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Future 40: Meet New Harlem Children's Zone CEO Kwame Owusu-Kesse

"I have always had a passion to help children who like me grew up in challenging circumstances reach their potential.”

Growing up in poverty and a single-parent household, Kwame Owusu-Kesse was fortunate to have been given numerous opportunities to reach his full academic potential, culminating in a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Harvard University. Drawing from his own experiences, Owusu-Kesse has dedicated his career to making sure children in underserved communities can access high-quality education and the capacity to excel.

After an externship and then accepting a full-time role at Harlem Children's Zone, as senior manager and special assistant to CEO Geoffrey Canada, Owusu-Kesse was appointed COO, a role he’s held since 2014. The nonprofit, a pioneer in comprehensive placed-based services, provides life-shaping early development and education programs to community wellness and outreach initiatives for children and families.

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"I have always had a passion to help children like me, who grew up in challenging circumstances, reach their potential,” said Owusu-Kesse. “There is literally no more important job in the world for me than the work that we do at HCZ to improve the odds for children at an unprecedented scale."

During his time with HCZ, Owusu-Kesse has stressed the importance of mentoring students and staff. In the fall of 2019, HCZ announced his appointment as the new CEO, effective July 2020. 

“Last fall, I couldn’t have imagined that I’d assume the CEO role amid a pandemic and civil unrest,” said Owusu-Kesse. “These issues are shining a light on what we in Harlem have always known—that America’s most vulnerable communities do not have broad and equal access to basic health and education services. Today’s circumstances are a reminder of just how important our work is. Given that we have a model that works, we cannot rest until others across the country do, too.”

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