Johnathan Holifield was appointed by President Trump on Oct. 2, 2017, as executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). In this capacity, he oversees federal efforts, set forth in Executive Order 13779, to “advance America's full human potential; foster more and better opportunities in higher education; [and] strengthen the capacity of HBCUs to provide the highest-quality education.” As part of bolstering the nation’s HBCUs, the initiative provides equitable opportunities for participation in federal programs and monitors implementation of the executive order.
Holifield’s expertise includes economic and educational inclusion, public-private partnerships and community system-building. Prior to joining the Department, Holifield co-founded ScaleUp Partners in 2010. A consultancy committed to connecting underrepresented populations and disaffected communities with innovation development leaders and stakeholders, its purpose is to grow inclusive and competitive local economies.
Holifield authored The Future Economy and Inclusive Competitiveness: How Demographic Trends and Innovation Can Create Economic Prosperity for All Americans. His book, published in 2017, describes the dramatic economic impact that shifting demographic trends will have on America’s economic future, and the pitfalls and opportunities that could accompany the shifts.
He previously was founding vice president of inclusive competitiveness at NorTech (Northeast Ohio Technology Coalition), an organization dedicated to enhancing the region’s prosperity through science, technology and innovation. He authored the 2014 Ohio Department of Higher Education’s statewide report, Inclusive Competitiveness: Empowering Underrepresented Ohioans to Compete in the Innovation Economy, and he was a member of the Northeast Ohio Council of Regional Economic Policy Advisors. Additionally, he served in leadership positions at the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, at CincyTech (a market-leading venture development organization), at the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy and at the Cleveland Urban League.
In Ohio, Holifield also led the formation of a market-leading regional innovation leadership organization, attracting support from Fortune 500 CEOs, university presidents and elected officials; raised over $40 million, which was leveraged to create networks of more than $250 million of early-stage risk capital and increased investment options for entrepreneurs; created Ohio’s first information technology public school, which became a U.S. Department of Education National Blue Ribbon School; and secured a $5 million appropriation to implement Ohio’s first STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education and entrepreneurship program. Additionally, he executed partnerships to host the nation’s first summit on “angel” investing (in which individuals inject capital for business startups in exchange for an ownership position), higher growth entrepreneurship, STEM education and policy making in urban communities. He also created the first national conference on urban and minority biomedical entrepreneurship.
Holifield earned his Bachelor of Arts from West Virginia University, where he was also elected football team captain. He later played for the Cincinnati Bengals in the National Football League. He received his Juris Doctor and Master of Education from the University of Cincinnati, and a professional certificate from the University of Oklahoma’s Economic Development Institute.