The Sullivans: A History of Social Good

I’m proud of something. I’m proud of who I am. I’m proud of a lot of the choices I have made and a lot of the things I have accomplished with helping others through fundraisers, charities and just getting across the street. Is that an egotistical thing to say? No. I don’t think so. As long as what we do is pure of heart and it comes without looking for rewards.

It’s who I am. It’s what my family has always been and it’s a part of my genetic design. It’s what Sullivans do and have always done. We put things right where they have been wronged and been part of the change needed to better the world around us.

My great great grand-uncle was Big Tim Sullivan the first Irish Catholic state senator elected to office in turn of the century New York. He rose in power through the harrowing streets of the Five Points district of old New York and eventually to the corrupt hallways of old Tammany Hall. Was he saint? No. Not by any stretch of the imagination. He was after all a politician.

But he cared about people and became the savior of the broken, the beaten and damned of the city. He filled his pockets with coins and as he left his office and poor street urchins would rush him and dig through the giant’s pockets for the treasure they knew awaited them. He loved the children and believed that no child no matter their race or religion should be shoeless. Every holiday season he brought shoes for every child that needed them and back then that was a lot of shoes.

He passed into law The Sullivan Law which meant you couldn’t carry a concealed weapon in the state of New York and was the first male politician to stand up and fight for a woman’s rights in the work place and voting booths. On his passing it seemed every citizen turned out for his funeral. It’s still considered to be the largest public funeral in the city’s history.

My father’s Aunt Betty, Big Tim’s niece was a chief player in Queens, NY where she worked with charitable organizations as well as school boards to better education in the areas of Woodside and Sunnyside, where I now call home. But the person that did so much for others was my mother, Dawn Sullivan.


Mom worked tirelessly as a tenant activist here in New York and is responsible for saving more people’s homes and changing rent laws than any other non political player in the city. She started the Eastside Tenant Coalition and volunteered for more charities and committees than were even thought of. And the funny part of it all was she wasn’t even a citizen. She was an Australian and fiercely proud of it! But she loved people. She loved her adopted city. She was me and my sibling’s direct inspiration for what we would become.

I see the same fire in my 3 year old daughter. I knew it was there when she overheard my wife and I talking about my work with Amanda Hite and the No Kid Hungry campaign to end childhood hunger in America. She was confused and asked, “You mean there are children that have no food? What can I do?” She understands hunger and her appetite to end it is strong. So she does what she can. It’s in her genetic make-up. She is a Sullivan.

Everyone has the gene to do good. To be the change. If you aren’t involved in some charity or organization that is trying to make a difference I urge you to get connected with one. You could be the start of generations of society changers and this world will be the better for it.