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A Historian Looks to the Future – Yohuru Williams Profile

Yohuru Williams
Dr. Yohuru Williams

To those who are given much, much is expected.” That Maya Angelou quote also sums up Yohuru Williams’ own approach to volunteer service.

Currently chair of YWCA St. Paul’s Board, Dr. Yohuru Williams is a historian by training, and he brings that perspective to his volunteerism. “We can view everything through a historical lens and apply that to our understanding of what the future might hold. For example, YW’s history of being at the forefront of tackling justice issues for women proves that by uplifting one person, we can empower them. As a volunteer, I’m looking for ways to offer support that enables YWCA St. Paul to continue that work.”

Yohuru is a Professor and Founding Director of the Racial Justice Initiative at the University of St. Thomas. Throughout his life, he has been drawn to mission-driven organizations. “I love YW St. Paul because you know exactly where the money is going—I like to imagine what we could do if we had even more!” He is particularly struck by the impact of YW’s housing programs. “Stable housing really is the ‘foundation’ and by providing this critical service, YW gives people the needed stability to move forward and address other needs.”

A gratitude for the advantages he’s had in life colors his own volunteer service. “I believe I’m called to be an engaged contributor to the larger society—to ensure it is more equitable and just. I believe I have an obligation to pay forward the many advantages I’ve been given.”

When asked to reflect on board service, Yohuru’s view is that we all contribute different things through our volunteer work. “We may be architects or builders, each bringing different skills to the job, yet we all unite around ensuring the work is reflective of the community and authentic to our mission.”

Yohuru takes a straightforward approach to allocating his time. “Part of my calculation is to ask, where is the greatest need and where can I have the greatest impact? Where I allocate my time is influenced by where I can create ripples—ripples that amplify the work that’s already being done.”

While a historian at heart, Yohuru views his Board Chair role as an opportunity to help the organization navigate the future. “The reason we’ve been around since 1907 is that we understand how to respond to changing community needs. We need to continue to be ready to pivot and reimagine our world. We have to constantly think about our innovation opportunities and how to amplify our work in this community.”