I am delighted to return to Akron to be in the company of this distinguished Roundtable. There is no civic progress without leadership that is both informed and engaged. You are both, informed and engaged, so I sincerely appreciate the opportunity to talk with you today about Knight Foundation and about our belief and our commitment to Akron.
This is where it all began, where on this month of October 103 years ago, C.L.Knight bought the Akron Beacon Journal. For the next 30 years, he burnished the family reputation for crusty independence until, during the Great Depression, he left his widow, Clara, and two sons, John Shively and James Landon Knight, a debt-ridden newspaper.
The family lived, first on West Market Street, later on Portage Path. Jack Knight attended Crosby Elementary and Akron Central High, where he played end on the 1913 undefeated state champion football team. He worked at the Beacon Journal in the summer of 1914 before heading to college at Cornell. Brother Jim was still a toddler when Jack went off as an officer in World War I. He returned from France to Akron and the Beacon Journal and from here he began a journey that took him to the heights of journalism acclaim and national influence. As a businessman with his brother Jim, he was successful beyond the dreams of his father, and as a journalist, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize.
Later in life, Jack would bristle at suggestions that he’d inherited his wealth: “All I inherited” he said, “was an opportunity.” That is the voice that inspires Knight Foundation, as it inspired Knight newspapers. A voice that pushed for discovery and demanded vision and courage, know-how and tenacity as it helped build community, ultimately in more than two dozen cities and towns across the United States. A voice that didn’t depend on entitlement, but encouraged experimentation and looking for those combinations in life that become tipping points. It is a voice that has inspired me for years and is a reason to come back to the place where he began to better understand what made him.
I recently heard a tape of an interview with Jack Knight made a few years before his death by a young journalist named Dan Neuharth. In the tape, he says, in his plain-spoken way:
“See, I’m an individualist. I know what I know. I know what I think. I’m not afraid of anybody.
“I have my own code and how I live and I live up to it.
“I guess I belong to a disappearing class.
“If somebody comes in and says, ‘Oh, you should have heard what somebody said about you last night!” And I said was it good? No? So, then don’t tell me. He’s got a right to feel that way. If he doesn’t like me, what difference does that make?
“Who likes me and who doesn’t like me. What difference does that make?
“I want to have a reputation as being fair, honorable, doing the right thing, printing good newspapers, being objective and opinionated.”
That was Jack Knight of Akron, Ohio. That’s the voice we follow. And in the spirit of his directness, let me tell you that my primary purpose in coming here today is to affirm that that our history, Knight’s history, Knight Foundation’s history, is and will continue connected to Akron.
Today, we announce an additional $2 million grant for a total of $6 million to the Akron Art Museum, helping them reach their ambitious fund-raising goal. In recognition of this lead gift, the museum’s board of trustees has agreed to name its dramatic new facility the John S. and James L. Knight Building.
Immediately east of the Akron Art Museum is University Park, where an alliance of public and private civic institutions have set their sights on transforming that community and has mapped out a vision of change. It’s a plan capitalizing on two community anchors — the university itself and Summa Health System and is strongly supported by the political leadership of the city.
I’m pleased to announce a $10 million grant today to the University of Akron, supporting the University Park Alliance’s economic development program over the next five years to revitalize the 700 acres around it.
I will get into some details on both grants in a moment, but want to emphasize how much they are a part of what we do at Knight Foundation.
We relish our significant ties to Akron. To begin with, our chairman is a man whose own accomplishments in medicine and surgery rival those of the Knights in journalism. He was a friend of Jack’s and a friend of Jim’s and he was their doctor. He not only shared their values, but also their Akron hometown roots. Please welcome home Dr. Gerald Austen and his wife Patti.
Both Dr. Austen and Knight Trustee Jim Crutchfield, each more proud than the other of Akron, have both been privileged to address the Roundtable. Our vice chairman is Rob Briggs, whom you probably know better because of his leadership at Buckingham Doolittle and Burroughs and the GAR Foundation.
No Knight function in Akron would be complete without the presence of a great lady, Cynthia Knight, the wife of the late Landon Knight, second of Jack’s three sons. And from both the Knight family and board, it’s my great pleasure to recognize Beverly Knight Olsen who came up from her home in Macon, Ga. to be with us for this announcement. Beverly is a trustee of Knight Foundation and Jim Knight’s youngest daughter.
