Sheila C. Johnson Leadership Fellowship

The Sheila C. Johnson Leadership Fellowship brings together diverse and talented emerging leaders working to address disparities in predominantly African-American and other underserved communities through efforts in health care, education, economic development, public policy, criminal justice reform, social entrepreneurship, and a variety of other fields. The program connects fellows with highly accomplished national and international leaders and provides them with the skills to:

  • Foster sustainable change in communities,
  • Build cross-sector partnerships and collaborations, and
  • Inspire new ideas and innovative change in programs and policies that serve communities.

We need committed people working to achieve social change despite significant odds. We need emerging leaders who want to strengthen their ability to transform communities. We need you.


Johnson quote

"Working to create cities that facilitate healthy and prosperous lives for all of its citizens is the most important work that I will do. My experience as a Sheila C. Johnson Fellow is already enhancing my leadership capacity to transform underserved communities in the U.S., starting in Detroit."
-Kimberly Dowdell, MPA ’15


Step 1: Apply to Harvard Kennedy School: Application deadline is December 1, 2016.
Step 2: Apply for the Fellowship: Application deadline for the Sheila C. Johnson Fellowship is February 24, 2017.

To apply for the Johnson Fellowship please visit the Student Financial Services web site.

Applicants must submit:

  1. A biographical profile, not to exceed 150 words. (This profile should be short, concise and in the third person.)  Please include the following highlights: an introductory sentence including your name; the degree you are pursuing at Harvard Kennedy School in addition to any joint degree at Harvard or concurrent degree program at another graduate or professional institution; where you are from and where you currently reside; an overview and highlights of your relevant work/professional experience; significant leadership achievements including awards or certifications; and educational credentials with the degrees earned and institutions attended.

  2. A document containing written responses to the following two essay prompts:

    • Please discuss a topic you are passionate about as it pertains to addressing disparities in predominantly underserved communities in the U.S. and your experiences as it relates to this topic. Please use specific examples in your response (750 words or less.)

    • Please discuss briefly your interest in the Sheila C. Johnson Fellowship and how your leadership goals have motivated you to apply (200 words or less).


Finalists for the Sheila C. Johnson Fellowship will be interviewed in mid-March by members of the Sheila C. Johnson Fellowship Selection Committee.

Please visit our Fellows FAQ's page for more information.

Program Information

  • Sheila C. Johnson Leadership Fellows are awarded a full tuition scholarship and health fees for up to two years, depending on the length of their graduate degree program.
  • Fellows are eligible for a stipend up to $10,000 for up to two years depending on their graduate degree program.
  • Applicants will be considered based on their excellent academic credentials and a demonstrated interest in developing leadership skills focused on reducing disparities in underserved communities in the United States.
  • Fellows will participate in a robust cocurricular program offered by the Center for Public Leadership.
  • This fellowship is open to applicants entering their first year of study in any of the Harvard Kennedy School's masters' degree programs. Students pursuing a joint degree at HKS and another Harvard graduate or professional school or those in concurrent programs at other approved universities or schools may also apply. The fellowship is open to U.S. Citizens and Permanent Residents only.
  • The fellowship will be open to all admitted master's degree program students and will not discriminate on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, or national origin. Domestic students from under-represented groups are encouraged to apply.

Applicants will be considered based on their excellent academic credentials and a demonstrated interest in developing leadership skills with a focus on reducing disparities in underserved communities.

Award decisions will be primarily merit based but with a consideration of financial need as determined by HKS Student Financial Services.

The Fellowship Experience
Fellows will participate in a yearlong cocurricular program designed by Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership. This not-for-credit program is intended to inspire, to provide concrete opportunities for leadership skill-building, and to connect fellows with an interdisciplinary network of like-minded peers and mentors that will last a lifetime.

The Fellowship cocurricular program will include weekly dinners, an annual retreat, and robust field experiences grounded in discussions with visionary leaders whose work has had significant impacts in marginalized communities. The program will also focus on strengthening core competencies that are central to public leadership, such as promoting strong moral character and ethics, mastering the arts of persuasion and negotiation, leading effective teams and organizations, and fostering sound decision making.

Sheila C. Johnson Leadership Fellows will create a vibrant network of students and alumni committed to advancing knowledge, collaborating on solutions to pressing problems, and building leadership capacity in their communities, their nation, and the world.

Sheila Johnson is CEO of Salamander Hotels and Resorts, a hospitality company she founded in 2005. She is President and Managing Partner of the WNBA Washington Mystics and the first African-American woman to be an owner or partner in three professional sports teams: the Mystics, the Washington Wizards (NBA), and the Washington Capitals (NHL).

Johnson has long been a powerful influence in the entertainment industry, starting with her work as founding partner of Black Entertainment Television (BET). She has served as executive producer of four documentary films, and her newest film, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, opened fall 2013.