Melanie R. Brown is the daughter of Archie Brown and Gloria McGhee, both of whom grew up in Jim Crow Alabama and instilled in Melanie and her sister, Monica, a deep understanding of and pride in Black people's fight for equality and justice. This came in handy when in the 10th grade, Melanie challenged her student government's exclusion of Malcolm X from a Homecoming display focused on the 1960s. X was deemed too controversial and misunderstood as a symbol of hate, instead of an important historical figure and symbol of Black people's liberation. Melanie lost that fight, but along with a white ally, boycotted the school's festivities and an activist was born.
Melanie attended American University in Washington, D.C. where she served on the Black Student Alliance and was awarded the prestigious Myra D. Sadker Award for Equity. Melanie, an accomplished dancer and performer who once trained at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City, focused her studies on education, graduating in 2002 with a degree in Secondary Education and Literature. She taught for four years at the SEED Public Charter School of Washington, D.C., the nation's first urban, public boarding school before matriculating to Harvard University's Graduate School of Education where she was voted in to serve as the student government Vice President of Diversity.
After earning her masters degree in Arts in Education, Melanie was awarded Harvard's Crimson-China Cultural Exchange Fellowship to teach English to low-income Chinese students during the summer of 2007.
Melanie then transitioned into philanthropy as a program officer at The Heinz Endowments in Pittsburgh. While at Heinz, Melanie's grant making focused on achieving equity in education for African American students and students from low-income communities through advancing grassroots community organizing, supporting Black men to enter the teaching profession, and dismantling the school to prison pipeline. While at Heinz, Melanie earned a second masters degree in public management at Carnegie Mellon University.
After nearly eight years at the Endowments, Melanie joined the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2015 as Senior Program Officer for U.S. Policy & Advocacy. She leads the Foundation’s national charter school, students with disabilities and early learning policy and advocacy portfolios.
In 2017, Melanie was awarded the Atlantic Fellowship in Social and Economic Equity at the London School of Economics. Melanie is focusing her fellowship inquiry Black female funders and donors.