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T. Anansi Wilson
T. Anansi Wilson hails from Fort Scott, Kansas, hometown of renowned photographer Gordon Parks, who also moved to the Twin Cities. (Submitted photo)

Breaking the Ice: ‘Black Life and the Law Center’ taking shape

Name: T. Anansi Wilson

Title: Founding director, Center for the Study of Black Life and the Law; assistant professor, Mitchell Hamline School of Law

Education: B.A., American Studies and Critical Race Theory, Tufts University: J.D., Howard University School of Law; Ph.D., African and African Diaspora Studies

T. Anansi Wilson is realizing a vision he declared as an undergraduate with his appointment as founding director of the forthcoming Center for the Study of Black Life and the Law at Mitchell Hamline School of Law.

Wilson recalled telling a professor of his desire to start such a center once he had completed law school and his doctorate degree, which he received a year ago.

With the Center for the Study of Black Life and the Law, Mitchell Hamline is the only law school to have anything “as audacious and specific enough to center not only Black people but Black LGBTQ people and their experiences with the law from the beginning of the country to the present and what the future looks like,” Wilson said.

With the center’s formal launch expected in the fall, planning is underway for an October conference, the Minnesota Equity and Justice Project Symposium, Wilson said.

Wilson hails from Fort Scott, the southeast Kansas hometown of renowned photographer Gordon Parks, who also moved to the Twin Cities.

Q: Best way to start a conversation with you?

A: I’m open to any kind of conversation, any topic. The best way to start off is with a laugh and a smile; I’m a Kansas guy. If you have a glass of bourbon, that’s even better.

Q: Why did you go to law school?

A: With my undergraduate major in American Studies, and also critical race studies, I was interested in figuring out how the world works. If you don’t go to law school, you can read a statute and you think you know what it means. But going to law school actually gives you the tools to figure out, wow, these are the canons of construction. There are seven different ways to read this bill, this statute or this opinion.

Q: What books are you reading?

A: I just finished the Imani Perry book “South to America.” That’s a pleasure-filled read but also deeply educational.

Q: What’s your pet peeve?

A: I hate being cold, so this is an interesting city choice.

Q: Best part of your work?

A: Being able to witness people and to bear witness with people. When I talk to students, particularly first-generation white students and students of color, LGBTQ students, minoritized students, it’s so important for them and it’s so impactful for them that you can validate their experience. … The same thing with folks on the street. … That ability to bear witness with people and on their behalf has been very beautiful for me, very inspiring.

Q: Least favorite?

A: Grading papers and meetings, particularly in this Zoom world.

Q: Favorite activity away from work?

A: Travel and hiking. If I wasn’t at work right now and it wasn’t a pandemic, I’d probably be in South Africa hiking Lion’s Head or Table Mountain. I studied abroad in law school in South Africa, studying comparative constitutional law and international criminal law and looking at their Truth and Justice Reconciliation Commission and what do you do after something so traumatic.

Q: Where would you take someone visiting your hometown?

A: I was born and raised in Fort Scott, Kansas. I’d take them to my grandmother’s house, get a good home-cooked meal and tour this historic town. I went to a play here about Gordon Parks, a distant cousin of mine. It seems that we’ve taken the same journey from Fort Scott to Minneapolis, about 70 years apart. … I have to give a shout-out to Kansas City barbecue as well.

Q: Legal figure you most admire?

A: Thurgood Marshall and Pauline Murray. Pauline Murray was an intellectual mentor to Ruth Bader Ginsburg and a personal mentor to Thurgood Marshall. They were, I believe, the first woman to graduate out of Howard but they were also someone who  was queer, and I think today we would have probably called them non-binary or transgender.

Q: Favorite book, movie or TV show about lawyers?

A: “How to Get Away with Murder.” I love Annalise Keating, anything Viola Davis does.

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