RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Shaw University has created The Center for Racial and Social Justice, which will feature a series of lectures, research activities and academic programs.
Located just a few blocks away from the site of recent protests over police reform, co-interim director Dr. Valerie Ann Johnson, who also serves as the university's Dean of the School of Arts, Science and Humanities, says the make-up of the student body and faculty is reflective of the community.
"Sometimes there's a discussion in universities between the distance between the town and gown. Well our distance is not that far at all," said Dr. Johnson.
University leaders hope to seek input from churches, community leaders, law enforcement, academics and students.
"The power of this center is to bring together voices from different perspectives and backgrounds to come up with constructive solutions and a vision on how we can live peacefully," said Dr. Johnny Bernard Hill, who is also the co-interim director and serves as the Dean of the School of Divinity.
As police reform remains in the spotlight, Dr. Johnson highlighted the value of furthering community engagement.
"We also need to talk more about restorative justice and how that can be whatever policies that we think about when it comes to policing," said Dr. Johnson.
She noted part of their work would also focus on the impact COVID-19 has had on the African American community. This will be part of an overarching research focus which seeks to address health and mortality disparities among underserved populations.
Both Dr. Johnson and Dr. Hill agree that while there is certainly value in research, they need to take the next step in order to make a lasting impact.
"The key to bringing about meaningful change in a democratic society is through the power of the vote. And in the state of North Carolina, there's a real challenge in not only increasing voter registration but also access," said Dr. Hill.
"We're putting practice into action. So our students are learning things in the classroom, but they need to take it outside," said Dr. Johnson, who used the example of a forum about real-life interactions with Raleigh Police.
The center is currently funded through the university budget and university officials are open to corporate sponsorships and partnerships.
"I think one of the pieces of this center that is absolutely critical is the opportunity and the invitation for dialogue and conversation with various entities across the Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill communities. And part of that involves not just talk, but also meaningful commitments towards change. And that may involve student internships, it may involve scholarships. it may involve just simply being available for hearing, listening, and understanding the issues in a deeper way so that we can take steps forwards in the process," said Dr. Hill.
In a statement, University President Dr. Paulette Dillard wrote, "Shaw University has been at the forefront of the movement to promote human and civil rights and social justice throughout its history. Creating the Center for Racial and Social Justice at Shaw will honor that tradition, but more importantly, enable Shaw and those who share our values and concerns to carry the tradition and commitment forward."
Even if students are unable to return to campus in the fall, officials plan to move forward with events and work within The Center for Racial and Social Justice.
In a statement, university officials highlight the Ella Baker Institute, named in honor of alumna Ella Josephine Baker, who played a major role behind the formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) on Shaw's campus in 1960.
The Ella Baker Institute will focus on developing leadership skills for students.