In 1970 Melvin H. King , the Director of the New Urban League of Boston, presented an exciting fellowship idea to the administration of MIT. He felt strongly that there was a critical need for community activists and leaders--people of color--to have an opportunity for a year of study, reflection, and research. King had seen first hand how talented and productive activists become "burned out" on community "battlefields" and, consequently, lose their effectiveness. He posited that a mid-career fellowship program for community practitioners would generate new energies and persepctives for them and provide for the acquisition of new skills and tools to enhance their effectiveness in future work. The administration of MIT responded favorably to the proposal, and, in September 1971, the Community Fellows Program was launched under the auspices of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. It has been principally funded by grants from the Rockefeller and Mellon Foundations and MIT resources. Frank S. Jones, Ford Professor of Urban Affairs, served as the first Director from 1971 to 1975.
Since the 1978-77 fellowship year, half of the Fellows have come from service in governmental agencies. There are a growing number of minority officials in strategic locations in governmental agencies responsible for funding community development programs. The Community Fellows Program offers these officials a chance to be reoriented to the range of development programs in minority communities so they can become more effective advocats within public agencies.