Nekima Levy-Pounds, head of the Minneapolis NAACP, has announced she's leaving her professorship at the University of St. Thomas law school to pursue full-time work as an advocate for racial and economic justice.
Her last day at St. Thomas, where she has taught for 13 years, will be July 31. She is the founding director of its Community Justice Project, a civil rights legal clinic. Students involved in the clinic successfully pushed the Minneapolis City Council to repeal ordinances banning lurking and spitting.
Levy-Pounds' scholarly work at St. Thomas has focused on mass incarceration and the impact of stringent drug laws on communities of color.
Levy-Pounds, who has been a prominent figure in Black Lives Matter protests in Minneapolis, said the death of Jamar Clark, an unarmed black man shot during a scuffle with Minneapolis police in November, had a "profound impact" on her decision to expand her scope of work. She said she intends to become an even fiercer advocate for Minneapolis' North Side, where she lives.
After Clark's death, she played a leading role in the weekslong protest at the city's Fourth Precinct police headquarters and participated in many marches. She was criticized after being arrested during a large protest that shut down Interstate 94, but said her employer's support never wavered.
"Through all of my racial justice work and controversies, the institution, Dean Rob Vischer, clinic director Virgil Wiebe, and UST President Julie Sullivan have had my back and offered unconditional support," she said in a Facebook post Friday evening. "I am sure they received angry e-mails and phone calls over the years, but they never let those get to me or deter me in my work. I can't imagine any other institution having my back in that way."
Without getting into specifics, Levy-Pounds said she would spend more time writing and guest lecturing, with a particular focus on Minnesota.
"This is my home base. This is where we have some of the worst racial disparities in the country," she said when reached by phone Friday night. "There's still so much work to do here to level the playing field, so this is where I feel called to work."
She added, of St. Thomas, "They gave me a great deal of freedom to do my work in unconventional ways and allow students to be involved." During the Black Lives Matter protests, colleagues and students came to the Fourth Precinct to speak with residents and to learn about community engagement.
Levy-Pounds plans to finish her term as NAACP president but said she has not decided if she will run for re-election in November.
Liz Sawyer • 612-673-4648