Melody Barnes

Board member since 2023. Richmond, Va.

Melody Barnes is executive director of the University of Virginia’s Karsh Institute of Democracy and the W.L. Lyons Brown Family Director for Policy and Public Engagement for the Democracy Initiative in the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. She is the J. Wilson Newman Professor of Governance at the Miller Center, as well as an affiliated faculty member and senior fellow at the Karsh Center for Law & Democracy at the School of Law.

Prior to her tenure at the University of Virginia, Melody co-founded the domestic strategy and impact development firm MB2 Solutions LLC. She was also vice provost for global student leadership initiatives at New York University from April 2012 until October 2015.

From January 2009 until January 2012, Melody was assistant to the President and director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. In that capacity, she provided strategic advice to President Obama and worked closely with members of the Cabinet building, executing, and coordinating the administration’s domestic policy agenda.

From July 2008 until January 2009, she served as senior domestic policy advisor to the Obama for America campaign and the Obama-Biden Transition Project. At the Center for American Progress, a progressive research institute and think tank, Melody was a senior fellow and subsequently, executive vice president for policy from May 2003 until July 2008. From December 1995 until March 2003, she worked for Senator Edward M. Kennedy on the Senate Judiciary Committee, serving as his general counsel and his chief counsel. Her experience also includes an appointment as director of legislative affairs for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from 1994 until 1995, and assistant counsel to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights from 1992 until 1994. In 1989, Melody began her career as an attorney with Shearman & Sterling in New York City.

Currently, Melody serves as an independent director on the boards of Ventas, Inc. and Booz Allen Hamilton. She also serves on the boards of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation (Monticello), and the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University. Melody is chair of the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions.

Melody is the host and narrator of the National Endowment for the Humanities-supported podcast, LBJ and the Great Society, described as one of the best podcasts of 2020 by the New Yorker, and co-editor of Community Wealth Building & The Reconstruction of American Democracy: Can We Make American Democracy Work? (Elgar, 2020).

Melody received her law degree from the University of Michigan in 1989. In 1986, she received her bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she graduated with honors in history.

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