Jeff Bezos donated $100 million to the Obama Foundation in honor of civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, according to an announcement by the foundation on Monday.
The donation is the largest individual contribution received to date, and the Plaza at the Obama Presidential Center will be renamed the John Lewis Plaza.
“Freedom fighters deserve a special place in the pantheon of heroes, and I can’t think of a more fitting person to honor with this gift than John Lewis, a great American leader and a man of extraordinary decency and courage,” said Jeff Bezos in a statement on Monday. “I’m thrilled to support President and Mrs. Obama and their Foundation in its mission to train and inspire tomorrow’s leaders.”
The son of Alabama sharecroppers, Lewis served in Congress for more than three decades, pushing the causes he championed as an original Freedom Rider challenging segregation, discrimination, and injustice in the Deep South.
Along with Martin Luther King Jr., he was an organizer of the March on Washington in 1963, a seminal moment in the Civil Rights Movement that led to the passage of voting rights for Blacks two years later.
He became a community activist and member of the Atlanta City Council before winning a seat in Congress in 1986. He would go on to become a best-selling author and in 2011 was awarded the nation’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black president. Lewis was elected to his 17th term in November 2018.
Lewis died at age 80 in July of 2020.
“John believed in the power of ordinary people to do extraordinary things,” said Michael Collins, trustee of the John R. Lewis Estate in a statement. “His life was a testament to this notion and he would be a fierce advocate for the training and support needed to inspire the next generation of leaders to follow in his footsteps.”
What does the Obama Foundation do?
The Obama Foundation is involved in a variety of projects, many of which involve helping women and people of color.
One project, My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, focuses on mobilizing mentors, reducing youth violence, and improving life outcomes for boys and young men of color.
The foundation also has a fellowship program for people focused on civic innovation and a scholar’s program that pairs people dedicated to public service with Columbia University faculty to provide them with professional leadership and training.
The Girls Opportunity Alliance continues the work of First Lady Michelle Obama to empower adolescent girls around the world through education.
Obama hopes that his presidential center, which broke ground in Chicago in September of 2021, will become “the world’s premier institution” for developing the next generation of civic leaders.
“With the gift from Bezos, the Foundation is seeking to change the paradigm around naming public spaces within the Center, using it as an opportunity to give donors the option to honor and elevate the names of those who have fought for a more just and equitable world,” said the Obama Foundation in a press release on Monday.
Dedicated public spaces at the Center will honor civil rights icons, social justice heroes, and changemakers in public service, business, and entertainment.
“We believe that there is incredible power in lifting up the names of extraordinary change agents upon whose shoulders we all stand, and we are thrilled by Mr. Bezos’ offer to name our magnificent Plaza in honor of John Lewis,” said Obama Foundation CEO Valerie Jarrett in a statement. “What’s more, Mr. Bezos’ generous unrestricted gift will enable us to help train a new generation of leaders through programs including the Girls Opportunity Alliance, My Brother’s Keeper, and our Global Leaders Program, while also supporting the Foundation’s Hometown Fund, which invests in the expansion of economic development opportunities for residents of Chicago’s South Side.”News Source: USA Today