UR alum Daniel Fairley II

Obama Foundation taps alum for young changemakers program

September 11, 2023


As a White House intern during the Obama presidency, Daniel Fairley II received some advice that would serve him well as he looked to the future. The 2013 alum said President Barack Obama told him to set his sights on fighting for something he could believe in — not power or a specific position.

A decade later, Obama — joined by his wife, Michelle — is offering Fairley further career guidance. Fairley is among 100 changemakers selected for the Obama Foundation’s inaugural Leaders USA program.

Currently youth opportunity coordinator for the city of Charlottesville, Fairley started the six-month, values-driven leadership program in July. Weekly virtual meetings explore moving from hope to action, coupled with practical tools and training to deepen leadership practice.

“I’m bringing my strengths of community building and connection, which are being matched by other people who are a part of the process,” said Fairley, who’s rekindling friendships built through graduate school and his early career.

Participants further connect in breakout groups with peers and experts from the foundation and external sectors. Sessions have featured an adviser to the Dalai Lama and Valerie Jarrett, Obama’s former White House assistant and current foundation CEO. Coaches help changemakers build out their leadership goals.

Fairley’s community leadership includes serving as the youngest chapter president in 100 Black Men of America in history, and working with Charlottesville Area Network Dedicated to Youth Development and the University of Virginia’s Equity Center. He recently unified several local organizations and agencies to host a back-to-school bash, drawing 1,000 people to provide haircuts and shoes for children.

His instincts for advocacy were nurtured at UR, he said, working with the then-multicultural services team.

At Richmond, Fairley helped turn single-stall restrooms into gender-inclusive spaces. As a White House intern working in operations, he resurrected that idea. “It was cool to see ideas come to life that I was taught at Richmond,” he said.

With insights gleaned from the leadership program, Fairley is focusing on local resilience in overcoming racial injustice. His youth work generates community and self-efficacy for Black youths, who might not always experience the support he received from his father and stepfather.

“I want to be the positive Black male role model that believes in them, that cares about them, that will check in on them, that calls them out when they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” said Fairley, whose father took him to Obama’s first inauguration, telling everyone his son would follow in the new president’s footsteps. “That continues to be my North Star: to create a solid space for youths to feel comfortable, and wanted, and loved, and believed in.”