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Artika Tyner
Artika Tyner

Breaking the Ice: St. Thomas professor promotes justice, literacy

Name: Artika Tyner

Title: Director, Center on Race, Leadership and Social Justice and law professor, University of St. Thomas School of Law

Education: B.A., English, Hamline University; J.D. University of St. Thomas School of Law; Ed.D. University of St. Thomas School of Education; M.P.P. University of St. Thomas School of Education

Artika Tyner, founding director of the Center on Race, Leadership and Social Justice at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, seeks to educate community members as well as students.

More than 50 community members learned how administrative agencies affect them in a presentation from Tyner’s administrative law students at the end of the fall semester. Tyner hopes the next presentation will reach a larger audience.

“It’s important that we’re supporting capacity building and leadership at the ground level, grassroots level,” said Tyner, noted as a passionate educator, author, sought-after speaker and advocate for justice.

Tyner promotes literacy as the author or co-author of seven books from her publishing company, Planting People Growing Justice Press. She works both locally and, in recent years, through her leadership institute in Ghana.


Q: What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?

A: Ask, “What are you reading?” We need common ground, so I’m encouraging people to read more in the context of racial justice.

Q: What prompted you to study law and pursue it professionally?

A: The state of injustice: Growing up with the war on drugs, the challenges impacting the African American community and the emergence of mass incarceration, I knew I needed to be well-versed in the law to be able to speak the language of power.

Q: What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?

A: “The Color of Law,” by [Richard] Rothstein. “The Empowered University” by Dr. Freeman Harbosky. “The Myth of Race, the Reality of Racism,” by professor emeritus from Macalester College, Dr. Mahmoud El-Kati.

Q: What is a pet peeve of yours?

A: Oftentimes people say, “Can you continue to teach us?” People of color don’t have a responsibility to teach you and take you on your own continuum of learning.

Q: What are your favorite aspects of being a legal educator?

A: Working with students, seeing over the past 14 years my students in key leadership roles making an impact nationally, globally, locally.

Q: Least favorite?

A: It sometimes doesn’t feel like there’s enough time to address the magnitude of the social issues and injustices that people face.

Q: What’s a favorite activity outside your job?

A: I enjoy writing children’s books, visiting local schools and offering virtual readings online. In my work in Ghana, being a part of the community in Akwamu has helped to connect me to my roots, my culture in meaningful ways, but also related to my purpose. Having the opportunity to work with the king — Odeneho Kwafo Akoto III — and seeing him building schools, building health care centers and being the inspiration that I could do so much more and that I owe my community so much more.

Q: If someone visits you in your hometown, what would you take them to see or do?

A: Take them to the Rondo Plaza, with the construction of [Interstate] Highway 94 going through the heart of Rondo, displacing African Americans and us losing our economic hub and business center.

Q: Is there an attorney or judge, past or present, whom you admire most?

A: Justice Alan C. Page — exclamation point. Justice Page and Mrs. Page have been instrumental to my work. That was my golden ticket, knowing that college was possible.

Q: What’s a misconception people have about working as an attorney?

A: As a lawyer of color, I’m still fighting racial discrimination and harassment personally. The ABA just produced a report, “Left Out and Left Behind: The Hurdles, Hassles and Heartaches of Achieving Long-Term Legal Careers for Women of Color.” We should all be alarmed at data showing that 70 percent of female minority lawyers report leaving or considering leaving the legal profession.

Q: What is your favorite depiction of the law or the legal profession in popular culture?

A: The movie “Simple Justice,” the story of Charles Hamilton Houston and his work of laying the groundwork for Brown v. Board of Education and his mentorship of Justice Thurgood Marshall.

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