President Donald J. Trump recently awarded Heritage Foundation President Kay C. James the National Humanities Medal “for her intellectual leadership, devotion to our constitutional principles, and steadfast commitment to opportunity for all.”
The award recognizes James’ lifetime of achievements, from her work creating better educational opportunities for students to her service under four U.S. presidents to her position leading America’s conservative movement as president of The Heritage Foundation.
According to a White House press release announcing the award, “the National Humanities Medal honors an individual or organization whose work has deepened the nation’s understanding of the human experience, broadened citizens’ engagement with history and literature, or helped preserve or expand Americans’ access to cultural resources.”
James spent much of her adult life fighting for policies that promote family and education as the means to solve poverty. During her time on the Virginia State Board of Education and the Fairfax County School Board, she crafted education policies designed to aid underprivileged youth achieve their full potential.
James was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to serve on the National Commission on Children, an advisory body on children’s issues. President George H.W. Bush later appointed her as associate director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and as assistant secretary for public affairs at the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. In 2001, she became director of the U. S. Office of Personnel Management, serving as President George W. Bush’s principal adviser in matters of personnel administration for 1.8 million members of the federal civil service. As director, she played a major role in the creation of the Department of Homeland Security after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
In 2016, a fourth U.S. president turned to her for assistance. As president-elect, Donald Trump asked her to serve as a senior adviser on his presidential transition team. Once in office, President Trump appointed her as a commissioner on the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission. She also advised the president on matters ranging from immigration reform to support for Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
An ardent pro-lifer, James fights for life out of a desire to protect society’s most vulnerable. She worked for several pro-life organizations and served as the chief spokesperson for the National Right to Life Committee in the 1980s.
James believes that young talent must be cultivated and honed to change the world for the better. In 2001, she founded The Gloucester Institute to train and nurture college-age men and women in the African American community to become the next generation of leaders.
In 2020, as COVID-19 raged throughout the country, James created and chaired the National Coronavirus Recovery Commission, a project of The Heritage Foundation that brought together some of the nation’s top experts and thinkers to come up with specific policy solutions for preserving American’s lives and livelihoods during the pandemic.
Former Vice President Mike Pence joined James for the release of the commission’s recommendations, and the Trump administration relied heavily on those recommendations as it formed its COVID-19 policy.
James has made it her goal to live up to the ideals represented by National Humanities Medal and do everything she can at Heritage to create a better life for all Americans.
“Today, like every day, The Heritage Foundation continues its mission to help ensure that America remains a land of unprecedented opportunity and the freest, most prosperous nation the world has ever known,” she recently said. “I can assure you, Heritage will never stop fighting for America.”