The Man With the $13 Billion Checkbook

Mr. Walker’s focus modified the dialog amongst his friends, stated Ben Soskis, a historian of philanthropy at the Urban Institute. “It’s hard to overemphasize how little inequality had been a philanthropic concern over the last half-century,” Mr. Soskis stated. “He took on a huge challenge. There’s been no figure with greater influence in the sector than Darren Walker.”

At the coronary heart of that is the unlikely character of Mr. Walker himself, a severe man and demanding chief government who can whip up blender drinks and gumbo for 50, and says issues like, “If the roux doesn’t scent like burnt tires, you haven’t cooked it sufficient.”

Something else about him: “Darren Walker knows more people than anyone we know,” stated Thelma Golden, director of the Studio Museum in Harlem, who has identified Mr. Walker since the 1990s. “Darren is the ultimate connector. He’s at the center of this vision of the world as he sees it and the world he makes possible. Without it I don’t know how I or many of us would have the broad communities that we have.”


Darren Walker grew up in Louisiana and East Texas, with a single mom who labored as a nurse’s aide. His life modified when he was recruited in 1965 for the first preschool class of Head Start, a brand new federal program aimed toward decreasing poverty. It set him on what he calls a publicly funded “mobility escalator” that continued via state school and state regulation faculty, and that he fears not exists for younger folks making an attempt to get out of poverty.

At the University of Texas, he thrived each academically and socially: head of the scholar union and the elite Friar Society, the place a college regent as soon as mistook him for a server. “Even then, as a college kid, he was polished, polite, brilliant, warm, really kind,” stated Paul Begala, a former adviser to Bill Clinton, who was a category behind Mr. Walker at U.T. “People were really drawn to Darren.” He engaged frat guys and scholar authorities nerds and arty sorts, and “could bring them together,” Mr. Begala stated.

He was additionally prepared to problem them. At the scholar union, he introduced the Pilobolus dance firm to campus, with out telling anybody that they carried out bare. “People were scandalized,” Mr. Begala stated.

When New York beckoned, Mr. Walker labored as a company lawyer after which as a bond dealer, however rapidly jumped off to volunteer full-time at the Children’s Storefront faculty in Harlem. Around that point, in 1992, he met a downtown artwork seller named David Beitzel, and shortly they had been residing collectively, with the first of two English bulldogs, named Beulah, after Mr. Walker’s mom. (Beulah’s successor, Mary Lou, is called for Mr. Beitzel’s mom; when Mr. Walker needs to go away one in all the nightly occasions he attends, he generally says, “Mary Lou is calling.”)

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