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On most days, Tommy Amaker travels from his home in Newton to Harvard’s Lavietes Pavilion, where he works from his office.
But once a month, the fourth-year Harvard men’s basketball coach adds a different element to his routine.
On these days, Amaker pays a visit to Harvard Square restaurant Henrietta’s Table. It is there that Amaker meets with nearly a dozen predominately African-American scholars, doctors, and businessmen from the Boston area for a monthly breakfast that provides an opportunity for the group to share in conversation, laughter, and good-natured trash talking.
“We get there, we eat, we solve the world’s problems, and then we go back out in the world,” Amaker explains with a laugh.
The breakfasts, which began in 2007 when Amaker first arrived at Harvard, offer Amaker and the other attendees a chance to stay connected to the community, develop friendships, and learn from others.
Participants include Harvard Law School professors Charles J. Ogletree Jr. and Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., journalist Howard Manly, surgeon Augustus White III, former Harvard Business School dean John McArthur, and local business owner Richard Taylor, among others. While the diverse group spends a large share of each breakfast discussing politics, current events, and swapping stories, sports is a regular conversation topic.
With the members supporting a variety of different professional teams, lively debates often ensue.
“I never leave there without having laughed heartily,” says Sullivan, who fondly recalls one conversation when attendees boasted of their past athletic triumphs. “It’s as much fun as we tend to be able to get these days.”
While today the group includes nearly two-dozen members, the group has much more humble beginnings.
It began in 2007 when Ogletree—a lifelong basketball fan—learned that Amaker—a former Duke standout who went on to coach at Seton Hall and Michigan—was taking over the Harvard program.
Excited by the new addition to the Harvard community, Ogletree sought to make the new coach feel welcome, inviting Amaker and his wife, Stephanie Pinder-Amaker, to a concert and dinner.
Before long, Ogletree made plans with Amaker to visit one of his favorite breakfast spots—Henrietta’s Table, a sun-filled, moderately upscale restaurant situated in the Charles Hotel.
The original party consisted of four members: Amaker, Ogletree, Sullivan—Ogletree’s former student at the law school—and Manly, the executive editor of The Bay State Banner. It quickly grew as more people learned of the gathering.
“It’s funny, when some people have found out about it they’ve gotten a little—I won’t use the word jealous—but they’ve asked, ‘How come I don’t get an invite?’” Amaker says. “And it kind of grew like that.”
As the breakfast club has grown, so too has the Harvard basketball program’s fan base among prominent figures in the Boston area.
Today, Ogletree and Sullivan own two sets of season tickets to the Crimson’s game—one located on the new floor seats and the other a handful of rows behind the Harvard bench.
But some of the breakfast regulars have taken on an even larger role than simply a casual fan. Ogletree has emerged as a mentor figure to some Crimson players, particularly sophomore Kyle Casey.
“It’s definitely been a really good experience,” says Casey of his relationship with the professor. “To have such an important leader on campus that always has an open door for you is good, and it’s a great experience to have time to spend time with him and get to know him.”
According to Amaker, this connection between the Harvard basketball program and the local academic community is another positive product of the monthly breakfasts.
“For these guys to come to our games and then to meet the players—they’ve been incredibly supportive in that way,” Amaker says. “That’s another way that all this is such a positive impact not only just for us or me, but certainly for our players.”
But mentoring isn’t all that Amaker receives from his breakfast peers. According to the coach, he also receives a good deal of coaching advice.
“They have all kinds of advice,” Amaker says. “Believe me, they have all kinds of advice and questions and substitutions. They don’t hold back at all. We have a good time with that too.”
But while the breakfasts serve as a forum to bounce around coaching advice, most members maintain that their primary purpose hasn’t changed since Sullivan, Manly, Ogletree, and Amaker met for the first time—to develop friendships and connections to the community.
“Boston over the years has lost a lot of talented people because they haven’t been comfortable here, so you want to be sure that that doesn’t happen here,” says Taylor of the city’s complicated racial history. “It’s really a very helpful kind of network.”
And at the end of the meal when its time to pick up the check, it is Amaker who often steps up.
“I want to do that,” Amaker says. “I’ve been able to reach out and pick it up. That’s been fun for me to be able to do.”
—Staff writer Martin Kessler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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