Champion of Children

Soledad O’Brien, award-winning documentarian, journalist, speaker, philanthropist, and author has been selected as the 2023 Foundations, Inc. recipient of the Champion of Children Award. Ms. O’Brien is being recognized for her work helping young women prepare for, attend, and graduate from college, enabling them to ultimately achieve their career and life goals. Her foundation, PowHERful, focuses on supporting young women obtain degrees.

Foundations presents this prestigious award each year to an individual who has demonstrated outstanding commitment to supporting our nation’s most vulnerable children and helping them achieve brighter futures through quality education.

Ms. O’Brien established the PowHERful Foundation to provide mentoring and financial assistance to young women. Many of the girls Ms. O’Brien works with are the first in their families to pursue a college degree. PowHERful supports these hardworking young women with the connections and services to succeed in college and pursue a path to a fulfilling career.

Ms. O’Brien will accept the award during a special presentation at Foundations’ 26th annual Beyond School Hours National Education Conference on February 10, 2023, in Orlando, Florida.

Past Winners


Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond

Education Policy Guru

Referred to as “the Michael Jordan of education policy,” Dr. Darling-Hammond has dedicated her professional career to ensuring educational equity for all children across the nation.

One of the nation’s most prominent researchers, Dr. Darling-Hammond blends policy and practice to ensure that all children have access to empowering learning experiences and excellent teachers.


Malcolm Mitchell

Super Bowl Champion, Author, Literacy Activist

Malcolm is the founder of Share the Magic Foundation, a nonprofit whose mission is to introduce book ownership to students and improve literacy in schools where students are at risk of academic failure.

His Read with Malcolm literacy programs promote the benefits of reading to kids living in underserved communities through innovative and inclusive programming.


Dolly Parton

Legendary Singer and Philanthropist

Dolly Parton and her book gifting program Imagination Library have been mailing free, high-quality books to young children since 1995. Dolly’s mission is for all children to own books, regardless of their family’s income – and to be excited about the magic that books can create!

After launching in Dolly’s home county in East Tennessee, the Imagination Library quickly grew – today, she sends more than one million books each month to children all around the world!


Geoffrey Canada

Social Activist and Educator

Geoffrey Canada is an iconic educator and social activist, renowned around the world for his pioneering work in educational reform. The Harlem Children’s Zone is a holistic pipeline from early childhood through college, providing underserved youth with the individualized support they need to get through their unique challenges.

Mr. Canada’s work is not just about education during the school day – HCZ supports programs in community-building, health, and family services. Inspired by Mr. Canada’s success in Harlem, President Obama launched the Promise Zones Initiative to replicate the HCZ model. 


Barbara Bush

Former First Lady

As First Lady of the United States, Barbara Bush’s cause was family literacy. Barbara Bush was involved with many literacy organizations, served on literacy committees, and chaired many reading organizations.

She founded the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy to combat the generational cycle of illiteracy in America by supporting programs where parents and their young children were able to learn together. The Barbara Bush Foundation runs over 1500 literacy programs spread across all US states.


Ralph Smith

Visionary Leader

Ralph Smith is the Managing Director for the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a nationwide collaborative effort to ensure that more children in low-income families succeed in school by focusing on an important predictor – grade-level reading by the end of third grade.

Ralph Smith served the Philadelphia School District for many years as both chief of staff and special counsel. He is known for supporting fathers in their critical role in children’s lives, mobilizing communities to be change agents in improving outcomes for vulnerable children and families, and promoting reforms that help ex-offenders become productive citizens.


Terry Peterson

Father of 21st CCLC Programs

Terry Peterson is the Director of the Afterschool and Community Learning Network, with a PhD in Research and Statistics in Education. Dr. Peterson was one of the original founders of the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, and has helped several statewide afterschool networks develop and improve their strategies.

Dr. Peterson also served as chief education advisor to the U.S. Secretary of Education for eight years, developing a number of nationwide education improvement strategies.


Rev. Dr. Wilson Goode, Sr.

Lifelong Education Advocate

Wilson Goode was the first black mayor in Philadelphia and served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Education in the Clinton administration. He holds a Doctor of Ministry and is an advocate for faith-based initiatives.

Rev. Goode is the CEO of Amachi, a mentoring program for children of incarcerated parents. He was awarded the Purpose Prize for exceptional individuals over age 60 who are working to address critical social problems.

Award Criteria

  • Demonstrated commitment to vulnerable and underserved children
  • A proven track record of making a significant and positive impact on low-income communities
  • Demonstrated contribution to the fields of youth development, parent engagement, and education (including 21st Century Community Learning Centers)