Darren Walker: “My American dream”

As part of a new series, People magazine profiles Ford Foundation president Darren Walker—who, many years before rising to lead the world’s second-largest philanthropy, was one of the Head Start program’s first graduates. “Too often, hopes and dreams are squashed by poverty or violence,” he says. “But then you see these signals of hope, these indications of generosity.”

Published in People magazine | November 10, 2014
My American dream: Great success against all odds
By K. C. Baker

Born in a Louisiana charity hospital, Darren Walker grew up in a poor town in rural Texas with his single mother and three sisters. But even at a young age, he tells PEOPLE, “I had a thirst for what was beyond the horizon.”

His life changed in 1965, when his mother, Beulah Spencer, a nurse's aide, enrolled the 5-year-old in a new educational program called Head Start, which gave him “a window into a world beyond my immediate circumstances,” he says.

Today, as president of the nonprofit Ford Foundation, Walker, 55—who lives in Manhattan with his partner David Beitzel, 57, an art dealer, and their bulldog Mary Lou—directs annual charitable giving of some $500 million, which has included awards to Head Start and the Pell Grants that helped fund his own education at the University of Texas at Austin and its law school.

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The Ford Foundation

The Ford Foundation is an independent, nonprofit grant-making organization. For more than 80 years it has worked with courageous people on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. With headquarters in New York, the foundation has offices in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.