FROM THE HOOD TO THE HILL: AN URBAN DREAM
Wayne Ward Ford was born in Washington D.C.’s inner city in 1951. He was a success on the football field but 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. He continued his football career and education at Drake University, graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Education. His papers, mementos, and photographs will be archived in the Drake University library in 2017.
Ford hosted his first U.S. Presidential Forum in 1976 under the name "Concerned Citizens for Minority Affairs" and many presidential candidates sent surrogates. Later that year he was the Minority Education Coordinator for the Iowa Jimmy Carter Presidential Campaign. In 1984, Ford, along with Latino community leader Mary Campos, founded the nonpartisan Brown & Black Presidential Forum (brownandblackforum.org). It is now the nation’s oldest ongoing minority presidential forum/debate. The 1988 Forum was C-SPANs first "Road to the White House" production outside of Washington, DC. It has subsequently been broadcast and telecast nationally and internationally by MSNBC, BET, Fusion, Univision, the Black Family Channel, HDNet, Sirius Satellite Radio, Telemundo, and others. Drake University hosted the 2016 Forum for Democrat candidates in Old Main's Sheslow Auditorium.
In 1984, Ford was appointed by Tom Whitney, Chair of the Polk County Board of Supervisors, to the county's Pretrial Release Task Force. Also in 1984, he began writing a column, "Wayne Ford's Perspective," for the New Iowa Bystander and became a mediator for the Polk County Attorney's Mediation Center, both of which he continued to 1986.
In 1985, Ford founded the nonprofit social service organization Urban Dreams (urbandreams.org) to serve the needs of Des Moines’ inner-city residents. Ford has since served as the Executive Director. Urban Dreams is state licensed for outpatient substance abuse treatment, state accredited for mental health services, and active in enhancing public safety in the metropolitan area. As of 2017 Urban Dreams in collaboration with Broadlawns Medical Center and Wellmark Blue Cross / Blue Shield insurance company have created award winning job training programs for youth and adults that are models for the city of Des Moines, state of Iowa as well as the United States.
Ford was appointed to Iowa's Juvenile Justice Advisory Council by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad in 1989 and continued as a member to 1997. Reappointed by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad in 2012 and again by Governor Kim Reynolds in 2017.
In 1990, Ford was a member of the George Washington Carver Centennial Advisory Committee for Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa. From 1990 to 1995, Ford was President of the Center for the Study and Application of Black Economic Development which owned and operated low power minority community radio station KUCB.
He was called "the voice of Urban Iowans" during his six year run, 1990-1996, 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 The Des Moines Register. He returned to the air waves from 2011 to 2015 with “Wayne Ford Wants U” on Mediacom cable television, seen in five Midwestern states. In 2017 his “Win For All” segment began airing on KCWI TV Des Moines.
In 1992, Ford began his own consulting firm, Wayne Ford & Associates (waynefordassoc.com). WFA helps Iowa communities and companies deal effectively with increasing urbanization. Firms/organizations WFA has worked with include Principal Financial Group, Mercy Medical Center, MidAmerican Energy the YMCA and Broadlawns Medical Center. Also in 1992, he was instrumental in creation of Drake University's "Urban Issues" television show, its Research Center for the Study of Urban Problems, and its NCAA summer youth sports program. Also in 2002, he was appointed as a charter member of Drake University's National Advisory Board on Diversity.
Ford organized the most heavily attended workshop presented at the National Violence Prevention Conference that was held in Des Moines in 1995, when he also was a consultant to Iowa Public Television for its "Changing the Odds in Iowa" production on being a minority role model, in which he also appeared.
From 1995 through 2001, he was a community consultant for the Iowa Barnstormers Arena Football League team, the Des Moines’ Dragons International Basketball Association basketball team and the Iowa Cubs Triple-A baseball team. He was co-chair of the local Diversity Committee when the national AAU Junior Olympics were held in Des Moines.
Between 1995 and 2001, Ford was actively involved in efforts to preserve part of old Fort Des Moines as a national historic landmark and was a member of the Fort Des Moines Black Officers Memorial Board of Advisors. Fort Des Moines has a unique place in African-American history by virtue of its having been the place black Americans were first trained to be U.S. Army officers during World War I. During World War II, members of the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAACs) were trained at Fort Des Moines.
Between 1995 and 2010, he worked with Iowa State University and the University of Georgia on the "Family and Community Health Study," which was the largest longitudinal study of African-American families conducted in the country at the time. In 2008, he collaborated with President John Byrd of Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, in creating the Simpson Urban Studies Institute (SUSI), to develop an applied research connection between academia and practice. SUSI conducted an early study on the effects of minority migration to Iowa from the Chicago, Illinois, area and a study of the effects of Iowa's first in the nation minority impact legislation.
