The American Indian College Fund staff, its students, and tribal college communities are mourning the passing of its longtime friend and ally, David Kennedy, on October 10. He was the co-founder of the international award-winning ad agency, Wieden+Kennedy.
It was because of David Kennedy that the iconic agency became the pro-bono agency of record for the College Fund for more than 30 years. Under Kennedy’s direction, the agency developed the College Fund’s smart, edgy, and stylistic public service announcements. This body of work helped highlight the importance of higher education access for Indigenous students and support of tribal colleges and universities, while bringing Native peoples’ voices into the national conversation. Over the years the ads highlighted the importance of Native scholars’ voices, cultures, languages, and traditions for the survival of their communities and as the foundation for all of humanity’s survival.
The relationship between Wieden+Kennedy and the American Indian College Fund was born when former College Fund Executive Director Barbara Bratone reached out to the agency via letter, asking if the agency would be interested in representing the College Fund.
Kennedy, who grew up as the son of an oil wildcatter and traveled across the west to Oklahoma and Montana, was befriended by Native people. He recalled those years as his first introduction to Native cultures. When David Kennedy received the letter from Bratone requesting Wieden+Kennedy’s services, his partner, Dan Wieden, recalled he ran down the hall yelling with joy.
Kennedy spent his youth at powwows and rodeos with Native friends and immersed himself in their cultures, traditions, and arts. Those memories and relationships left a lasting impression that informed his professional relationship and eagerness to work with the College Fund—and the passion he infused in that work.
Cheryl Crazy Bull, President and CEO of the American Indian College Fund said, “The American Indian College Fund community is deeply saddened by the passing of our friend and colleague, David Kennedy. Kennedy has been our colleague for over 30 years bringing his creative heart to the story of Native students so that we become more visible as the First People of this country. His creativity and commitment contributed to thousands of Tribal students accessing post-secondary education, particularly at our Tribal Colleges and Universities. We join those who will miss him and offer our prayers for his journey and for strength for his family and friends.
From the inception of the College Fund’s work Kennedy’s generous support and determined commitment helped us become one of the most successful Native non-profits in the country through media campaigns that honored our identity while connecting with broader society. It is bittersweet and fitting that the latest and perhaps greatest of Kennedy’s contributions to visibility movements for Native peoples is the ‘This Is Indian Country ‘campaign, launched the evening of his passing with the video Manaháhtaan and the ‘This Is Indian Country’ advertisement in The New York Times on Indigenous People’s Day, October 11, 2021.”
See more at the American Indian College Fund’s website at collegefund.org/blog/american-indian-college-fund-mourns-david-kennedy/.