Yohuru Williams and RJI Symposium speakers

Racial Justice Initiative to Host Voting Rights Symposium; Governor and Attorney General to Speak

The Racial Justice Initiative at the University of St. Thomas, in collaboration with FairVote Minnesota and other nonprofits and universities, is co-hosting an in-person Symposium on Voting Rights: Our Past, Our Present, Our Future on Feb. 1 to kick off Black History Month.

The symposium, which recognizes the 60th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, will convene a diverse and influential gathering of thought leaders, students, community members and political figures. Speakers and panelists include Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, Secretary of State Steve Simon and Attorney General Keith Ellison.

The event will take place 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Feb. 1 on campus at the Anderson Student Center in the James B. Woulfe Alumni Hall, 2115 Summit Ave., St. Paul.

“In this symposium, we will revisit our history of voting rights, think concretely about how we can protect access to the ballot box, and examine changes to our political system that would make it easier for all of us – especially those who have been historically oppressed – to participate and be fully represented,” said Racial Justice Initiative Founding Director Dr. Yohuru Williams, a Distinguished University Chair and Professor of History at St. Thomas.

St. Thomas President Rob Vischer will welcome participants and Gov. Tim Walz and Williams will give opening remarks. The symposium will feature the following four panels:

Gov. Tim Walz and St. Thomas President Rob Vischer
Gov. Tim Walz (left) and St. Thomas President Rob Vischer

Panel No. 1:  The Evolution of Voting Rights with panelists Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, Secretary of State Steve Simon, Dr. Yohuru Williams, Rep. Cedrick Frazier, Elizer Darris of the Darris Group, and moderator Dean Nisha Botchwey from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

Panel No. 2: Democracy Under Threat: Rise of Extremism with panelists Stanford Professor Larry Diamond, Harvard Professor Danielle Allen, Michael Thorning of the Bipartisan Policy Center, Alaska State Senate President Cathy Giessel, Walter Olson of the Cato Institute, and moderator Kevin Lindsey from the Minnesota Humanities Center.

Panel No. 3: Reimagining Democracy: Next Generation Minnesota with panelists St. Paul Councilwoman Anika Bowie; Emilia González Avalos of Unidos; Cynthia Wilson of the NAACP; Catherine Squires, Professor Emerita at the University of Minnesota and member of the African American Leadership Forum;  ThaoMee Xiong of the Coalition of Asian American Leaders; Faisa Ahmed of Arc Initiatives and moderator Rep. Athena Hollins, majority whip in the Minnesota House.

Panel No. 4: The Future of Democracy Reform in Minnesota: Building an Inclusive, Multiracial Democracy with panelists Rep. Frazier, Rep. Emma Greenman, Sen. Liz Boldon, former Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, and moderator Dr. Yohuru Williams.

Attorney General Keith Ellison will give closing remarks and FairVote Minnesota Executive Director Jeanne Massey will provide a call to action.

Yohuru Williams headshot

In order for us to achieve an inclusive, multiracial democracy ... we must first confront and understand the history of our racial past.”

Dr. Yohuru Williams

The speakers will discuss American history, tackle the challenges democracy currently faces, explore critical reforms and opportunities, and discuss how to work together to build a more representative and inclusive future for the state of Minnesota and the country.

“In order for us to achieve an inclusive, multiracial democracy where all can participate and be represented, we must first confront and understand the history of our racial past – history that many try so hard to not only ignore – but to suppress,” Williams said. “We’re still struggling for many of the rights that Dr. King marched for in 1963. We’re still fighting against police brutality. We’re still trying to secure Black voting rights. We do not yet have the economic and racial justice that the march planners demanded. Progress has been made, but 60 years on, unfortunately, we have a long way to go.”

Other co-sponsors of the symposium include Macalester College, the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs, the University of Minnesota Law School, St. Catherine’s University, Augsburg University and the African American Leadership Forum.

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