Our work in Akron is led by an experienced educator with deep roots in the community, an extraordinary woman, Vivian Celeste Neal. She is advised by a group that has recently included Reverend Ron Fowler, Margaret Payne, Tony O'Leary, Kristie Van Auken, Jim Crutchfield, Jody Bacon, Joe Canfer, Judge Brenda Unruh, Gary Wyatt and, until she passed away this spring, Judy Isroff.
So, with all these relatives and friends, this really is a kind of homecoming.
And as I’ve thought about that, I’ve thought, too, about what we’ve learned during all those 50 years of travel since Knight Foundation started here — about the foundation’s quest and reputation for innovation and experimentation, looking for effective ways to achieve the goals set out by John S. and James L. Knight: to promote excellence in journalism and to advance the interests of the communities where the brothers owned newspapers.
That combination of exploration and community, a sense of our history and a return here to the source makes me offer as a kind of text for today this passage from Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot.
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the very first time.”
I spent a lot of years in Jack Knight’s old office on the fifth floor of the Miami Herald Building where he wrote his Sunday column, and thought a lot about how he and Jim organized their newspapers.
They had no publishers. Each general manager reported directly to Jim Knight, who ran the business and assured quality and transparency in the company’s business practices.
Every editor reported directly to Jack Knight and his approach was the opposite of central control. Jack not only encouraged but required his editors to put out distinctly different newspapers — newspapers that bore the imprint and reflection of the community they covered. The Beacon Journal was not the same as The Miami Herald because Akron is not the same as Miami … and neither was meant to be like The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Macon Telegraph, The Tallahassee Democrat or Detroit Free Press. Jack wanted each of those papers to give its hometown a sense of itself, a sense of its borders and of its possibilities. He wanted them to reflect the language and even the sense of humor of that community, so that the people who read it shared a common language and a common experience, all of which helped to give that community a better sense of self.
In exactly that spirit of Knight newspapers that reflected individual communities, we announced last month The Knight Brothers 21st Century News Challenge, a funding offer of $25 million over the next five years - $5 million per year — to explore whether and how the digital world can be used to connect people in the real-life places where they live and work. In other words, to do what Jim and Jack used to do through their newspapers.
Throughout the 20th century, newspapers were the bond — the “informational” glue — that connected our cities and towns. Now, as cyber-information becomes more pervasive, newspapers are becoming less effective in that role. Is there a replacement? Can someone in cyberspace perform their function?
Online communities don’t need us. Virtual communities spring up every day. But the idea of turning the Web on its head to help people connect in real life... well, that could use our help.
The 21st Century News Challenge is a contest for great community news experiments, using any kind of new media…but it must connect a piece of geography. It is open to anyone — it is open to any of you — anywhere in the world. It will bring technology to the arena of journalism values, and it will bring journalistic values to technology. We are very excited about it and I invite you to www.knightfdn.org to learn more about it. Deadline for applications for the first year is December 31.
Though the company Jack and Jim started here as Knight Newspapers and that later became Knight Ridder, has disappeared from corporate America, their passionate pursuit of community vitality and journalism excellences lives on in their foundation. What they first learned here in Akron about leadership and responsibility and community they applied elsewhere in their news and civic careers and we are continuing to learn and apply.
Today, with assets of $2.2 billion Knight Foundation grants in excess $100 million annually. In Akron, we’ve made more than 900 grants totaling nearly $91 million to an impressive array of community organizations and initiatives. We are joined in that work by outstanding philanthropic partners, including the GAR Foundation and the Akron Community Foundation. In fact, since the beginning, Knight Foundation has given away more than one billion dollars.
How do we do that?
Let me tell you a story. It takes place in Biloxi, Mississippi; the time is a year ago, just after Labor Day when I visited right after Hurricane Katrina leveled the place. Devastated. Destroyed. Food, water, shelter, fuel, all the requirements basics were in short supply. The landscape, literally, was chaos.
Knight is a national foundation that is local 26 times... in the 26 cities where Jack and Jim had newspapers. We consider ourselves local in Miami and in Philadelphia and Biloxi. And by the time I got there after the storm and flood, we already had delivered $1 million in emergency relief, half through the Salvation Army and half through the Red Cross. But what more could we do and what could we do that was essential to recovery?