Ford worked with then Iowa State Senator Tom Vilsack on his successful 1998 campaign for Governor by promoting his candidacy to minority Iowans. Vilsack appointed him co-chair of the Governor's Task Force on Overrepresentation of Blacks in Prison in 1999 and Iowa Governor Chet Culver appointed him to a committee to review progress in 2007.
Ford may be most well-known for his work under Iowa’s golden dome. He served as an Iowa State Representative from 1996 to his retirement from the legislature in 2010, becoming the tenth African-American legislator in the state’s history on his election and at the time, the longest-serving African-American legislator on his retirement. Ford served on nearly every House standing and appropriations committee. He authored Iowa’s landmark Minority Impact Legislation, the first such legislation in the nation, requiring the effect on minorities be evaluated with respect to proposed criminal laws. Connecticut, Oregon and New Jersey have since implemented similar legislation. He has been called the “father of lead paint prevention”, because he was responsible for Iowa's law requiring testing for lead paint exposure when children start in school. His amendment to the Department of Human Rights Budget bill in 1999 called for the study of persons with Asian Pacific Island descent that led to creation of the Commission for Asians and Pacific Islanders in 2004.
Ford was Chair of Region XI (Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas) of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL) in 2006 and chaired the NBCSL’s Insurance Committee in 2007, when he organized the NBCSL's first national insurance symposium in Des Moines. He was First Vice-Chair of the NBCSL Business, Finance, and Insurance Committee and the Sports and Entertainment Committee from 2008 to 2010. He authored landmark NBCSL resolutions on minority impact statements, health care, college student athletes, telecommunications and economic development.
From 1999 to 2009, Mr. Ford was a member of the Board of Trustees of the Milton S. Eisenhower Foundation of Washington D.C., a social advocacy organization. Between 2005 and 2009, he was on the board of Boardroom Bound, a national organization promoting election of women and minorities to corporate boards of directors. In 2015, he became a member of the Leadership Council of Opportunity Nation, the purpose of which is to revitalize the American dream.
Ford was inducted into Iowa's African-American Hall of Fame in 2004, he was also appointed by Governor Tom Vilsack to be a member of the Governor's Nonprofit Task Force, which created "Principles and Practices for Charitable Nonprofit Excellence."
Ford’s dramatic rise from D.C.’s inner city to Iowa’s capitol has been chronicled in numerous locals and national publications, including The Washington Post, Washington Times, Parade Magazine, Source Magazine, and The Des Moines Register. In 2001, award-winning journalist Dan Rather personally selected Ford’s unique life story for inclusion in Rather's best-selling book, The American Dream.
Following disturbances at the 2010 Iowa State Fair, Ford organized a series of meetings with community leaders to explore and develop ways to improve public safety in Des Moines and there have been no further such disturbances at the fair.
In 2016, he brought the presidents of Simpson College, Drake University, Grand View University, and Des Moines Area Community College together to form to explore ways to collaborate for the common good. That relationship has been fruitful, each entity is working individually to enhance their community.
Ford has received numerous recognitions and awards, including induction onto the 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. He received the Harold Washington Pinnacle Award from the Iowa Commission on the Status of African-Americans in 2008 and the Alexander G. Clark Community Service Award from the University of Iowa's Black Law Student Association in 2007. 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 NBCSL affiliate, in 2008. He was awarded the NBCSL Eagle Award for outstanding service to the organization in 2011. He was again appointed to Iowa’s Juvenile Justice Advisory Council by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and chair of its Disproportionate Minority Contact Committee in 2012. In 2016, he received the NAACP Des Moines Branch's Individual Community Service Recognition Award. In 2017, Ford co-founded with Iowa Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend, the Iowa Workforce Development Minority Subcommittee with the goal of increasing minority employment in the state of Iowa. He was also given the position of Visiting Assistant Professor of Urban Studies at Simpson College.
On May 20, 2018, Ford Received an Honorary PHD of Humane Letters from Drake University in Des Moines, IA.
In June of 2018 Ford received a special recognition from the Iowa Juneteenth Observance Committee for his lifetime work.
2019 Ford became a member of Drake University Community Engagement Advisory Council, Drake University Football Alumni Board Committee, Drake University Black Alumni Reunion Planning Committee, Committee Member of Iowa Summit on Justice and Disparities Advisory Council and Urban Institute Prison Research and Innovation Initiative Advisory Board. Ford also founded the Wayne Ford Equity Impact Institute.
2020 -- Ford became the recipient of The Daughters of the American Revolution’s Medal of Honor.
Ford is currently working on his autobiography titled “From the Ground Up.”
Ford has one son, Ryan, and is a member of True Bible Baptist Church in Des Moines, IA