Biotech company Vertex will help fund Boston University’s new Center for Antiracist Research with a $1.5 million, three-year gift, offering a strong measure of support for its founder, Ibram X. Kendi, whose work has gained new prominence in the wake of recent police killings of Black people and nationwide protests.
Kendi, who wrote the 2019 book “How To Be an Antiracist,” and won the National Book Award in 2016, will begin his work at BU in July with the launch of the center. Plans for the center are still being developed, but Kendi has said it will likely bring together researchers and policymakers from multiple disciplines to work on topics such as racial health inequities, the wealth gap, and disparities in policing.
Vertex’s gift comes at a crucial time for the center, Kendi said in a statement.
“When you are founding something new, that’s when you are most in need of support, so for me, I am just deeply grateful,” he said.
Reshma Kewalramani, chief executive officer and president of Vertex, said the antiracist center could be a beacon in Boston, drawing together the average citizens, researchers, policymakers, and business leaders, to tackle issues of racial injustice and inequities. Boston is a fairly small city and bringing disparate groups to collaborate and discuss these issues should be possible, she said.
For example, she imagines the center helping lead a book club that would include Boston Public School students and the business community.
“It hasn’t been even born yet, but I see it as a real shining light,” Kewalramani said of the center.
While Vertex, through its foundation, is providing funding, she hopes the company also can connect the BU center to data and researchers working on issues of health inequities, for example.
Kewalramani, a BU alum who took over the helm of Vertex in April to become its first female leader, said diversity and inclusion have been important for the company but it wants to do more. Vertex, which publishes its diversity data, says that 32 percent of its workforce and 13 percent of its leadership are people of color. The company doesn’t break down representation at Vertex among minorities, such as Black and Latino.
“This moment in time feels different than other moments in time,” Kewalramani said.
Vertex’s gift to the antiracist center is part of a $4 million, three-year commitment the company announced on Thursday to fight racism nationwide by making donations to organizations working with youth and on equality issues. Among the organizations that will be receiving gifts from Vertex are Year Up, a local nonprofit that will establish a first-ever biotechnology curriculum for young adults to prepare them for careers in research, technology, and medicine; and the Boston Private Industry Council, which is focusing on reaching students who lost touch with their high schools during the first phase of remote learning.