Five Questions with Dr. John Deasy, our new President
Deasy’s presidency marks a new chapter for the Bezos Family Foundation.
Since 2000, the Bezos Family Foundation has been led by its president and vice-president, Jackie and Mike Bezos, toward a simple but ambitious vision: A world in which all young people reach their full potential and meaningfully contribute to society. Today, we continue the pursuit of that vision under a new president: Dr. John Deasy. Below, Deasy shares more about his experience and motivations, and what excites him about his new position.
As you begin your role as president of the Bezos Family Foundation, what are you most excited about?
What is most important to me about this role is that I have the distinct privilege of building on the leadership and wisdom of Mike and Jackie Bezos. Being part of the work to continue their legacy is just an honor. I know it sounds corny, but it's a dream opportunity come true.
I met Mike and Jackie many years ago when they were thinking through the Aspen Challenge which we ended up working on together, along with an incredible team. We had a great launch of the Challenge in L.A. and ever since that moment, I have been a huge admirer and in awe of both.
In my experience, the Bezos Family Foundation is a unique foundation in American philanthropy. It is one of the very few that is so driven by humility. It celebrates and works in partnership with its grantees and knows the work of its grantees is the most important. That combination of humbleness and generosity together does amazing things.
So, I'm really looking forward to meeting more of our partners and getting to understand more deeply their amazing work. I’m equally excited to work alongside the board and the Foundation’s team who are on the frontlines of that support.
You’ve dedicated your career to education. Why are you especially passionate about it?
For me, there’s two important reasons. First, an education is one of very few things in life that you possess. It can never be taken away; as an individual, it is always yours.
Second to that, it is part of the central promise we’ve made in this country to every single solitary person. While we are struggling to live up to the promise of a free and equitable education for every child. There is such a variation in the quality of educational experiences that we can and must do better. That is the main thing that drives me daily.
You’ve spent more than 40+ years in public service and education. What have you seen in the field?
I’ve seen that as a country, we are doing a very uneven job of the critical task of education. I have seen how we have served some students very well, and some students not well at all. And therein lies what has driven me, and what will continue to drive me. There should be no difference based on experience, identity, location, or any other factor that a young person lives with—there is no reason for a difference in service or a difference in the outcomes that we see in education.
And while that has been my observation, what is also crystal clear to me is how hard educators and leaders work to fully support every child. And how often I have seen them not be provided with the right tools or supports to do that.
I have found absolutely no reason that it has to be that way.
Much of your experience is in the PK-12 system. The other critical period of development that we focus on is early learning. What do you look forward to learning about in that space?
I can’t think of a more crucial component to how we are going to serve all youth well than making sure that their very early experiences are ones which set them up for success. We are just tapping the surface of the knowledge about brain development of children age zero to five as well as during the perinatal period. And when we come to understand how to use that knowledge and be guided by science and facts, we can only do even better for young people. I firmly believe that.
You speak often about social justice. Was there a particular moment in your life that set you on this path toward equity and justice?
Growing up, I was surrounded by the catastrophic results of the Boston bussing. From the violence to the racialized hatred – it very much shaped me as a young man.
I could not understand or conceptualize why anybody would so violently oppose someone going to a school. It just didn’t make sense to me. And it was the first time that it was so starkly visible to me — the mistreatment of Black families and Black students. That has stayed with me ever since, and has driven many parts of my life. Because that just simply can’t stand.
Certainly, while I did not grow up with means, for my whole life I’ve been very much aware that I’m a white male with a lot of unearned privilege. That is something that I am very cognizant of.
I’ve chosen to work in communities that are very complex and places that have had long histories of struggling to serve all youth well. I’ve mostly worked in places where the majority of people do not look like me, so I’ve been very proximate to difference and very close to neighborhoods and communities that have long struggled with historic under-resourcing and structural racism. And I’ve taken the posture that you need to learn side by side in those communities before you can lead.
Dr. Deasy began his first month as president of Bezos Family Foundation in July 2023. For more information, see our announcement.