Building A Just World With Purpose

A purpose program of The Duke Endowment

What is the 2020 Fellowship?

2020 is a watershed year in our collective experience demanding that we center race as a lens to understand our past, respond in the present, and shape a better future. COVID amplified the economic and health disparities that often fall along racial lines; violence, harassment, and discrimination against BIPOC at the hands of police and others demanded action not only to right historical wrongs but actively to engage in anti-racism work at the local, national, and global level with a renewed sense of purpose. What should we do in this moment? How do we go about that work for ourselves and others in a meaningful way? How does character amplify our capacity, energy and resiliency to address the issues that matter most to our communities?

To envision and create a more just future, The Purpose Project invites Duke undergraduates to join a year-long program (Spring, Summer, and Fall 2021) to explore and engage in the challenges of racial justice and anti-racism work that the events of 2020 cast in such sharp relief. Scholars will explore not only the realities of racism but their own sense of purpose by working for social change within the structures and systems that shape public policy, our institutions, and our communities, cities, and country.

The fellowship seeks to engage students with transformative change in the complex terrain of racial justice work. Each student’s journey along this trajectory will be a process of discernment about how they are best positioned to understand and facilitate racial justice.


2020 Scholars will:

  • Participate in an 8-week intensive preparatory seminar series in the spring (tentatively TH 3-5pm with some evening talks) to gain foundational insights into the landscape of racial justice and into students’ location within that space. This grounding will include historical underpinnings of race and racial justice work; exploration of notions of collective shame and responsibility for racial injustice through small group reflections; and consideration of multiple modes of anti-racism work from practitioners, community leaders, activists, politicians, and others in the nonprofit sector, the arts, and media;
  • Immerse themselves in the urgency of present work over the summer in a community-based project for racial justice through a group or individually crafted DukeEngage program; and; and
  • Engage in a Fall course that builds upon and expands the spring and summer experiences to critically reimagine the future of work for racial justice. This process will necessarily include a deeper understanding of critical race theory as students grapple with the challenges, trade-offs, and intended (or unintended consequences) of working for racial justice in and with communities, and consider how their own sense of purpose might be influenced by what they learn as they enact racial justice projects at Duke, in Durham, or in another local community.

Ultimately, students will have enough grounding in the past and present to envision—and enact—the process towards a radically better future.


The themes explored throughout the program will focus on the following:

Race and the State

Policy doesn’t happen overnight, and in an effort to create long-term change, different people choose to engage with electoral politics, representative politics/interests, differently. What does this work look like? What are the limits and tensions with this mechanism of change? What leads people to seek public office v those who work in more grassroots organizations that seek to garner public support for influence/change? Why are we so disappointed when some of our public officials prove not to be people of character?

Race and Space

How are our lives shaped and organized, geographically, by the forces of race, and what are the intended and unintended consequences of these realities for housing, education, the environment, and/or access to goods (i.e. grocery stores, etc.)? How are people working to right the wrongs of this system, ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ the systems that make them possible?

Race and Culture

Not all activism looks the same, art is often a forceful device for critique, inspiration, and aspiration. How do people express joy, celebrate culture, name systemic injustice, and call for a better world through the aesthetic? Can art create a sense of purpose that empowers people to challenge power?

Race, Justice, and Character in Action

In an age of information echo chambers, slacktivism, cancel culture, and finite capacity, how best to work for justice? What organizations and people are doing this work on the ground? How do they imagine a different world? How might their character guide that vision? And what sense of mission and purpose sustains them?

Meet the 20|20 Scholars

Program Directors

Ada Gregory

Ada Gregory
Associate Director
Kenan Institute for Ethics

A.J. Walton
Senior Director, Cross-Sector Initiatives &
Associate Director, The Purpose Project