Posted October 5, 2021

Unravelling systemic oppression through scholarship, advocacy and education

 Led by Timothy Welbeck, Temple’s newest research facility will work to dismantle racial hierarchy and help people impacted by institutional racism.

Timothy Welbeck, head of Temple University's Center for Anti-racism Research.
Photography By: 
Joseph V. Labolito
“We want to be at a place where all of us are looked at as human beings, we want to dismantle these racial hierarchies,” Timothy Welbeck said.

Timothy Welbeck’s extensive and diverse group of professional pursuits center around the core value of advocating for the rights of marginalized people. Whether working as an attorney, professor, scholar or hip-hop artist, his goal is the same: helping people fight oppression.

After a decade of teaching at the university, Welbeck was chosen to lead Temple’s newest research facility—the Center for Anti-racism Research. The new center, to be housed on the roof deck between Anderson and Gladfelter Halls, is scheduled to break ground this fall and will open in the spring of 2022. 

Temple Now had the opportunity to talk with Welbeck and learn about the mission and his vision for the center.

Temple Now: How did you feel when you learned you were to be the inaugural director of the new center?
Timothy Welbeck:
I'm thrilled to do the work and elated about the announcement. Much of my writing, teaching and legal practice revolves around anti-racism work. This is an exciting opportunity for me, the community and for the university at large to be able to be at the forefront of this research.

TN: The center will focus on researching structural and systemic racism and violence and attempting to end racial hierarchy. How will the center approach this work?
The center will engage in various forms of scholarship around racial hierarchy and systemic racism and its impact both on individuals and people collectively, both in the past and present.

I envision doing guided studies using participatory action research with people living in North Philadelphia and how they might be impacted by systemic racism. This type of research gives agency to the people being studied, and also encourages their participation and collaboration.

The ultimate goal for us will be to address some of the personal impact that they are facing and to have an informed basis for public advocacy around combating systemic racism at the local, regional and national level.

TN: How will you start this work?
Upon the launch of the center, my hope is to have an introductory journal edition devoted to defining the race paradigm, anti-racism work and how those things manifest themselves. From there, we will examine the ways racism finds its way into systems and structures, like housing, the criminal justice system, healthcare, environmental concerns, city planning, etc. And then we’ll begin targeting our efforts and focus on various issues within the U.S. and specifically the North Philadelphia community.

TN: Will there be opportunities for direct action or for the practical application of the research?
That’s actually one of the things I want to push the center to do. There is a temptation within academia to talk about ideas in the abstract. It’s my goal to have the center be about doing the work of traditional scholarship which is studying and interrogating phenomena, but also working directly with people to remedy the direct and unique harm they face as a result of systemic racism.

One thing I’m proposing is to partner with legal clinics to service people within the neighborhood and in the process study the work’s effectiveness. I hope to be able to meet people’s direct needs while studying whether these things are having large scale impact.

TN: How will the center communicate the work that is being done to both the academic community and the general public?
The Department of Africology and African American Studies has The Journal of Black Studies, The African Civilization Review and Being Human Being, an Anti-racist Journal. We may partner with the first two journals to publish papers and possibly have Being Human Being become the official journal for the center. 

We are looking for ways to make the work digestible for social media and other forms of public consumption to ensure the information is accessible.

TN: Who will be able to access the center and its resources?
Although we are under the leadership of the Department of Africology and African American Studies, the center will be a universitywide space. It will be open to students and faculty across all disciplines and for staff and alumni as well. 

It is my goal to have the community be a part of the center. I want to do educational enrichment workshops, for example, with students in North Philadelphia so that they can feel not only part of the work but feel welcome on campus. 

The work we are doing is about equity and part of equity is giving people access to the information and institutions that in the past were restricted or exclusive.

TN: Temple alumnus Ibram X. Kendi, CLA ’07, created anti-racism centers at American University and Boston University. Are you looking to these places as a model?
We don’t want to reinvent the wheel; there are ways to learn from those who have gone before us. I've already spoken to people affiliated with the Boston center to get a sense of best practices, advice, lessons learned, etc.

Ultimately, we do want to firmly establish ourselves as doing unique work and presenting novel insights to the discourse in order to be a leader in the conversation.

TN: Are you worried that the current discourse around racism within the public realm is fleeting?
There was a collective moment that intensified our focus on these issues, which is part of the reason we even have the center to begin with. We want to maximize that focus but whether the public attention makes us a hot topic or not, the work needs to be done and we're committed to doing just that. 

TN: Will there be aspects to the work that require visioning and imagination for the future or more specifically, Afrofuturism?
One of our newest faculty members, Dr. Reynaldo Anderson, is a leading Afrofuturist. One of the things we would like to do is talk about what we want to see: What does the future look like in an ideal world? We might devote a journal or at least some articles to that. We can’t be so focused on the present fight that we lose sight of what we want to create.

TN: You’re a hip-hop artist and scholar. How will your connections to hip-hop influence the work at the center?
I think hip-hop will be just another way to find unique ways to present our information. One of the things that I want to do is push our various understandings of knowledge. I really want to challenge traditional epistemology. There will be times the center may bring in practitioners who may not be traditional scholars but can contribute to the work through their understanding of things. 

Hip-hop does this; for example, it communicates the lived experiences of people in urban America. In one of my classes, No City for Young Men: Hip Hop and the Narrative of Marginalization, we look at hip-hop music and juxtapose that against traditional scholarship to survey the urban condition. There might be place and space to do things like that here.

We absolutely want to do traditional scholarship, we're connected to a research institution. But we also want to lay the space for some of these nontraditional modes of learning and understanding of the world.

TN: Are you working on any new music?
I do have a song called “A Place to Call Home” that will be released soon as part of my forthcoming album entitled The Cost of Living. “A Place to Call Home” is about how I’ve come to love my heritage as a true African American. My father was born in Ghana and my mother was born in Memphis, Tennessee.

The idea that I’m from Ghana but I was not raised there. I don't have a familiar connection to Ghana the way I do to some of the places here in the U.S.

It’s about trying to come to grips with the idea that America doesn’t always love people like me. And so, I’m from a place that doesn't love me, and of a place I don’t know. It’s about embracing that tension. 

TN: What are your greatest hopes for the center?
My hope for the center is that we continue the work of those who have been advocating for the humanity of all people and eliminating racial hierarchy and the oppression that comes with it.

My hope is that we create novel scholarship, that we help people who have been uniquely harmed by racist systems and structures and that we bring hope to a new generation to live in a place without these racial hierarchies.