John Annis’s lifelong pursuit of fairness and equality has spanned a Marine Corps career, countless nonprofit initiatives and even community conversation starters like his popular meetups at area restaurants. Now an Aspen Ascend Fellow and senior vice president of Collaboration and Impact for the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation, Annis, 59, believes in the power of conversations—especially tough ones—to effect true change.
“I want to have conversations with people who want to have conversations,” he says. “I know the process can be difficult. It’s OK if it’s messy.”
As one of the first six Marines to graduate from the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute, Annis spent the latter half of his 24-year military career as an equality adviser tasked with improving Marine policies regarding race and gender. “I’d never thought of myself as privileged, but that was the first time I started to review all the benefits I get from being a white male,” he says. “You can’t get out of that club. All you can do is actively work to try to make it be there for others.”
His civilian career began in 2002 at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, where he eventually served on the editorial board, and then at the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, where he received the Aspen Institute’s coveted Ascend Fellowship. Annis credits his two-year Aspen training for honing his abilities to bring people together. He’s known to reach out to Sarasota newcomers to see what local connections might benefit them—and the community. To learn about others’ experiences, he says, “you can’t wait for them to come to you.”
Annis’s many long-term projects, both professional and personal, include collaborations with UnidosNow, Take Stock in Children and Forty Carrots. He’s initiated meetings with local teachers to develop solutions for getting more diverse educators into Sarasota classrooms. And, of course, he continues to find new ideas and inspiration by inviting the community to chat over pancakes or barbecue.
“There’s a bunch of people out there who want to do good things,” he says. “All they need to do is be asked.”