A conversation with 2022 Spirit of Service Award winner Darren Walker
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A conversation with 2022 Spirit of Service Award winner Darren Walker

November 9, 2022

At the 21st annual Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals® gala in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 20, the Partnership presented its 2022 Spirit of Service Award to Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation. In his role as president since 2013, Walker has made it his mission to support transformative ideas, institutions and individuals dedicated to reducing poverty and injustice, strengthening democratic values, promoting international cooperation and advancing human achievement.

At our in-person Sammies gala, which recognizes exceptional federal employees who make significant contributions to our country, Raj Shah, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, interviewed Walker about his work.

Darren Walker at the 2022 Sammies in Washington on Sept. 20.

“Dignity and justice should also be the work of philanthropy,” Walker said. “As I was getting the great honor of serving as president of the Ford Foundation, and [as] we consider our future, the idea of a social justice philanthropy really appealed to me.”

Walker also discussed his upbringing and the opportunities he received earlier in his life as a result of the federal government, including the Head Start and Pell Grant award programs.

“Even though there were obstacles, I always felt that my country was cheering me on, that America wanted me to succeed,” he said.

Walker believes that many young children today lack the hope he had, adding that we should focus on “removing the barriers that come with poverty, geography … and not being destined to the outcomes you’re born to.” He emphasized that these opportunities would help rebuild young people’s hope in both their future and our democracy.

“The opportunity for mobility gives people hope,” he said. “It’s what gave me hope and allowed me to dream.”

In closing, Shah praised Walker for his innovation in the field of philanthropy and for inspiring other foundations to do more.

“I want to thank you for the leadership you show, the innovation you constantly fight for and the moral voice you use, day in and day out, to remind us of what so many of the public servants we’re honoring today remind us of—that hope is possible,” he said.

Read our blog post, “Celebrating the 2022 Sammies honorees,” for a recap of the Service to America Medals gala and to learn more about the outstanding accomplishments of these civil servants.

Tune in Wednesday, Nov. 23, at 8 p.m. EST for a star-studded television special to honor the 2022 Sammies winners, including Darren Walker. The special will air on Bloomberg Television and the Sammies website.

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Photo credit: Joshua Roberts

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