Media Titan Sheila C. Johnson Endows HKS Fellowship

A $5 million gift from media and entertainment titan Sheila C. Johnson will endow a new fellowship at the Harvard Kennedy School to fund the expenses of emerging student leaders dedicated to improving the lives of the underserved in the United States, according to a press release Thursday.

“These fellowships can be a game changer in giving students concrete leadership skills and an expansive network to strengthen and transform communities,” said Kennedy School Dean David T. Ellwood ’75 in the press release. “It is essential for us to attract people who understand the challenges faced by underserved communities.”

Every year for the next five years, ten Sheila C. Johnson Fellows will receive full tuition to the Kennedy School and any joint programs that they pursue at other Harvard graduate schools, along with full health coverage and a stipend. The fellows’ academic work will be complemented by leadership development and co-curricular education at the Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership.

“We need to develop more leaders with a broad skill set to serve African-American and other under-resourced communities,” Johnson said in the press release. “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.”

Once the fellowship launches next fall, Johnson’s role will be “hands on,” said Patricia S. Bellinger '83, the executive director of the Center for Public Leadership and a former Crimson editor. She plans to host the fellows at Salamander Hotels & Resorts, of which Johnson is CEO and founder.

Johnson’s philanthropy extends beyond her gift to the Kennedy School. She has done work for CARE, a humanitarian organization that seeks to address global poverty, and for Accordia Global Health Foundation’s International Council, which works to combat infectious disease in Africa.

In addition to her philanthropic work, Johnson has used her career in the media industry to advocate for African-American communities.

In 1983, Johnson helped co-found Black Entertainment Television, an American cable television channel which now reaches more than 90 million households. More recently, Johnson championed the making of the critically acclaimed historical motion picture “The Butler”—which chronicles many decades of service by an African-American butler at the White House—as both chief fundraiser for the film and its executive producer.

While “The Butler” sat atop box office charts, Johnson unveiled the inaugural Middleburg Film Festival, which was held last month in Middleburg, Virginia, where she lives.

—Staff writer Steven R. Watros can be reached at steven.watros@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @SteveWatros.

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