Living in: Washington DC, USA
Melanie R. Brown joined the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2015 as Senior Program Officer for U.S. Policy & Advocacy. She leads the Foundation’s national charter school, students with disabilities and early learning policy and advocacy portfolios. Prior to joining Gates, Melanie was a program officer at The Heinz Endowments in Pittsburgh, PA. While at Heinz, Melanie’s grant making focused on achieving equity in education for African American students and students from low-income communities.
Ms. Brown has previously served on numerous advisory boards including, the YWCA Center for Race and Gender Equity, New Voices Pittsburgh: Women of Color for Reproductive Justice and the Funders’ Collaborative for Youth Organizing in New York City. She currently sits on the Arts in Education Program Council at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She is the first alumna to serve in this capacity in the program’s 20-year history. Additionally, Melanie was appointed by a Democratic governor and then reappointed by a Republican governor to serve on the Pennsylvania State Workforce Investment Board, which focuses on building a strong workforce development system aligned with state education policies and economic development goals.
Melanie began her career as an educator at the SEED Public Charter School of Washington, D.C and later taught in China and Hong Kong as a recipient of the Crimson/China Culture Exchange Fellowship in partnership with Harvard University.
Melanie received a bachelor’s degree in secondary education and literature from American University, a master’s degree in Arts in Education from Harvard University, and a master’s degree in public management from Carnegie Mellon University. While at Harvard, Melanie’s capstone research focused on the role performing arts can play on the positive racial and ethnic identity development of African American and Latino girls. At Carnegie Mellon, Melanie focused much of her research on the state of education in post-genocide Rwanda.
She credits her parents, Archie and Gloria Brown, who were born and raised in segregated Alabama in the 1950s and 60s, for instilling a value of and commitment to social and racial justice.
Inequality has long eroded belief in core American principles like fairness, freedomand justice for all for people of color, women, the generationally-poor, those who are differently-abled, members of the LGBTQ community and those of us who live at the intersections of these identities. For many of us, the work of inequality is professional and also deeply personal.
Personally, I have long brought an unapologetic commitment to and passion for speaking out against racial and gender inequality and its impact on my life. Professionally, as both an educator and a funder, I have focused this commitment and passion specifically on eliminating these social ills from the American public education system.
Public education should be the great equalizer; but like most systems, it is often perpetuating, rather than eradicating, society’s larger inequities. If in America education is the “civil rights issue of our time,” we must approach our work differently- grounding issues of achievement, access and performance in honest conversations about power, privilege, greed and supremacy.
Justice preserves human dignity. Inequality is a betrayal of this. It strips away the value we place on others and often as a result, the value they place on themselves. Inequality lies to us and tells us that it is OK for certain students to have less experienced teachers, use older books, sit in dilapidated buildings, have their cultural histories and contributions diminished or unacknowledged, or be chastised and ridiculed over use of certain bathrooms.
I believe in the transformative power of education for individuals and for a society and dream of a world in which schools are places of justice, not injustice; places where we teach to liberate, not indoctrinate or incarcerate; where we value active citizenship as much as academic achievement; where children are safe, loved and nurtured not in spite of, but because of, who they are. I do this work because I know it is needed and because I believe it is possible.