One of the best things about being local is that you know people in the place and so when I went there right after the storm, I had a chance to talk with people who really knew the place. Looking around, we knew the casinos would be back, because the casinos drove the economy . . . but this time they’d be rebuilt on land, since FEMA wouldn’t allow barges again and no bank would lend on them and no insurer would take on the liability. Knowing that, we felt that if the local communities didn’t act fast, key decisions about the rebuilding of Biloxi and Gulfport would be done in the corporate boardrooms of casino operators. No one who simply lived there would have much of a voice in rebuilding their hometown.
You could go in a hundred different directions and what was needed most of all was a strategy, a plan to move forward, a plan put together inclusively and openly. So I said that if anyone wanted to do something like that, Knight Foundation would be interested in helping.
A week later, I was in a New York cab going to La Guardia when my cell phone rang and it was Haley Barbour, the governor of Mississippi. He proposed the formation of a strategic planning group including. To lead it, he wanted Jim Barksdale, founder of Netscape and whom I knew well from my time as PBS chairman. Jim is a Mississippi native, as generous as he is brilliant — and a big thinker. I knew he would be great. The governor also said he was considering bringing in Andres Duany, Miami’s renowned architect and urban planner — and a distinguished veteran of other Knight Foundation project.
So I simply said, “Governor, you get Barksdale and you get Duany, and we’ll pay for it.” And when I heard my words, I swallowed hard — remember, I had been on the job less than two months. But I said it and we did it and we put in another $1 million, and so did Barksdale, and three weeks later, we were back in Biloxi at what remained of the Isle of Capri casino hotel to begin seven days of charettes with some 200 architects, engineers, politicians, municipal agencies, lawyers, businessmen and just plain citizens. They began the tough work of re-imagining the Gulf Coast — their Gulf Coast, their hometown.
By early December, after a hundred public meetings and tons of citizen participation, Barksdale delivered to the governor a plan, a blueprint for the future and an emblem of the people’s hope. Meanwhile, sad to say, New Orleans was still arguing about who would sit at the table.
Today, they’re struggling with implementation. But I believe municipal governance has never been stronger. The Gulf Coast has optimism. Its people believe that what they are building will be better than before. And the voices of their citizens have been heard in the process.
Why do I start with this story? Because it illustrates what I believe is one of the fundamental and most exciting challenges in philanthropy today: funding Opportunity rather than merely Need.
In Biloxi, the immediate needs were so overwhelming that it was hard to look beyond them. And we did help — and helped so fast the ground was still wet from the flood when our money arrived to do some good.
But to do only that — or even to do only more of that would have represented not one but four opportunities lost:
- To make South Mississippi better than before.
- To involve residents, local people, in the planning of their future,
- To leverage one financial contribution into many, and
- The opportunity to act in the unique way a private, willful group can: decisively and disinterestedly so that people could pursue their community’s best interests.
With that privately-funded strategic planning group, Haley Barbour set in motion a process of recovery that was more than rebuilding. And in funding that process, Knight Foundation wasn’t simply a Good Samaritan, it was an agent of change. To the extent philanthropy can catalyze change and not simply alleviate pain, it is exponentially more effective.
Jack Knight once said that a good newspaper should “...bestir the people into an awareness of their own condition, provide inspiration for their thoughts and rouse them to pursue their own interests.”
A half a century later, it seems to me, that’s a pretty good formula for what foundations should be doing too. Philanthropy’s reverberations should extend beyond a charitable mission. They should help us see ourselves differently and aspire to more. Why? Because we can in ways others cannot. Because we can take risks beyond the reach of others. Because we are protected as others are not.
As we’ve searched and explored, it is amazing to me how much we come back to what the Knight brothers did and seemed to know. How much, to borrow from Eliot again, we seem “ to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” At Knight Foundation, we’ve chosen to focus our funding less on pure need and than on opportunity where there is also need. In any proposal, we look for the existence — or the possibility — of five elements: discovery, vision, courage, know-how and tenacity. Transformational projects virtually always have those characteristics, and it’s pretty much common sense: Discovery (of the opportunity), vision (to recognize what could be), courage (to change and move into the unknown), know-how (nothing moves forward without expertise) and tenacity (the will to stick with what you believe).
When we look at community, we look for programs and organizations and leaders with the greatest opportunity to transform. And because we aren’t big enough or wealthy enough to take care of all of a community’s needs, we seek to leverage our contributions and to partner with others.
