• Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Lawrenceville Appoints Zaheer Ali as Inaugural Executive Director of the Hutchins Center for Race and Social Justice

The Lawrenceville School is pleased to announce Zaheer Ali as the inaugural executive director of the School’s Hutchins Center for Race and Social Justice. Ali is an educator and humanities professional with more than a decade of experience directing nationally recognized public history and cultural heritage initiatives, including program oversight and evaluation, institutional fundraising, budget management, community engagement, collections access, and public programming. Having trained in African American studies under Henry Louis Gates, Jr. at Harvard and worked at Columbia University’s Institute for Research in African American Studies (IRAAS) under Manning Marable, Ali also brings experiential knowledge in launching and directing social justice-oriented research initiatives that serve students, faculty, and the wider community. 

Lawrenceville Head of School Steve Murray said, "It is hard to imagine that we could find a more experienced professional to launch the Hutchins Center for Race and Social Justice at Lawrenceville. Zaheer's education and scholarly background provide a deep foundation for this work, and his equally important efforts to bring stories alive through documentary film and oral histories offers an element of creative initiative that will draw students and colleagues alike to the Center."

The newly established Hutchins Center for Race and Social Justice, an outgrowth of the School’s diversity, equity, and inclusion strategic plan, is an innovation in secondary education, providing an interdisciplinary hub for transformational, real-world experiences for the Lawrenceville community and beyond. It will advance the School’s vision of applied, experiential learning and will empower students to pursue original research and writing, actively seeking solutions to some of the greatest societal challenges of our time. The Hutchins Center will offer direct access to scholars and leaders at highly respected national organizations, as well as opportunities for guided student research, faculty and staff fellowships, and summer studies.

“Highly regarded as a leader, educator, and oral historian, Zaheer Ali continually impressed the search committee with his commitment to race and social justice and ability to articulate a robust vision with clarity and ambition,” said Marquis Scott, assistant head of school for strategic initiatives. “Zaheer will be a great asset to the Hutchins Center for Race and Social Justice and The Lawrenceville School.”

Primary financial support for the Hutchins Center is provided by Glenn Hutchins (a trustee emeritus and member of the Lawrenceville Class of 1973), who also was highly influential in developing the vision that focuses on both scholarship and social activism. In concert with the Hutchins Family Foundation, Hutchins has made enduring contributions to the School through initiatives like the Hutchins Scholars Program, which provides enriching research experiences for Lawrenceville’s most committed student scientists and prepares them for leading university science programs and related careers. The Hutchins Galleries at Lawrenceville offer rotating exhibitions, integrating art into campus life and inspiring individual reflection and community dialogue. Hutchins is also a benefactor of both the Obama Foundation and the Hutchins Center for Africa and African American Research at Harvard University, as well as other organizations like Brookings and CARE that seek both to promote justice and to take concerted action.

Assistant Head of School and Director of Advancement Mary Kate Barnes, who spearheaded fundraising for the Hutchins Center for Race and Social Justice, stated, “Zaheer’s work within the Hutchins Center will touch everyone in our community and expand the aperture of our collective lenses. The generosity of Trustee Emeritus Glenn Hutchins ’73 and Trustee Emeritus David Ottaway '57 and his wife, Marina P'86 '91 GP'24, demonstrate a strong investment in our mission.”

Ali was the Project Manager of Columbia University’s Malcolm X Project, and his oral history interviews informed Marable’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention.” As Oral Historian at Brooklyn Historical Society (now the Center for Brooklyn History), he directed Muslims in Brooklyn, a public history and arts initiative that inspired a critically acclaimed exhibition and a viral video on the Muslim bean pie for Slate.com’s “Who’s Afraid of Aymann Ismail?” The Muslims in Brooklyn website received a 2021 Special Jury Social Justice prize from the GLAMi (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums Innovation) Awards and a 2021 MUSE Award from the American Alliance of Museums.

Ali has been a Senior Fellow of the Pillars Fund Muslim Narrative Change Cohort and is a recipient of the Open Society Foundation’s Soros Equality Fellowship for his work on leveraging the power of storytelling and listening for social change. He has written for both scholarly and general publics, and has been a featured narrator in several documentaries, including CNN’s “Witnessed: The Assassination of Malcolm X,” and Netflix’s “Who Killed Malcolm X?” and “Blood Brothers: Malcolm X & Muhammad Ali.” In addition, he serves as an executive producer of “American Muslims: A History Revealed,” a National Endowment for the Humanities-funded digital film series and feature-length broadcast documentary currently in production.

Ali has taught for over a decade as an adjunct lecturer at New York University, including courses on United States history, Malcolm X, and Prince Rogers Nelson. He holds a bachelor’s degree with a concentration in Afro-American Studies from Harvard University, and both master of arts and master of philosophy degrees in history from Columbia University.

“The Hutchins Center for Race and Social Justice represents a unique, bold, and innovative approach by The Lawrenceville School in tackling the problems of racism and injustice. By supporting scholarship, programming, and experiential learning, the Center will enable students and faculty to deepen our thinking about race, listen to and learn from each other, and engage in community-centered and impact-focused action,” said Ali. “This is unique in secondary education and I am inspired and excited to collaborate with Lawrenceville students, faculty, and staff to establish the Hutchins Center for Race and Social Justice as a model of the transformative possibilities of social justice teaching and practice, at Lawrenceville and beyond.”

Photo credit: Carlos Khalil Guzman

For additional information, please contact Lisa M. Gillard Hanson, director of Public Relations, at lgillard@lawrenceville.org.