John Lewis Center for Social Justice

“ If Not Us, Then Who? If Not Now, Then When?”

— John R. Lewis

The John Lewis Center for Social Justice at Fisk University aims to foster and advance a social justice agenda into every sphere of contemporary society. We do so through rigorous research, applied scholarship, artistic and cultural production, and community engagement at a local and global level. As the intellectual hub on campus, the center is committed to putting interdisciplinary ideas and theories into direct action on the ground.




What We Do:

  • Educate the public on the most pressing issues related to social justice and racial equity

  • Incubate ideas, collectives, and programs aimed at bringing systemic solutions to dismantle systems of inequality

  • Connect people, ideas, and communities towards the advance of social justice and racial equity strategies and initiatives

  • Promote the “good trouble” that various individuals, activists, organizers, and institutions are getting into be the change we want to see

  • Produce collaborative high-impact equity and justice-focused scholarship, programming, initiatives

Four Areas of Focus:

  1. Policy & Politics Drawing on our university’s deep legacy for producing change agents of political activists and social movements

  2. Arts & Culture We believe that the arts are the lifeblood of justice. Visual artists, musicians, poets, and writers have long been the truth-tellers of the moment. The social critics that make us see the world through eyes. Tell those ugly truths. Shine light on the beauty. Put out a call to the masses.

  3. Technology, Data, and Information Justice in the 21st century requires taking the digital world seriously. Access to technology, the harms of misinformation campaigns, data justice and storytelling, technological innovation, and its implication for closing the racial wealth gap. The center will serve as an incubator to bring together the greatest minds in the arts, social sciences, and STEM to collaboratively incubate initiatives for justice in the digital age.

  4. Business & Industry Driving a social justice agenda in business and industry. Representation, equity, inclusion. Holding industries accountable to make good on their many promises. Across finance, insurance, sports, healthcare, and technology. Social justice and racial equity is not just for the streets. Industry analysis, solutions. Bringing these ideas to industry leaders.


Fisk University has a long history of fighting social injustice. From W.E.B. Du Bois to U.S. Representative John Lewis, Fisk students have come together to address social problems in their community and across the nation for more than a century.  The John Lewis Center for Social Justice is a continuation of the renowned Fisk Race Relations Institute, founded in 1942, that shaped many conversations and policies aimed at improving race relations and combating racial injustice in the United States. Founded in 2019, the John Lewis Center for Social Justice will continue Fisk University’s legacy of producing some of the greatest African American intellectuals, artists, organizers, activists, and political leaders in the world.

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Activist in Residence would follow in the footsteps of the late Congressman John Lewis and focus on the many issues facing the community and their collective lack of voice. There are a host of themes both here in Tennessee and on the national front that disproportionately impacts communities of color. From voting rights to incarceration rates, healthcare and education – communities of color are suffering and the pandemic has only exacerbated the already well-documented gaps. Despite the remarkable economic development dollars flowing into Tennessee, people of color have seen their lives worsen and their access to healthcare and their right to vote increasingly under attack. The Fellow will host and participate in community workshops and teach ins to effectively connect scholarship and practice.

Artist in Residence would follow in the footsteps of Fisk’s extraordinary artists, poets, and musicians (Nikki Giovanni, Arna Bontemps, Aaron Douglas, and the Fisk Jubilee Singers®, etc.…) all of whom sought to promote social justice through their work. The Arts and Culture Fellow will expand upon the role of the arts as a tool for social justice and its impact on the community. The arts arguably have a unique ability to reflect our biases as well as our aspirations and as such provides a crucial instrument in expanding people's horizons. Fisk’s unprecedented art collection and the GRAMMY-winning Jubilee Singers ensemble enable audiences to experience hardship and injustice but also hope that we can overcome - and create a better world for all. Accordingly, the arts/culture Fellow will explore questions like: What does art have the capacity to do? How can art inform or shape one's identity? What role can art play in future social justice struggles”

Technologist in Residence would focus on developing dashboards and data sets related to African Americans. This approach would continue the legacy of W.E.B. Du Bois, who is famous for using data visualization techniques ineffective argumentation and sharing African-American issues with diverse political and social entities. Given the implicit bias in human beings (current data), we also have implicit bias in these intelligent software tools. Unless the data is analyzed and prepared for social justice and equity, we risk reinforcing the existing biases or worse yet, legitimizing them through the supposed ‘objectivity’ of technology. Consequently, machine learning and AI products must be validated for their sensitivity to diversity, inclusiveness, and ethics. The center will assist in identifying the strengths and weaknesses of current machine learning and AI products related to minority populations.

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