TITLE: Program Officer
FOCUS AREAS: Education, arts, arts education, basic human needs
CONTACT: (919) 391-7222
PROFILE: Dorian Burton, Ed.L.D., is a program officer at the The William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust. He is also co-founder of TandemED and Co-Director of the TandemED Initiative for Black Male Achievement and Community Improvement at The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School.
Upon his hiring to the Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust, the foundation published the following about his background and perspective:
Dorian Burton’s two-year-old daughter is wearing a white lab coat and stethoscope as she checks her aunt’s forehead. With a reassuring bedside manner, young Avery Burton declares her aunt’s brow “a little warm,” and then confidently talks her patient through a prescribed treatment plan. Burton laughs as he shows off the video clip of his youngest child assuming the role of a medical doctor, but if history is any indicator, all four of Burton’s children are destined for advanced degrees and a world view focused on helping others. Burton, the Trust‘s new program officer, is living proof of the transformative power of education. After flunking out of a large public high school in Rialto, California, his aspirations were low—at best, he thought he might be able to land a job at the local Toys“R”Us® distribution center. But his mother, a sociology professor who lived on the East Coast, intervened. With her help and encouragement, Burton enrolled in a different high school for his senior year, one that had better resources, well-supported teachers, and motivated students. Burton flourished. “My mother and stepfather told me over and over again that I could do anything, and after a while I started to believe them,” he says. Burton went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Penn State, where he made the Dean’s List and played on the varsity football team; a master’s degree in higher education administration from New York University; and a doctorate of education leadership from Harvard University. Along the way, he sought opportunities to help others surmount obstacles similar to those he faced. He’s worked for Harlem Children’s Zone, Education Pioneers, and Stand For Children on initiatives to improve educational access and ensure academic success. He was the co-founder and chief strategy officer of TandemED, which was awarded a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for its work to support community-led initiatives around youth development, particularly for black males. Burton says his new role at the Kenan Charitable Trust allows him to combine his personal experiences, educational training, and professional expertise. “My approach to working with underserved communities has been to recognize both the challenges—things that are not working well—as well as the opportunities— those areas and initiatives that are working well,” he says. “It’s also important to approach the work acknowledging that the challenges a community faces are not happening in isolation. The quality of education a child receives in a community is directly connected to the health of that community—so, things like unemployment rates, economic development, rates of hunger and poverty. These issues are interconnected.” Burton says he is particularly energized by the opportunity to work closely with grantees as partners. “We are responsible to the communities we serve,” he says. “Our role is to help add capacity to the work our grantees are already doing, such as helping them to secure additional funding or connecting them to other nonprofits doing similar work. “Foundations can also lead the way as for smart impact investing,” he continues. “We can cultivate research, convene stakeholders, and change the conversation in ways that the private sector or government agencies might not be able to do as quickly or creatively. We can be a powerful catalyst for change.”