john a. powell


john a. powell (who spells his name in lowercase in the belief that we should be "part of the universe, not over it, as capitals signify") is an internationally recognized expert in the areas of civil rights, civil liberties, structural racism, housing, poverty, and democracy.  He is the Director of the Othering & Belonging Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, a research institute that brings together scholars, community advocates, communicators, and policymakers to identify and eliminate the barriers to an inclusive, just, and sustainable society and to create transformative change toward a more equitable world.

john holds the Robert D. Haas Chancellor’s Chair in Equity and Inclusion and is a Professor of LawAfrican American Studies, and Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley. Previously, he was the Executive Director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at The Ohio State University where he also held the Gregory H. Williams Chair in Civil Rights & Civil Liberties at the Moritz College of Law. He has won several awards including the 2021 Housing Hero Award, 2021 John W. Gardner Leadership Award, and the Convergence Bridge-Building Leadership Award for 2022.

He regularly appears in major media offering expert insights on a host of issues. Recent appearances include NPR and WYNC's On The Media in an episode about free speech and the constitution, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver in an episode about housing segregation, and CBS Evening News where john discussed the Institute's frameworks like Targeted Universalism. john gives frequent keynotes talks at a range of institutions such as the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Washington State University, the Office of the Minnesota Attorney General, Nonprofit Quarterly, Project Democracy, the Gates Foundation, Habitat for Humanity, the InterFaith Leadership Council, the Permanente Medical Group, and many more.

john has written extensively on a number of issues including structural racism, racial justice, concentrated poverty, opportunity-based housing, voting rights, affirmative action in the United States, South Africa and Brazil, racial and ethnic identity, spirituality and social justice, and the needs of citizens in a democratic society. He is the author of several books, including his most recent work, Racing to Justice: Transforming our Concepts of Self and Other to Build an Inclusive Society.

The founder and director of the Institute on Race and Poverty at the University of Minnesota, john has also served as Director of Legal Services in Miami, Florida and was the National Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, where he was instrumental in developing educational adequacy theory.

john led the development of an “opportunity-based” model that connects affordable housing to education, health, health care, and employment and is well-known for his work developing the frameworks of “targeted universalism” and “othering and belonging” to effect equity-based interventions.

john has lived and worked in Africa, where he was a consultant to the governments of Mozambique and South Africa, and has also worked in India and Brazil. He is one of the co-founders of the Poverty & Race Research Action Council and serves on the board of several national and international organizations. He is also a member of the New Pluralists. john has taught at numerous law schools including Harvard and Columbia University.

john a. powell


Reimagining what’s possible: From authoritarianism and othering to democracy and belonging
Belonging in its truest sense means that people in any system or container have the right to not only be included within it, but to make demands on that system and even change the structure of that system itself. In an ideal form, democracy grants everyone the opportunity to change the nature of how our system functions—a critical component of belonging at the structural level.