Asset Builder Champion Profile: john a. powell

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Professor john a. powell is an internationally renowned expert on civil rights and structural racism. He is the Director of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society as well as a Professor of Law and a Professor of African American Studies and Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley. Professor powell also holds the Robert D. Haas Chancellor’s Chair in Equity and Inclusion.

Before Berkeley, Professor powell was the Executive Director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University. He also held the Gregory H Williams Chair in Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the Moritz College of Law. Professor powell has authored numerous book, his most recent being Racing to Justice: Transforming our Concepts of Self and Other to Build an Inclusive Society.

Professor powell’s leadership has seen the development of an opportunity-based housing model that dramatically rethinks “racialized space” and his work has been instrumental in connecting housing influences to education, health, and employment.

While powell’s commendations, reports, and presentations are too numerous to list here, we wanted to highlight his article, On Ferguson: A Deep Divide and Systemic Failure. In it, powell points out that the Ferguson case was not occurring in a vacuum; instead, “What we are witnessing is a reflection of a systematic failure in our society that is revealed wherever we are willing to look—schools, health care, employment, housing, life expectancy, poverty, and the list goes on.”

Recently, we got in touch with professor powell to talk about some of his recent accomplishments and upcoming goals as well as to discuss challenges and events going on nationally. The entire interview is worth a read, and is available on our blog here. But we would be remiss if we did not highlight some of his spectacular points on racial anxiety and fear that are pervasive in U.S. society.

“What is at the root of implicit bias is a deep racial anxiety, as recent evidence from neuroscience reveals that many Americans, even those who embrace egalitarian norms, harbor unconscious associations with black and brown bodies. Such anxieties and biases are fed to us by the frequent negative associations with people of color we see all around us when we don’t even realize it — words and images that strengthen these unconscious but impactful associations. These pervasive, culturally embedded associations with people of color, especially blacks, in our country lead many to view them with suspicion as criminals and worst, to view them as not human at all.”

Professor powell has spent much of his time advancing awareness of societal issues, and his call to action to fix these issues revolves around one of self-reflection. While the events in Ferguson and New York have been disheartening, powell argues, and mirror a much larger failure within U.S. society, “An action that we can all do is to critically engage the racial and social boundaries constructed in our lives – not only in the structures and arrangements of our society but also within our processes of self-identification. We should constantly be examining how these boundaries are created and how they, in turn, create us. By identifying barriers that separate rather than unify us, we can come to a better understanding of how we can engage in innovative one other that re-frame public discourse so that everyone belongs.”

CGPS and GPTV applauds john a. powell and the Haas institute’s work as they grow and take on new projects and we look forward to the organization’s continued successes in the years to come.

Written by Alex Bannon

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