And that is what I see in abundance in the new multimillion investments in two high-profile Akron projects that we announced today. Both capitalize dramatically on opportunity and demonstrate support for the community’s major civic and cultural institutions that lead the revitalization of Northeast Ohio.
“And the end of all of our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
We helped kick off the Akron Art Museum’s capital campaign in 2000. Our initial investment of $4 million included a challenge component that we hoped would inspire the museum’s trustees to reach a truly ambitious goal. The trustees seized the opportunity and this cultural institution is tripling in size, about to enter a new era.
All of Northeast Ohio anticipates the grand opening of the museum’s new 84,000-square-foot space, designed by internationally renowned architects Coop Himmelb(l)au. The expansion’s opening will be a transformational moment for this community and its citizens, and we congratulate Mitchell Kahan, the trustees and the staff.
Next spring, art in Akron will have a glorious home from which to help us see the truth and tie us together as a human race. I am proud that home will bear the name of Knight and, along with the existing John S. Knight Center at the other end of the street, the combination will be a memorial to the brothers that should stand tall into the future as far as we can see.
University Park encompasses 700 acres, with 400-plus businesses, 11,500 residents and 24,000 university students. Six years ago, Knight Foundation helped ignite a spark with initial funding of $3 million for the alliance — a partnership of the university, Summa Health System, the City of Akron, Akron Public Schools, the Greater Akron Chamber, Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority, University Park Development Corporation and the Beacon Journal.
The transformational impact has been pronounced. From our point of view, our initial $3 million investment has leveraged more than $150 million in public and private investments. And we expect more of the same from today’s investment of $10 million.
The university and private developers contemplate plans for mixed- use development that would include hundreds of new housing units, thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in investment.
What is most interesting to us and has national implications is the way in which this concept takes what is available and makes it positive. As the nation evolves from a manufacturing focus, it’s important to look to the institutions that remain as catalysts for community revitalization. If the factory is no longer there to provide jobs, then look to the organizations that will not move, the university, the hospital, the local government to be the anchor for community revitalization.
University Park project is a tribute to the civic vision and collaborative mindset of Akron’s leadership, notably University President Luis Proenza, Summa president and CEO, Thomas Strauss and absolutely critical to this, Mayor Don Plusquellic. We would not be funding this project — and certainly not at a $10 million level — if there was not this leadership and if there was not the commitment of the City government to match it.
We are proud, too, of other work Knight continues to support in Akron. We are pleased to join other foundations and investors in the Fund for Our Economic Future — the region’s combined approach to crafting an economic development plan for the future.
For the past several years we have supported an experiment at Simon Perkins Middle, where a committed battery of service providers, arts organizations and community groups work together to create a rich after-school environment for the middle school students. Perkins Activity Central is alive with activity, energy and dedication. Recent evaluations say it’s working and look forward to seeing the program replicated by the school board in other parts of Akron.
We believe in supporting leaders and in helping leaders building for the future. In that spirit, we contributed $200,000 to the Akron Public Schools to help them participate in the Harvard University Educators’ Executive Leadership Initiative. This is a four-year program designed to enhance skills in leadership, systemic thinking and alignment and team building.
Superintendent Sylvester Small is such a leader. We are glad to support him in his vision and I look forward to returning to here, years from now, to see the results of what he and his leadership team have done to transform Akron’s public schools.
If there is a common thread among these grants, it is their potential to create “tipping points” in community revitalization. Grants from foundations like Knight, GAR and the Akron Community Foundation encourage others to jump in. Over time, with the right mix of discovery, vision, courage, know-how and tenacity, the improvement to the community can indeed be transformational.
We take serious the Knight Brothers’ mandate — to support community and to promote excellence in journalism. It gives us a lot of latitude to take judicious risk. But that’s what we do.
This past summer, I ran across a passage quoted from Goethe, who, as you may remember, was the author of Faust, among many great works of literature. Goethe was interested in alchemy — he made Dr. Faust an alchemist — and as I thought about it, that craft is a metaphor for the work we are privileged to do. We take the wealth entrusted to us by the Knight Brothers, add insight and judgment by our trustees and staff and mix it with a grantee’s vision — and something unique and valuable emerges, making our communities different — and better — as a result. As Goethe recognized more than 200 years ago, alchemy is a rare power.
“Knowing is not enough; we must apply.
Willing is not enough, we must do.”
Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.