Sheila C. Johnson, Entrepreneur and Philanthropist, Creates Fellowship at Harvard Kennedy School for Students Committed to Working in African-American and Other Underserved Communities

Contact: Doug Gavel
Phone: 617-495-1115
Date: October 31, 2013

Cambridge, MA—Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) announced today the creation of the Sheila C. Johnson Fellowships, which are slated to bring to HKS each year ten emerging leaders dedicated to improving the lives of the underserved in the United States, including those in the African-American community.

“We need to develop more leaders with a broad skill set to serve African-American and other under-resourced communities,” Johnson, currently Founder and CEO of Salamander Hotels & Resorts, explained. “An ability to work across sectors—public, private, and nonprofit—and to inspire innovative politics will help bring the sustainable improvements that these communities desperately need.”

Johnson’s $5 million gift will cover a five-year period—ultimately supporting 50 fellows—and will provide full tuition, health coverage, and a generous stipend toward any HKS graduate degree, including one obtained through HKS’s joint or concurrent degree programs with other schools.

The Center for Public Leadership (CPL) at HKS, which is led by Co-Directors David Gergen and Max Bazerman and Executive Director Patti Bellinger, will serve as a home base for the fellows on campus, providing a leadership development and cocurricular programming that will complement their academic work. Johnson, who is a member of CPL’s new Leadership Council and has joined the Executive Committee of the Kennedy School, is eager to see the fellows linked closely with an extensive network of alumni, mentors, and practitioners around the world.

“These fellowships can be a game changer in giving students concrete leadership skills and an expansive network to strengthen and transform communities,” said David Ellwood, Dean of HKS. “We aim to train the next generation of leaders for the public good. It is essential for us to attract people who understand the challenges faced by underserved communities and who can serve as exceptional leaders in their own right and educate all who aspire to make the world a better place.”

“We are thrilled by this breakthrough gift from Sheila Johnson,” added Gergen, who is also a Professor of Public Service at HKS. “The millennial generation is not only the biggest but the most diverse in American history. Some 40 percent are minorities. It is essential that we prepare more leaders to serve underrepresented communities in the coming years.”

The first Sheila C. Johnson Fellowships will be awarded for the academic year 2014-15. Students who are interested must submit applications to enroll at HKS no later than December 4, 2013.

Johnson is herself an inspiring role model of tri-sector leadership. A former violin virtuoso who, in her 20s, founded a topflight youth orchestra and worked with Queen Noor of Jordan on a national music conservatory, Johnson has since become a titan of the media and hospitality industries, as well as a noted philanthropist and advocate for worthy causes.

In the early 1980s, Johnson was a co-founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET) and has since served as the creator or executive producer for a number of socially-important programs and documentaries, including the award-winning BET series Teen Summit and the 2008 film Kicking It, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival that year. She was the executive producer and chief fundraiser for Lee Daniels’ The Butler, the critically-acclaimed film that topped North American box offices for three consecutive weeks earlier this year and is now widely seen as an Academy Awards contender. Most recently, she launched the Middleburg Film Festival, which debuted this past October 24-27.

Johnson is likewise a prominent entrepreneur in the hospitality, sports, and high-end consumer product industries. This past summer, in the same week that The Butler was on top of box office charts, she opened Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg, Virginia, one of four properties within the portfolio of her Salamander Hotels & Resorts company, which she founded in 2005. She is a partner in ProJet Aviation, an aircraft management and charter company, and she launched the Sheila Johnson Collection for which she designs luxury scarves. Johnson is also the first African-American woman to have an ownership stake in three professional sports teams—the WNBA’s Washington Mystics, the NBA’s Washington Wizards, and the NHL’s Washington Capitals.

Alongside her private sector success, Johnson has been a steadfast supporter of social change and innovation through her personal leadership and philanthropy. Since 2006, she has served as a global ambassador for CARE, a leading humanitarian organization that seeks to battle global poverty while placing a special emphasis on empowering women; since 2011 has worked closely on efforts to combat infectious disease in Africa as a member of Accordia Global Health’s International Council. Among other roles, she also sits on the Board of Governors of Parsons The New School for Design in New York.

About the Center for Public Leadership:
Established through a generous gift from a foundation funded by Les and Abigail Wexner, the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School seeks to develop a steady flow of young leaders who will serve the public good and a steady flow of young scholars in areas relating to leadership. The Center is currently home to five other fellowship programs with some 50 Fellows who work together to improve their leadership capacities.

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