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Former NAACP Head Cornell Brooks Appointed Kennedy School Professor

HKS New Campus
The Harvard Kennedy School, pictured in December 2017.

Former president and CEO of the NAACP Cornell W. Brooks has been appointed a professor of the practice of public leadership and social justice at the Harvard Kennedy School, according to a Wednesday press release. 

Brooks is the first member of a national civil rights organization to join the Kennedy School’s senior faculty, according to the release. As the 18th president of the NAACP, Brooks significantly boosted millennial membership and sued the state of Connecticut over prison gerrymandering, marking the first statewide challenge to the issue. 

His appointment comes amid a call from some students, faculty, and alumni at HKS to recruit a more diverse pool of professors and administrators.  

As a professor of public leadership and social justice, Brooks will also launch The William Monroe Trotter Collaborative for Social Justice at the school’s Center for Public Leadership. 

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Kennedy School Dean Douglas W. Elmendor said in the press release that the initiative will serve as a “focal point” for Harvard students and faculty interested in 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,” Elmendorf said.

The Trotter Social Justice Collaborative will support research in the field of advocacy and activism by connecting faculty and students with organizations involved in social justice to provide them with expertise and best practices, according to the press release. The collaborative honors the legacy of William Monroe Trotter, the first African-American Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Harvard and founder of the Niagara movement. 

Brooks has spent time at Harvard before. He served as a visiting fellow and director of the Campaign and Advocacy Program at the Institute of Politics in 2017. He will now be affiliated with the Center for Public Leadership and will serve as a visiting scholar at Harvard Divinity School. 

Brooks said in the release that there is “no more important a task the Kennedy School advancing the practice of social justice.” 

“Excellence in the practice of social justice is not merely a meritocratic measure of public leadership but a moral measure of American democracy,” Brooks said. “There is no more important a task than the Kennedy School advancing the practice of social justice by those who seek to create a just democracy with vulnerable but empowered communities. That is precisely why I am excited to be joining my Kennedy School colleagues and leading this effort.”

The Kennedy School also announced Thursday that Arthur C. Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute who has no relation to Cornell Brooks, will also become a professor of the practice of public leadership in July 2019. He will serve as an affiliate of the Center of Public Leadership and as a senior fellow at Harvard Business School. 

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