Ford Foundation president shares views on inequality, justice at KPU event
Darren Walker said he is more interested in a ‘just’ America than a ‘great’ America
The Kennedy Political Union and the School of Public Affairs hosted Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, on Wednesday to speak about the fight for justice, democracy and an economy that benefits all on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
The conversation was moderated by Shyheim Snead, director of KPU, and David Marcotte, an AU professor and director of the Washington Institute of Public Affairs Research. During the panel, Walker spoke about the meaning behind the anniversary of King’s assassination.
“When Dr. King was assassinated, he was on a Ford grant,” Walker said. “There had been a series of retreats of African-American ministers the year through SCLC [Southern Christian Leadership Conference], and the Ford Foundation [helped fund them].”
Walker spoke about the mission of the Ford Foundation, a private foundation that aims to advance human rights, and the motives they place behind their grants.
“We are a civil rights foundation,” Walker said. “Inequality for us became our issue. Addressing it, reducing it became our cause. Inequality in so many ways contributed to the current condition in America and in the world.”
Walker touched on the need for interdisciplinary approaches to sociological problems, which is something that he says he admires about the work done at AU.
“The role of culture and the role of rule of law and all of these things coming together and the interdisciplinary ways in which you have to understand these things is often not the way in which they were taught,” Walker said.
Walker said the work done by the Ford Foundation and researchers across the globe should look at problems through an intersectional lens, one which incorporates the voices of the communities being studied.
“Recognizing and honoring the wisdom and lived experience and authentic knowledge that people closest to the problem have -- that is very important,” Walker said.
When asked about his thoughts between a “great” America and a “just” America, Walker responded by emphasizing the framework detailed by the founding fathers of America.
“I am not interested in America being great,” Walker said. “Our founding fathers never used the word ‘great.’ They used words like ‘just’ and ‘free’ and ‘fair,’ and those are the words that inspire me.”
Walker emphasized the importance of culture and the “gray space” in which he chooses to analyze and solve problems.
“Today we live in a world where far too many people seek to convince us that the world is a set of binaries,” Walker said. “Of course, there are different views, and of course there is legitimacy on both sides of a perspective. But, what we need are people who are willing to engage and engage in ways that recognize tolerance. Tolerance is not a function of your political perspective.”