We at City Year are proud today that our very own CEO and Co-Founder, Michael Brown, was honored with the prestigious John W. Gardner award from the Independent Sector, the leadership network for nonprofits, foundations, and corporations dedicated to advancing the common good.
The organization’s highest honor and a significant one in the sector, the peer-selected Gardner Award recognizes an individual whose “transformative” leadership has “mobilized and unified people, institutions, or causes that improve the community of life on our planet.” Past honorees include Dorothy Stoneman, Geoffrey Canada, and General Colin and Alma Powell.
In a speech dedicated to the 3,000 City Year corps member serving full-time in high-need schools this year and crediting City Year’s success to the teamwork of its leaders, Michael Brown called on the sector to imagine what the United States could become with national service at scale: “It is time to make a period of national citizen service a democratic rite of passage – and a passport to a renewed American Dream."
Citing the ability of national service to put citizens at the center of national priorities, cost-effectively address profound national challenges, and unite diverse Americans through a new, national sense of deepened empathy, he highlighted service as “essential to maintaining our democracy.”
He also offered a vision for expanded benefits for AmeriCorps participants that would ease the increasingly overwhelming debt that burdens so many college students and graduates: “Specifically, we should offer America's young people a simple civic proposition: if you give two years of citizen service, you will receive four years of tuition at any public university.”
Receiving the Gardner Award was of special significance to City Year’s CEO, because its namesake, a “latter-day founding father,” is a national leader he long admired and even once had the opportunity to meet.
“We need more Gardnerian institutions,” he said, “more Gardnerian policies and more Gardnerian social arrangements that put citizens at the center, both in terms of civic empowerment – giving citizens important things to do – and in terms of societal outcomes that benefit the most citizens and strengthen the concept of citizenship itself.”