not to judge people by where they come from but by what they contributed to the betterment of humanity. I take the time to applaud those who set aside recognition for our young men and women and to the Riverdale Country School for keeping this tradition alive.”
Dr. Butts continued, “Always do your best to improve someone else’s life and you will see improvement in your own. I encourage you, most importantly, to get a solid education. Read all you can. Study all you can. Do all you can to improve your position in life. Get plenty of rest. Train your mind and your body so you’re not wasting your potential in the end.”
Several members of the Butts family attended the awards assembly, including Patricia R. Butts, Dr. Butts’ wife for 51 years. They’re pictured in front of the building on the Hill Campus that will bear Dr. Butts’ name throughout this school year.
Watch the entire 2022 Jolli Humanitarian Awards Assembly here.
On October 9 Head of Middle School Milton Sipp and Head of High School Tom Taylor visited the Abyssinian Baptist Church to share the news of Reverend Butts’ honor. Mr. Sipp shared, “It was joyful and the service and the reception after were a reminder of the way the world should be…that people of different faiths and beliefs could join together both live and on live stream to celebrate community and the work of this historic figure.” Watch the entire presentation here.