From the Hood to the Hill: An Urban Dream!
Wayne Ward Ford was born in Washington D.C.’s inner city in 1951. Although he was a success on the football field and named all-conference defensive tackle for Ballou High School, he was also voted “most likely not to succeed” by his classmates because of his involvement in various juvenile crimes.
In spite of that, Ford received a scholarship to play football for Rochester Junior College in Minnesota upon his graduation in 1969. It’s a move Ford credits with saving his life. He continued his football career and his education at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, graduating in 1974 on the Dean’s List with a Bachelor’s Degree in Education.
Ford hosted his first U.S. Presidential Forum in 1976. The sponsoring organization was named Concerned Citizens for Minority Affairs, and many presidential candidates sent their surrogates. It was in 1984 that Ford, along with Latino community leader Mary Campos, would found the Brown & Black Presidential Forum. The Forum is now the nation’s oldest ongoing minority presidential forum. It has been broadcast and telecast nationally numerous times, by Sirius Satellite Radio, C-SPAN, HDNET, and MSNBC. December 2007, Forum proved to be prophetic by featuring soon to be Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joseph Biden, and President Barack Obama.
In 1985, Ford founded the nonprofit social service organization Urban Dreams to serve the needs of Des Moines’ inner-city residents. Ford has since served as the Executive Director.
In 1992, Ford began his own consulting firm, Wayne Ford & Associates. WF&A helps businesses throughout Iowa recruit and retain minority employees while working to empower nonprofit community organizations through the development of high-risk youth projects and fundraising. The firm also collaborates with many universities—aiding student-athletes from urban environments make the transition to a rural collegiate setting. WF&A has even begun international initiatives in both Asia and Europe concerning emerging civic/social issues.
Ford was called “the voice of urban Iowans” during his six-year run as host of his own weekly talk show on Des Moines’ WHO radio, one of the few 50,000-watt clear channel AM radio stations in the country. Iowans were also able to get Ford’s perspectives through columns in Des Moines Press Citizen Shopper and his weekly “View from the Hill” article to in The Des Moines Register. He returned to the airwaves in 2011 with “Wayne Ford Wants U” on Mediacom cable television, seen in five Midwestern states.
Ford may be most well-known for his work under Iowa’s Golden Dome. From 1996 to his retirement in 2011, Ford served as an Iowa State Representative. He was only the tenth African-American in the state’s history to hold such a position. His district included some of the most affluent and most deprived areas in Iowa. Ford’s service still stands as the longest-serving African-American in the state’s history.
During his tenure as an Iowa state Representative, Ford served on nearly every House standing and appropriations committee, most notably as co-chair of the Joint House & Senate Interim Job Training Needs study committee, Vice Chair of the House Government Oversight Committee, Vice Chair of the House Economic Growth Committee, and Chair of the House Education Committee’s Dropout Prevention subcommittee. Ford also served on the Joint Prison Restructuring Committee, Governor’s Nonprofit Organizations Council, State Government Accountability Committee, Joint Targeted Small Business Committee, Lead Paint Prevention Committee, Medical Homes Committee; and he was Co-Chair of the Governor’s Task Force on Overrepresentation of Blacks in Prison. He also authored Iowa’s landmark Minority Impact Legislation, the first such legislation in the nation, which states no new judicial law can be approved until the impact on minorities can be evaluated.
In 2006, Ford was the Chair of Region XI (which encompasses Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, and Kansas) of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators. He chaired the NBCSL’s Insurance Committee in 2007. He was First Vice-Chair of the NBCSL Business, Finance, and Insurance Committee and the Sports and Entertainment Committee since 2008 to 2010. He authored landmark NBCSL resolutions on health care, college student-athletes, telecommunications and economic development.
In 2008, Ford collaborated with President John Byrd of Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, to create the Simpson Urban Studies Institute (SUSI), to develop an applied research connection between academia and practice.
Ford’s dramatic rise from D.C.’s inner city to Iowa’s capital has been chronicled in numerous publications, including The Des Moines Register, The Washington Times, The Washington Post, The Source, and Parade. In 2001, award-winning journalist Dan Rather personally selected Ford’s unique life story for his best-selling book, The American Dream.
Ford has been inducted into numerous Halls of Fame including Rochester Community College’s Alumni Hall of Fame in 1994, Drake University’s Double-D award for athletics and civic involvement in 1995, Des Moines B’nai Brith Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 and the Iowa State African-American Hall of Fame in 2004. In 2009, The Des Moines Register presented him with its highest civic recognition award, the Iowa Star Award, for his impact on the State of Iowa. He received the Shining Star Award from the National Organization of Black Elected Legislative Women, an affiliate of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL) in 2008. He was awarded the NBCSL Eagle Award for outstanding service to the organization in 2011. Most recently he was appointed to the Iowa Juvenile Justice Advisory Council and chair of its Disproportionate Minority Confinement Committee.