University of St. Thomas Magazine Fall/Winter 2020

AS 2020 draws to a close, it’ll likely be remembered as one that turned life as everyone knew it upside down.

A noted scholar of the civil rights and Black Power movement and an education activist, Williams is a sought-after national commentator on the pressing topics of race and social justice issues. He opted to stay at St. Thomas to help foster change within the Twin Cities community. “With the moment in front of us now, there is a tremendous opportunity to see the Twin Cities as a laboratory for change,” he said. “Here in Minnesota, if we can think creatively, engage broadly and partner, with humility, concerning the work we must all do together, we can make a big impact. There are a host of ways in which national conversations about equity, justice and race can have real impact here. Understanding and facing our history is a big part of that work.” Williams plans on collaborating with individuals and organizations already engaged in reimagining a future for the Twin Cities free from racial disparities. “If we’re successful,” he said, “we could then help to share that widely and be the model for how communities do this work elsewhere. Having the university be a big part of that work is exciting for me.” Tommie Corps Many nonprofits depend on retirees to serve as volunteers. But with older adults particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, younger people have been asked to step up and volunteer during the pandemic. The Center for the Common Good created Tommie Corps to help with this mission. The program, made possible by donations from Lee and Penny Anderson and the GHR Foundation, gave two dozen students $4,000 scholarships for 150 volunteer hours fulfilled last July and August. They were paired with one of 15 community partners including Pillsbury United Communities, Second Harvest Heartland, YWCA St. Paul and Keystone Community Services.

Dismissing 2020, though, would be a big mistake.

Through all the pain endured this year, there were several lessons to be learned as the COVID-19 pandemic and killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis exposed many inequities in the community. Forgetting those lessons would prevent much-needed progress. As St. Thomas looks back on this challenging year, here are some of the ways university members embraced those lessons and moved forward with purpose. Racial Justice Initiative Earlier this year, Yohuru Williams announced he was leaving his post as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences for a position with St. John’s University in New York. Then George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police last May. Three weeks later, President Julie Sullivan and Provost Richard Plumb announced the Racial Justice Initiative (RJI) as an effort to drive meaningful community change. They also revealedWilliams had decided to stay, accepting the position of Distinguished University Chair, Professor and Founding Director of the Racial Justice Initiative (RJI). “The externally facing Racial Justice Initiative will be involved in facilitating research, exploring community partnerships, and encouraging dialogue and critical conversations around addressing the historical roots of racial inequality in the United States,” Williams said. “I have been involved in a number of these conversations across the country, and the RJI provides me a platform to continue that work while exploring ways to amplify efforts to rethink and tackle issues of racism and racial disparities in Minnesota and beyond.”

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