Q&A with The Task Force Board’s Newest Member: Attorney and Author Kent Alexander
The latest member to join The Task Force for Global Health’s Board, Kent Alexander, has held many distinguished roles over the course of his 30-plus-year career. He served as a United States Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, senior vice president and general counsel for Emory University, general counsel for the global humanitarian organization, CARE USA, and a partner at the King & Spalding law firm.
One of the most formative experiences of his career came during his time as U.S. Attorney, when Alexander worked behind the scenes with the FBI to investigate the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing. His efforts on the case ultimately helped exonerate the hero-turned-suspect security guard Richard Jewell. Today, Alexander is collaborating with a former Wall Street Journal editor on a narrative nonfiction book that interweaves the lives of Jewell, the reporter who broke the story, the FBI agent who made the case, and the actual bomber. Abrams Press will publish the book, which has already been optioned for a movie by 20th Century Fox.
Alexander explains his lifelong passion for community service, and how he hopes his legal and nonprofit expertise will help shape The Task Force Board’s agenda in the years to come.
You’ve done a lot of work in the nonprofit sector. Why is it important for you to give back?
More than anything, it’s part of my family’s ethos. My parents have always been very involved in the community, always giving back. That’s what I grew up knowing. And that’s what I grew up finding most satisfying in life, outside of family and work.
My parents were very engaged politically in Atlanta at a time when African Americans faced challenges in running for office, when the city was predominantly white. They became good friends and early supporters of people like Congressmen Andrew Young and John Lewis, and former Mayor Maynard Jackson. Those were the people I ended up seeing all the time. I was involved with the same civil rights-type causes that my family was into, whether it was stuffing mailboxes, going to marches, or attending social action marathons. It was a childhood replete with social awareness.
How did the The Task Force first get on your radar?
I knew about The Task Force’s great reputation while I was general counsel at Emory. One case I worked on at the university probably touched most directly on the type of work The Task Force does (such as its stewardship of drug donation programs), and it really resonated with me. Two scientists at Emory had discovered the antiviral drugs emtricitabine (Emtriva) and lamivudine (Epivir). These drugs were incredibly powerful, and they had the ability to address HIV globally. We ultimately sold the licensing rights, and the money went back into research at Emory. In the process of negotiating the licensing agreement, I had a chance to see what medications can do for large underserved populations globally.
Later, while working for CARE, I had a chance to travel the world. I spent a lot of time in West Africa in particular. I got a real appreciation for what nonprofit organizations and access to medications can do for developing communities. It’s one thing to read about it, but it’s another to sit in a remote village in Mali or Niger and see the actual impact of the assistance and sustainable practices coming from outside. It turned into some powerful life experiences for me. I also discovered how much good can come out of the city of Atlanta and the organizations that are based here.
What are you hoping to accomplish as a member of The Task Force Board?
I’m so new to the board that part of what I need to do is to learn how I can add value. I’d like to do my part in bolstering the great work The Task Force is already doing, of course. And I’d like to explore with the board and staff the best ways to innovate going forward, how to bring in more money for different programs, and how to help as many people as possible. I know that sounds like generic, fortune cookie stuff, but I just like the idea of doing whatever I can to help bring The Task Force to yet another level.
What skills or assets do you bring to the Board?
I bring legal skills, experience working abroad with underserved communities, experience working with researchers at Emory, and fundraising. I’m hoping that through my career, I might have picked up insights that can work to The Task Force’s benefit.
What global health issues would you like to see the organization address in the near future?
This goes back to my experience traveling with CARE and seeing the need for medications. One area that particularly interests me is viral hepatitis, which is just devastating around the world. When I was at Emory, I spent a lot of time sitting in on Carter Center board meetings in which President Carter discussed tropical diseases like river blindness and Guinea worm. I realized that it truly is possible to make an amazing difference in the world by zeroing in on affected populations. The idea of figuring out what the next disease eradication and elimination opportunities are really excites me.
I have a lot to learn, but I’m hopeful that there will be new areas where we can explore and make an incredible difference in the world, just as The Task Force has done so well in the past and is doing now.