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Noted scholar will move anti-racist research program to BU

Ibram X. Kendi has been recruited from American University

Ibram X. Kendi founded the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University in 2017.
Ibram X. Kendi founded the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University in 2017.Jeff Watts/Associated Press

From the protests on the streets over the killings of Black men and women by police to a pandemic that is leading to higher deaths among Black Americans, the scholar and best-selling author Ibram X. Kendi finds glimpses of hope amid the outrage.

People are reaching out to their friends and loved ones to fight the insidiousness of racism, he said in an interview Thursday.

“Resistance has always given me hope,” said Kendi, who will next month launch a Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University.

BU announced the new center on Thursday, but officials said bringing Kendi, who wrote the 2019 book “How To Be an Antiracist” and won the National Book Award in 2016, has been in the works for more than a year. The appointment is a coup for BU, which recruited Kendi from American University, and comes at a seminal moment in the nation’s history.

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Kendi’s work has gained renewed attention in recent weeks as protests flare across the nation and the country grapples with the racial disparities in policing and the pandemic.

“Ibram’s appointment and his leadership will create a critical emphasis on research and policy to help eliminate racism in our country,” Robert A. Brown, BU’s president, told the university publication BU Today.

Kendi, 37, founded the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University in 2017 and is moving the program to BU.

The details of the BU center are still being developed, and he hopes to collaborate with BU faculty on research areas to focus on, Kendi said.

The center is likely to have teams that include researchers and policy experts to work on topics such as racial health inequities, the wealth gap, and disparities in policy in minority communities, he said.

“My hope is that it becomes a premier research center for researchers and for practitioners to really solve these intractable racial problems of our time,” Kendi explained in BU Today. “Not only will the center seek to make that level of impact, but also work to transform how racial research is done.”

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Academics in Boston and elsewhere in New England are doing important research on racism, and Kendi said he hopes the center will be able to connect that work with policy makers and artists who can push for change and bring more attention to their message.

For example, the center at American University helped develop a COVID-19 racial data tracker that is monitoring infections and deaths by race across the country and holds an anti-racist book festival.

Kendi said he was drawn to BU because of its history of nurturing talents such as Martin Luther King Jr., who earned his doctorate at the university, and historian and activist Howard Zinn, who taught there for more than 20 years.

“Many of the people who I’ve admired have come through Boston,” Kendi said. The BU center will open July 1, and Kendi will join the faculty then.

BU officials said that Kendi’s appointment aligns with the university’s goals to strengthen racial diversity, inclusion, and equity. Those priorities were questioned this week after Brown, the university’s president, sent a mild e-mail about the recent police killings of Black people and subsequent protests. After hearing complaints, he issued a second, strongly worded letter that apologized for the first and condemned racism and police brutality.

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BU students this week renewed calls for the university to devote more of its resources to addressing racial inequities and held a virtual meeting of students and staff to discuss steps forward.

Kendi said he is looking forward to engaging students and faculty at BU.

“We must believe change is possible in order to bring about change,” Kendi said in a statement on the BU center’s new website. “We must be willing to do the hard research and policy and narrative and advocacy work to bring about change. We are willing.”


Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.