Dr. Yohuru Williams headshot

Racial Justice Initiative

In keeping with our Catholic mission to uphold the dignity of every human person and to advance the common good, St. Thomas launched the Racial Justice Initiative in June 2020 to help drive meaningful reform and change.

The initiative is led by Founding Director Dr. Yohuru Williams, distinguished university chair and professor of history, and focuses on supporting racial justice education, facilitating research, exploring community partnerships, and encouraging dialogue and critical conversations.

Creating the Racial Justice Initiative

The civil unrest in Spring 2020 in the United States has laid bare the stark reality of systemic racism. Across the country, people are signaling a new urgency to confronting the racial inequality that exists in our communities.

The Racial Justice Initiative will work collaboratively with individuals and organizations already engaged in the essential work of helping to reimagine a future for the Twin Cities free from racial disparities. The work of the initiative will be shared widely and aspires to be a model for how other communities begin these efforts.

screenshot from the video showing yohuru williams speaking

About the Racial Justice Initiative

Hear Dr. Williams share his vision for the St. Thomas Racial Justice Initiative and the process of historical recovery.

Dr. Yohuru Williams speaking in a classroom

Racial Justice Masterclass

For corporations that want to continue the historical recovery journey, the Racial Justice Masterclass is a unique program to help organizations advance their work in diversity, equity and inclusion and move toward racial justice. The masterclass will include three educational and inspiring events that will propel you to think differently and make a greater impact in our community.

Register for MasterClass

Mission Statement

Designed to inspire change through the lens of historical recovery, the Racial Justice Initiative works collaboratively with individuals and organizations to create knowledge of the racial history of the United States. The initiative champions partnership as fundamental to sustaining the pursuit of lasting change. It seeks to empower young voices and be a leader of Black history in the Twin Cities and beyond.

10-Year Vision

Our 10-year vision is centered on four interrelated goals:

  1. To create new pathways for student engagement (through scholarships, internships, and sponsored programming) on issues of racial justice and equity.
  2. To develop, promote and support scholarships related to racial injustice that impacts and supports the work of community organizations involved in the same work.
  3. To establish St. Thomas as one of the premiere spaces for conversations around racial justice both locally and nationally.
  4. To inspire systemic change consistent with the mission of the university and its catholic identity through scholarship and corporate and community engagement that focuses on eradicating racial injustice.

Historical Recovery as a Pathway to Justice

For racial justice to truly take hold, we must first understand the historical roots of the injustices that have contributed to the present moment. Historical recovery works to illuminate the underpinnings of racism and offer insight into new interventions aimed at dismantling harmful systems. The Racial Justice Initiative is centered on the process of historical recovery as a foundational step to making change and eradicating barriers.

Dr. Yohuru Williams

Dr. Yohuru Williams is Distinguished University Chair and Professor of History and Founding Director of the Racial Justice Initiative at the University of St. Thomas. He received his Ph.D. from Howard University in 1998.

A noted scholar of the civil rights and Black power movement, an education activist and frequent national commentator, Dr. Williams is an important voice on the topics of race and social justice. This new initiative creates a platform for him to accelerate that work with the full support of the university.

Racial Justice Initiative Q&A with Dr. Williams

"With the moment in front of us now, there is a tremendous opportunity to see the Twin Cities as a laboratory for change. 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.”
Dr. Yohuru Williams

The Work of the Racial Justice Initiative

Historical Recovery and Steps Forward for Twin Cities Leaders and Beyond

St. Thomas is taking a leadership role in working with companies and other organizations that desire to learn about historical recovery and issues of racial justice. Dr. Yohuru Williams is uniquely qualified and welcomes the opportunity to speak to large groups, as well as work with organizations in finding ways they can make a meaningful impact in the Twin Cities community.

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Educating the Public through Speaker Series

An engaging community-facing speaker series, hosted both in-person and virtually, will be a critical part of the Racial Justice Initiative as we begin to educate the greater community about African American History as a foundational step to learning, making change and eradicating barriers. Dr. Williams will lead the series and include other experts in the field and community.

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Engaging the Community Through Dialogue and Partnerships

Once the community has participated in the process of historical recovery, the critical conversations can begin. The Racial Justice Initiative will convene community members to share best practices and develop potential partnerships surrounding housing, education, social justice, health care and more.

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Creating Student Experiential Opportunities

Dismantling the long history of systemic racism will be hard and require thoughtful, collaborative and sustained effort. There is much work ahead to address the racial inequalities that exist around criminal justice, education, health care, jobs and wealth creation. Yet, these are efforts we have a responsibility to undertake. The Racial Justice Initiative will engage students in this important work. Through research projects and service-learning experiences, students will have the opportunity to immerse themselves into these critical issues and ultimately begin to bring about change in their own lives and the community.

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Developing Faculty

Faculty members are powerful researchers and instructors. They have the ability to develop influential ideas through their scholarly work and infuse critical concepts surrounding racial justice into their classrooms. The Racial Justice Initiative will proactively support and sponsor opportunities for faculty to grow their work and make meaningful intersections across all disciplines.

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Contact Us

Please contact us to learn more about how to get involved with the Racial Justice Initiative including sponsorships and customized engagements:

MA in Diversity Leadership

St. Thomas now offers a Master of Arts in Diversity Leadership. This interdisciplinary program grounds leadership training in culture and inclusion in a way that no other program does. For leaders seeking to effectively implement DEI strategies in their organizations and communities, the MA in Diversity Leadership provides a flexible two-year degree that will build on your enthusiasm and vision for diversity and racial justice.

Podcasts Featuring Dr. Williams

Scholarships at St. Thomas

Scholarships are the number one priority at St. Thomas – and a tangible way to work toward racial justice. We are committed to keeping a St. Thomas education accessible to students and reducing their debt burdens.

About 97% of first-year students at St. Thomas receive merit scholarships. The university, with support from alumni and other donors, funds scholarships for underrepresented students, first-generation students, and students with specific academic interests.

Contribute to St. Thomas Scholarships

To support undergraduate and graduate students in greatest need and whose identities are underrepresented, we are generating even more support through the Racial Justice Initiative.

Scholarships will also be available for students whose studies focus on racial and social justice. In addition, St. Thomas has established a new Racial Justice Scholarship.