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Civil Rights Leader Makes History on Harvard Kennedy School Faculty

Harvard Kennedy School has appointed to its senior faculty, Cornell William Brooks, the former president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Cornell William BrooksCornell William Brooks

As a professor, Brooks — who is also a civil rights lawyer — will advise students, teach classes and launch and direct the William Monroe Trotter Collaborative for Social Justice at the school’s Center for Public Leadership. A fourth-generation ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, he also will also be a visiting scholar at Harvard Divinity School.

The school’s dean, Dr. Douglas Elmendorf, said they are delighted that Brooks “will bring his unique background in civil rights law, policy and activism to the Kennedy School.

“The William Monroe Trotter Collaborative for Social Justice will be a focal point for students and faculty from across Harvard University who are interested in teaching, research and achieving excellence in the practice of social justice. Under Cornell’s guidance — and drawing upon his experience and knowledge — we expect the collaborative to have a transformational impact on our ability to prepare students to be leaders in public service and social justice.”

The Trotter Social Justice Collaborative is intended to promote excellence in the practice of social justice by supporting applied research and the use of evidence in advocacy and activism. The collaborative will connect faculty, students, scholars, practitioners, nonprofit institutions and institutions of faith; provide research and field-based learning opportunities to faculty and students; and equipping leaders of local and national organizations with ideas, policy expertise and best practices to maximize their impact on social justice.

The collaborative honors the legacy of Trotter, the first African-American Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Harvard, founder of the Niagara Movement, founding influence of the NAACP and a pioneering activist.

“When we think of great public leaders of the past — people like Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Eugene Debs, Cesar Chavez and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — many of them are great because they made society uncomfortable with injustices that had been taken for granted,” said Brooks. “They then organized and advocated to make society more just.”

Most recently, Brooks was visiting professor of social ethics, law and justice movements at Boston University’s School of Law and School of Theology. He was a visiting fellow and director of the Campaign and Advocacy Program at the Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics in 2017.

Brooks served as the 18th president of the NAACP from 2014 to 2017. Prior to leading the NAACP, Brooks was president and CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. He served as senior counsel and acting director of the Office of Communications Business Opportunities at the Federal Communications Commission, executive director of the Fair Housing Council of Greater Washington and a trial attorney at both the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Brooks also served as clerk for Chief Judge Sam J. Ervin III on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

He holds a J.D. from Yale Law School, where he was a senior editor of the Yale Law Journal and a member of the Yale Law and Policy Review, and a master’s of divinity from Boston University’s School of Theology, where he was a Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholar. He earned his B.A. from Jackson State University.

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