Gardner Award Goes To Michael Brown


Michael Brown, co-founder and CEO of City Year, will receive the 2015 John W. Gardner Leadership Award from Independent Sector. The award will be presented at the John W. Gardner Leadership Luncheon on Oct. 29, 2015, concluding the 2015 Independent Sector National Conference in Miami.

Brown will be honored for his leadership in the national service movement, his commitment to education and social justice, and his belief in the potential of every young person, according to a release from Independent Sector. “His leadership in the movement has been most powerfully evidenced by his co-founding and leadership of City Year, a national service education organization whose dedicated corps members serve full-time for a year in schools in high-poverty communities,” according to the release.

City Year provides one-on-one tutoring, organizes afterschool programs and other school-wide initiatives, and works together with school leaders, teachers and families to ensure success for all students. Brown also helped champion the founding of AmeriCorps and serves as an advocate for several service-oriented organizations.

“Through the creation of City Year, Michael has helped build what his friends and supporters have called ‘the missing link in our democracy’—a culture of national service,” said Ron Kagan, president and CEO of the Detroit Zoological Society, chair of the 2015 John W. Gardner Leadership Award Committee and a member of the IS Board of Directors. “Growing City Year from a handful of corps members into a nationwide model that has inspired presidents to build national service into their legacies, Michael has exemplified the transformative leadership and high ideals of John W. Gardner, and we are delighted to recognize him with the award that bears Gardner’s name.”

Brown and his Harvard College roommate, Alan Khazei, became enthralled with the idea of national service while they were still undergraduates. Brown had taken a year off from college to serve as a legislative aide with then-Congressman Leon Panetta, who introduced him to the idea of national service. Brown became convinced that national service was the path to a more just nation and participatory democracy. After law school, he spent his nights on City Year while serving as a law clerk for Judge Stephen Breyer, long before Breyer’s appointment to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Eventually Brown began working on City Year full-time, which friends and family described as tantamount to “running off to join the circus.” He and Khazei launched City Year as a summer pilot program in Boston with 50 diverse corps members and quickly transitioned to a year-round program for young adults to partner with local nonprofits to perform community service. The program was entirely supported by private funding in those early days. Then-Governor Bill Clinton visited City Year during a presidential primary campaign stop, and grew inspired by what he saw. In 1993, Michael and City Year worked with President Clinton to champion the creation of AmeriCorps in the halls of Congress.

Today, all City Year corps members are members of AmeriCorps. In their signature bright red and yellow jackets, corps members can be spotted in 26 cities around the country, and in international affiliate locations including the United Kingdom and South Africa, the latter at the joint urging of Presidents Clinton and Nelson Mandela.

Brown is a past board member of Independent Sector and a trustee of America’s Promise Alliance, and currently serves on the boards of Cradles to Crayons and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. He is a graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Law School, where he served as an editor of the Harvard Law Review. He is also a member of the Harvard Board of Overseers.

He was included three times — 2009, 2010, 2011 – in The NonProfit Times Power & Influence Top 50.

The John W. Gardner Leadership Award is named after John W. Gardner, the founding chair of Independent Sector. An advisor to six presidents and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Gardner was an active and distinguished participant in America’s educational, philanthropic, and political life, and his many achievements demonstrate the ideals this award celebrates.

The award is supported by the William Randolph Hearst Foundations and includes a replica of an original bust of John Gardner by the late sculptor Frederick Hart.

To learn more about the John W. Gardner Leadership Award, visit:

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