One to Watch: Eric Motley

Photo © Tony Powell

Eric Motley, executive VP of The Aspen Institute, a think-tank dedicated to discussing today’s pressing global issues, grew up far from the centers of power in the United States. Instead, he grew up in Madison Park, a small Alabama community founded by freed slaves.

This thriving community taught him everything he needed to know about hope, optimism, giving back, and the American dream of freedom and equality. It also started him on his journey to the Oval Office as special assistant to President George W. Bush.

“In 2006 there was an article in the Washington Post about me, which motived lots of friends to encourage me to tell the rest of my story and tell it in my own words,” says Motley, who spends most of the year in Washington, D.C. and the summer months in Aspen, Colorado, running programs for The Aspen Institute. “And I wanted to add my voice to the chorus line of memoirs published by African-American men in the last five years.”

Madison Park is really two stories, says Motley. It’s the story of his life, as well as the story of Madison Park where his grandparents raised him and the rest of Madison Park as well.

“There is the place that is the land and the place that is the community. In a sense, all are interconnected,” he says. “The daily exercises and rhythms informed my own sense of discipline and beauty, stewardship of the earth, and sense of work ethic.”

Motley called writing Madison Park a spiritual exercise. “Writing it was a recognition of the familiar, but also the strength I found along the way,” he says. “Even if the book had never been published, it was rediscovering myself and those in my life, and dealing with unfinished business.”

—Ann Byle