Kevin Jennings is a social entrepreneur with over three decades starting and leading organizations promoting progressive change in America. A First-Generation college graduate, Jennings received his B.A. magna cum laude in History from Harvard in 1985 and then became a high school history teacher. In 1988 he helped students at Concord Academy to create the nation’s first Gay-Straight Alliance, leading him two years later to found the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). Under Jennings’ eighteen-year leadership GLSEN grew from an all-volunteer local organization in Massachusetts to a national nonprofit whose programs – including Gay-Straight Alliances, No Name-Calling Week, and the Day of Silence – became commonplace in America’s K-12 schools.
In 2009 Jennings was named Assistant Deputy Secretary for Safe & Drug-Free Schools in President Obama’s Education Department. Jennings created the Safe & Supportive Schools grant program, which provided funds to states to develop and implement school climate measurement systems that went far beyond simple standardized tests, and Green Ribbon Schools, a national award program recognizing schools for promoting environmental literacy. He was perhaps best known for his role as the President’s “anti-bullying czar,” leading a national campaign to reduce bullying that culminated in the 2011 White House Conference on Bullying Prevention.
In 2011 Jennings left the Obama Administration to become Executive Director of the nonprofit Be the Change and to help launch its Opportunity Nation campaign, aimed at reducing economic inequality and promoting social mobility in America. In 2012 Jennings became Executive Director of the Arcus Foundation, a leading international funder of conservation and human rights work. Jennings streamlined Arcus’ operations so that the percentage spent on programmatic work reached a high in the foundation’s history and developed and implemented a new strategic plan that focused the foundation’s giving on the most vulnerable in the LGBT community, including a multiyear $20 million initiative on transgender rights. Jennings launched new funding collaboratives including the Contigo Fund, which provided support to LGBT Latinx communities in the wake of the 2016 Orlando Pulse nightclub mass murder, and the International Donor Initiative, a collective of high net worth individuals focused on promoting LGBT rights in the Global South.
Jennings has a long record of community leadership. He is the author of seven books, including the 1997 Lambda Literary Award-winner Telling Tales of Out School and his memoir Mama’s Boy, Preacher’s Son, named a “Book of Honor” by the American Library Association in 2006. He has produced two documentaries, The Lavender Scare (2017) and Out of the Past (1996), the latter of which won the Sundance Film Festival Award for Best Documentary. He has served on numerous boards, including those of the Harvard Alumni Association, Union Theological Seminary, and the Council on Foundations. He served as founding Board chair of the Tectonic Theater Project (creator of the acclaimed play The Laramie Project), First Generation Harvard Alumni (winner of the Harvard Alumni Association Award for Best Alumni Organization in 2017), and the Ubunye Challenge http://ubunyechallenge.com/. A frequent speaker at schools, colleges, conferences and in the media, Jennings has received numerous honors for his work, including: the Distinguished Alumni Award from Columbia University Teachers College (from which he received his M.A. in 1994), being named Chief Marshal of the 2010 Harvard Commencement, the “Friend of Children” Award from National Association of School Psychologists, the Diversity Leadership Award of the National Association of Independent Schools, the Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the Human & Civil Rights Award from the National Education Association, the “Appalachian Hero” Award from the Appalachian Community Fund, and the Leadership in Advocacy Award from the Ali Forney Center. He received his MBA from NYU’s Stern School of Business in 1999.