Published in The New York Times | November 30, 2014
Elton John and Darren Walker on race, sexual identity and leaving the past behind
By Philip Galanes
It’s hard to imagine two people coming from worlds as different as those of Elton John and Darren Walker.
Mr. John, 67, emerged from a village outside London (where he was born as Reginald Dwight) to become one of the most successful recording artists of all time. Twenty-two years ago, he created the Elton John AIDS Foundation, which has raised more than $300 million to date. (He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1998.)
Mr. Walker, 55, born in a charity hospital in Louisiana and raised by a single mother in rural Texas, became a white-shoe lawyer and investment banker, then a community activist and philanthropist. Last year, he was named the president of the Ford Foundation, where he oversees about $500 million in annual grants, and recently played a critical role in saving Detroit’s pensions and art collection in the city’s bankruptcy proceedings. He lives in Manhattan with his partner, David Beitzel, a contemporary art dealer.
Still, the two found much in common when they met in the presidential suite of the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, where Mr. John was staying. Surrounded by large photos of Mr. John’s two young sons, Zachary and Elijah, whom he is raising with his husband, David Furnish, the pair bonded over their childhood dreams and adult challenges; the way they came to grips with their sexual identity and outsider status; and their shared commitment to social justice and the elimination of H.I.V. and AIDS.