Confronting Anti-Black Racism

A Grand Challenges Q&A with Kimberly Griffin
Dean Kimberly Griffin

The Anti-Black Racism Initiative (ABRI), funded by a Grand Challenges Team Project Grant from the University of Maryland, strives to establish the university as a leader in efforts to identify, disrupt and prevent anti-Black racism by fostering cross-departmental faculty-student research, offering undergraduate and graduate courses, and hosting teach-in workshops, symposia and other events for the campus and surrounding community. The initiative also launched a new anti-Black racism minor in fall 2023.

ABRI is one of 11 projects involving College of Education faculty that were funded by Grand Challenges Grants earlier this year. In all, the university awarded more than $30 million to 50 projects addressing pressing societal issues, including educational disparities, social injustice, climate change, global health and threats to democracy. The Grand Challenges Grants Program is the largest and most comprehensive program of its type in the university’s history.

Jeanette Snider of the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences leads ABRI, which includes colleagues from the College of Education, College of Arts and Humanities, School of Public Health, School of Public Policy and College of Behavioral and Social Sciences.

Kimberly Griffin, dean of the College of Education and professor, is a co-principal investigator of ABRI. She discusses what everyone should understand about anti-Black racism and how the initiative will help to build a more just society.

Illustration by Jeannie Phan

What are the most important things people should understand about anti-Black racism?

There has been progress, but the inequities in our society persist. I see more people engaging in critical conversations about racism, but we often miss the full range of its impact. Anti-Black racism is built into how our society is structured, in everything from education, to health care, to the criminal justice system. It’s not just a matter of changing hearts and minds. We have to change policies, practices, laws and our own understanding to really make progress.

How will ABRI make a difference?

The initiative pulls together people from different departments across the university to examine how anti-Black racism manifests in different areas of society. This initiative takes both an intellectual approach and a practical approach. We’ll engage in collective problem-solving, and we’ll reform how we think about curriculum and teaching and learning, but we’ll also address anti-Black racism in communities. 

How will you bring your expertise to the initiative? 

In my research, I focus on access, justice and equality in higher education. My perspective can help the team think about how we institutionalize this work in the context of higher education. I also bring a longitudinal perspective; what happens at every other level of education exacerbates inequality and contributes to inequalities in higher education. I’ll also add expertise to how we engage in educational components in the teach-ins we’ll be doing with folks in the community. 

In the introductory class in the anti-Black racism minor, I co-teach four weeks on anti-Black racism in education, from K-12 through higher education. We look at how students, faculty and staff experience individual forms of anti-Black racism but also the structures that continue to perpetuate the inequality in educational outcomes for Black people in this country. 

Why does this issue matter to you personally?

When I think about doing this work, some of it is about understanding the systems, structures and dynamics that have had an impact on the trajectory of my life and the lives of folks I’ve known. Understanding these systems, and mitigating or eradicating them to create a more just society, is not just good for me–it’s good for my family and for other families and people who look like me. A more equitable and just society is, in fact, good for all of us. The persistence of anti-Black racism limits our progress and the possibility of realizing the full vision of our democracy. I truly believe that we can build a better and more just society and that this work is my part in reaching that larger vision.