john a. powell was born in Detroit and co-Chairs the Population Council at the Detroit Wayne County Health Authority. He currently leads UC Berkeley’s Haas Diversity Research Center and holds the Robert D. Haas Chancellor’s Chair in Equity and Inclusion. Previously he was the Executive Director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at The Ohio State University. He taught civil rights law, property law and jurisprudence and held the Earl R. Larson Chair of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Law at the University of Minnesota Law School. He is founder and former Executive Director of the Institute on Race & Poverty (IRP), which is located at the University of Minnesota Law School.
In 1977, he received an International Human Rights Fellowship from the University of Minnesota to work in Africa, where he served as a consultant to the government of Mozambique. Between 1987 and 1993, he worked as a national legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union. He is a co-founder of the Poverty and Race Research Action Council (PRRAC) and serves on the boards of several national organizations including Tides.