An Obama Foundation leadership program started in Africa has made it to the United States this year. Among the first cohort of emerging leaders chosen to participate is Charlottesville’s own Daniel Fairley II.
As part of the Obama Foundation Leaders, Fairley and 99 other changemakers from across the country will participate in a six-month virtual program that supports and connects folks around the world through a values-based leadership framework specifically inspired by the former president and first lady.
Fairley is the youth opportunity coordinator focused on Black male achievement for the city of Charlottesville, as well as president of 100 Black Men of Central Virginia, founder and co-chair of the Charlottesville Area Network Dedicated to Youth Development, a founding member of the University of Virginia’s Equity Center, secretary of the Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry and member of the board of the Boys and Girls Club of Central Virginia.
He told The Daily Progress that his work with the Obama Foundation Leaders has less to do with adding another ornament to an already-decorated resume.
“It became my life’s mission of being able to say, ‘I was given these opportunities, I had people that looked like me, that believed in me, and I want to be that person for those kids.’”
Started in Africa in 2018, the leadership program expanded into the Asia-Pacific region in 2019 and Europe in 2020. The first U.S. program was announced at the Obama Foundation Democracy Forum in New York last year.
“Obama Foundation Leaders hail from a wide variety of nations and territories, work across public, private, and nonprofit sectors, and address a full range of social impact issues,” the foundation said in a statement. “These emerging leaders from around the world, generally 24-45 years old, forge societies and communities rooted in shared values, where all people belong, participate, and thrive.”
Fairley said he’s already seen that firsthand.
“These are some of the most incredible leaders that I have ever met in my entire life,” he said. “These are people that are like the first Black woman who’s the head of the ACLU in Alabama, someone that has a national coalition of welcoming people into public classrooms that are English language learners. They’re just truly incredible national leaders.”
The program offers these young leaders lessons in building opportunities, handling critical discussions and building small group support.
“We have people that are all around the world that are pouring into us,” Fairley said. “On top of all of that, we get a personal executive coach who is actually going to be on our side working with us on our professional development plans, working with us on what we want to do, both in our current jobs as well as the jobs we want to do in the future.”
In order to participate, leaders must have at least three years of “demonstrated impact,” according to the program.
“Chosen from a highly competitive pool of applications, Daniel Fairley, II was selected to join the program for his unwavering dedication to serving boys and men of color in the Charlottesville community,” the city of Charlottesville said in a statement announcing Fairley’s admission into the program. “He is ready to build his skills and expand their impact across public, private, and nonprofit sectors.”
Fairley said he looks forward to putting what he learns to work for the city and the people of Charlottesville.
“Coalition building is one of the biggest things that I get to do in my job,” Fairley said. “Pulling on the strengths of others to then make a more powerful force than what I could ever do myself I think that this [the program] is going to allow me to do that in a way that I haven’t been able to do on my own.”
He added that he counts himself as lucky to do what he does and to have the chance to do it better.
“I have the joyous opportunity,” Fairley said, “to be someone that believes in kids, to be someone that creates opportunities for kids, that makes things happen behind the scenes that makes their lives better and easier.”
The Obama Foundation Leaders program is not Fairley’s only tie to the Obama name.
He completed a White House internship in 2014 during the Obama administration. During his time there, he coordinated inclusivity meetings, some of which led to the installation of the first three gender-inclusive restrooms at the executive mansion, he said.
Fairley, who grew up in a small military-heavy town in Stafford County, said that experience shaped who he is today.
“I never had the idea that I couldn’t do anything that I wanted to do, and I think that idea was something that I was given and allowed me to do all the things that I get to do now,” he said.
Fairley said he wants to instill that same philosophy in Charlottesville’s Black youth.
He’s already had some success through his work at Light House Studio working on the “Changing the Narrative” documentary.
The award-winning 2018 documentary was produced to change the public perception of Black men in society, according to its producers.
“The first year, we interviewed older Black men for the students to learn the camera and understand whats it’s like to conduct an interview,” Fairley said. “The second year, they did interviews of their peers and talked to each other and figured out ways that we can tell their own story in a way that we’re not forcing anyone else to tell their story for them. We’re allowing them to say, ‘This is what I’ve ben going through, these are my experiences and my feelings,’ and sharing that with school board members and teachers and principals and superintendents.”
A student helping out was inspired by the work and took things a step further, Fairley said.
“One of the students that was in our program the first year ended up going to Washington University in St. Louis, and he should be graduating this year with his degree in film studies. He said he was inspired by that summer where he got to get his first experience behind the camera. So things like that, where you’re creating opportunities and showing kids this is something that they can do and they can be a part of has definitely been some of the best parts of my work.”
Much like that student, Fairley is ready to learn some valuable skills with the other Obama Foundation Leaders and take things a step further himself, sharing those skills with Charlottesville.
“I’m so excited to be able to work through and really hone in on some of my own skills,” Fairley said, “figure out what is my leadership style, what are the ways that I can continue to impact the community in a positive way.”