Living Legends

The Honorable Kay Coles James

The Honorable Kay Coles James

Kay Coles James is a woman who cares deeply about the well-being of future leaders. She believes with a great education, one can do anything. She founded the Gloucester Institute, where ambitious people of color can have the opportunity to make life-changing connections with some of the biggest players in the private and public sectors. The Gloucester Institute works with young people to become “solutionists” who will create practical solutions to today’s most pressing issues.

Kay did not come from a home that was typically middle-class. Her father left her family when she was just four years old and her mother never held a steady job. Kay was raised by her uncle and aunt who were professionals—a businessman and a school teacher. Through these two figures, a young Kay Coles James understood the value of education. This is where she learned the values of self-sufficiency and tact. Kay remembers too well the time she faced racial discrimination when she was integrating schools on the Northside of Richmond, Virginia. It was tough for Kay. It was important for her to get through it and fight for her right to be treated as an equal human being.

She went on to graduate from Hampton University and has received honorary degrees that include a Doctor of Laws from Pepperdine University, the University of Virginia’s Publius Award for Public Service, and the Spirit of Democracy Award for Public Policy Leadership from the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. She has served under the late Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, Governor George Allen, and President George W. Bush.

Kay Coles James is the first African-American woman to become president of the conservative think-tank, The Heritage Foundation. She continues to fight for what she believes is the right way to move America forward. Kay’s quote reminds us to do our very best, and in return, we will be rewarded for our hard work and determination.



Focus on excellence in all that you do, because cream always rises to the top.”  –The Honorable Kay Coles James (Founder and Board Chair, The Gloucester Institute)