Published February 6, 2017
Internationally recognized civil rights and civil liberties expert john a. powell will lead a series of discussions on racialized hierarchy in place and space during a weeklong residency at UB beginning today.
powell, who does not capitalize his name, is visiting UB as the Will and Nan Clarkson Chair in Urban and Regional Planning, part of the Clarkson Visiting Chair program that over the past 20 years has brought distinguished scholars and professionals to campus for talks and seminars with the UB community and the public.
Among the events planned for his visit are a public lecture, a community workshop, conversations with policymakers and community leaders, and opportunities for discussion with faculty and students across the disciplines of planning, architecture, law and policy.
powell is director of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at the University of California, Berkeley, where he serves as professor of law, professor of African American studies and ethnic studies, and holds the Robert D. Haas Chancellor’s Chair in Equity and Inclusion.
The timing for powell’s visit is particularly poignant. “Now more than ever, we need informed and open dialogue about the interconnectivity of race, social justice, equity and the spaces we create as architects, as planners, as citizens and as leaders,” says Robert G. Shibley, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning. “There is perhaps no one better suited to lead this conversation than john powell. We as a university and community will be richer for it.”
Exploring issues through the lenses of race, gender, sexual orientation, disability and socioeconomic status, powell counsels people and organizations to acknowledge the implicit biases that inform our collective actions, and to embrace a shared mission to overcome these in pursuit of a society that is inclusive, equitable and just.
He has written extensively on a number of issues, including structural racism; racial justice and regionalism; concentrated poverty and urban sprawl; opportunity-based housing; voting rights; affirmative action in the United States, South Africa and Brazil; racial and ethnic identity; spirituality and social justice; and the needs of citizens in a democratic society.
powell’s body of work holds special significance for urban planners and those who seek to strengthen the communities they serve in the face of ever-more challenging threats to equity and inclusion, including food inequity.
His research examines structural barriers to opportunity, including how affordable housing influences access to health care, employment and education, and he designs creative solutions urban planners can use to improve access to opportunity in the communities they serve.
“john powell is a bridge-builder who cuts across different stakeholder groups and talks about ways that all disenfranchised can work together, rather than creating a battle at the bottom,” says Samina Raja, associate professor of urban planning at UB who helped organize powell’s visit.
powell is the author of several books, including his most recent work, “Racing to Justice: Transforming Our Concepts of Self and Other to Build an Inclusive Society.”
His experience in dealing with issues internationally brings an important perspective to a distinctively international university such as UB. powell has worked and lived in Africa, where he was a consultant to the governments of Mozambique and South Africa, and has been involved in work related to affirmative action in South Africa and Brazil. He also has lived and worked in India, and done work in South America and Europe.
Previously, powell founded and directed the Institute on Race and Poverty at the University of Minnesota. He also served as director of legal services in Miami, Florida, and was national legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, where he was instrumental in developing educational adequacy theory.
powell will give a public lecture from 6-7:30 p.m. Feb. 8 in 403 Hayes Hall, South Campus. The talk is titled “Blueprints for Belonging: Exploring the Role of Planning and Design in Building Equitable Communities.” The lecture will explore how structures and systems interactively link issues across domains to produce exclusion and possibilities for dismantling structural racism, challenging unconscious bias and supporting inclusive, responsive government.
Financial support for this program is provided by the School of Architecture and Planning’s Will and Nan Clarkson Program, the Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab, and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Collaborative partners include the Crossroads Collective and the Partnership for Public Good.