A message from Roderick D. Gillum, board chair

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As you may know, 2013 marked the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, which culminated with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s passionate call for a just and humane society and the need for urgency in the establishment of social change. The legacy of that moment, of the civil rights movement and of Dr. King’s work and aspirations for the nation, are the laws enacted and enforced – from civil rights to human rights. But equally important are the ideals expressed, the impassioned arguments made and the courage displayed, which serve as a blueprint for social change and which are relevant for our work at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation today.

For example, Dr. King referred to St. Thomas Aquinas in offering guidelines for distinguishing between “just” and “unjust” laws. “Any law that uplifts human personality is just,” Dr. King wrote. “Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.” The reference is equally applicable to the foundation’s work today. A child’s zip code, for example, should never determine her future. Yet for many of our children, neighborhood is destiny, affecting their odds of graduating high school, their health outcomes and their lifetime economic opportunities.

In the president’s letter in this annual report, outgoing President and CEO Sterling Speirn offers a powerful argument for “the re-imagination of education.” He cites the established science demonstrating that a child’s preparation for literacy and all later learning begins with maternal health even before birth, and continues through what are traditionally considered her pre-K years. In addition, he urges greater alignment between that science and the practice of child development in order to afford every child the skills she needs to reach her full potential.

By Dr. King’s irrefutable logic, only by such “re-imagining” can society act justly on behalf of its youngest and yet-to-be-born members.

Similarly, Dr. King described fundamental precursors to direct action, which are equally important to those working by other means to advance social change. For example, he stressed the importance of initial data collection as a critical first step in establishing the need for change. A belief existed inside the movement that equality of understanding would provide an additional motivation and catalyst for change.

The stories in this annual report reflect the data we have collected and are collecting in support of our work on behalf of early childhood. Additionally, in his letter, Sterling refers to sources such as Dr. Jack Shonkoff and Professor Patricia Kuhl – researchers who have greatly illuminated and demystified the development of the infant brain and clearly established the role of early experience in shaping learning ability later in life. He also mentions Dr. Ron Lally, who has translated that research into specific techniques for parents and caregivers.
Dr. King also prescribed a process of self-evaluation, which he called “self-purification.” In particular, he cited the need for self-examination and acceptance of the risks accompanying action on behalf of change.

As a member of the board of trustees that directly reviews the most consequential decisions made at the foundation, I can tell you that a foundation-wide process of self-evaluation is continuous and ongoing. And while it is probably impossible to anticipate every risk entailed by every decision, we have been informed and deliberate in identifying children ages 0-8 as the target – either directly or indirectly – for all of our philanthropic investments across the range of our strategic programming interests.

Of course, 50 years after the March on Washington, achievement of the movement’s goals remains very much a work in progress.

I remain hopeful and determined that the movement’s vision of equitable, respectful human relationships as well as the Kellogg Foundation’s expression of its vision – a society in which every child is able to develop to his or her fullest potential – will both become established realities.

Finally, I want to acknowledge our appreciation for the achievements of Sterling Speirn, and welcome our incoming president and CEO, La June Montgomery Tabron.

In his eight years with the foundation, Sterling made a significant impact, championing our strategic framework, our racial equity work and our commitment to being a place-based organization. His willingness to take risks in exploring new tools to reach our targets helped produce a robust and innovative mission-driven investing effort. And of particular relevance to this letter and annual report, he has worked passionately and energetically on behalf of our focus on early childhood development. In doing so, Sterling has also been an outstanding steward of the legacy of W.K. Kellogg: never content with the status quo, ever creative and inventive in working to improve outcomes for children and communities.

La June brings to her new position an extraordinarily broad and deep understanding of the foundation and its mission, built over 26 years in a variety of positions including her role as co-architect of our strategic framework. It is also a personal understanding. As she herself has said, her story reflects both the day-to-day challenges faced by the children and families on whom we focus, and the potential that can be realized when children have the opportunity to succeed.

I speak for the entire board in expressing our best wishes to both Sterling and La June.