When I first met Dr. Katrice Albert, she was Executive VP for Equity and Diversity at the University of Minnesota. We met because she was arguably the top person in her field in academia, and she had a problem. What she found at Minnesota was a great and liberal environment for racial equity and justice work, but a small platform for her powers. Having been at LSU in the same job, Katrice came North thinking the Fortune 500s close to the university and the large and diverse population in the Twin Cities would give her new ways to do her work. What she found instead was that nobody much wanted change up here. Our joint project to radically increase the numbers of students of color studying abroad stalled out, and so did other priorities she was driving. For Katrice, the status quo "dressed up as change" wasn't going to be enough to feed her beast.
From University Leadership to the NCAA
Now if you've know Katrice for five minutes, you'll get that the game of football is an abiding passion of hers. You're not born in a small Louisiana town like she was without knowing some truths about this game. Katrice knows them all, and nobody adopts new teams along the journey of life as eagerly as Katrice. LSU is her team. And don't talk about any part of her sports life and leave out her New Orleans Saints. (I've tried. It didn't end well.) So LSU and The Saints are once and forever. But as it turns out, so are Southern Miss and the Minnesota Vikings and The Golden Gophers. And now some Indy teams, too. So it was that not long after overseeing a hugely charged and highly politicized search for a new athletic director at Minnesota--where she'd already been frustrated about the glacial pace of change on racial-equity issues--Katrice got a call from the NCAA that few gridiron-loving ladies of Louisiana ever get.
She answered the NCAA's call. And Katrice moved from being my neighbor on Selby Avenue in St. Paul to Indianapolis, where she took on a bully-pulpit position for the NCAA with racial equity and inclusivity in her purview. Like at Minnesota and LSU before, nobody had done her new job like she would do it. Katrice has the intellectual and social agility of a French ballerina. And then she can lower the boom like an under-rested linebackers coach with a broken bullhorn.
An HBCU Heartbeat
Before the HBCU conversation that's so current today, Katrice championed the HBCUs like no other. As a little girl, she grew up all over the Southern University A&M campus, where her Mom was a beloved Chemistry professor and made sure Katrice grew up knowing that the "life of the mind" was going to be mission-critical for her. She continued from that home to her cherished collegiate days at Xavier University, where she met and became sisters with some of the most powerful and life-long examples of leadership she's ever known. And in their names, she has fought for the equity the HBCU' deserve within the NCAA and all over the national conversation. From ESPN to national keynote addresses everywhere, she won those fights, mostly. And when she didn't, she retreated as far as she needed to and then picked up her phone to start speed-dialing new ways to engage new people in "the work."
The Long Walk to Equity
People learn to quit in life because it takes quitting to stay alive sometimes. But that's not how Katrice was raised in her family or in her town. Or as a Black woman of power, grace, wisdom, wit and brilliantly harnessed fearlessness. Katrice speaks with the cadence of a person who can't contemplate losing the struggle for racial justice. It's her life's work. For Katrice, losing happens in sports but not in life. Her beloved Tigers lose. Her Vikings. And on days that one must speak of with care, even her Saints lose! But those are games, and they're played fairly. Until life is played fairly, Katrice isn't done with her work.
Katrice has turned her vigor lately to working with businesses as they seek to make new progress on corporate social responsibility and engage more actively in equity and inclusivity.
Universities and even the NCAA had their own pace of change. Business can feel faster and more agile without always delivering on the promise of change. The jury is still out on where corporate will go in the next five years, where diversity and inclusivity are concerned. But the arch beyond five years is stretching to a good and promised place. The hard work today and tomorrow is my honor and deep pleasure to help lead.
Team Sabatigo is beyond lucky to have Dr. Katrice Albert as our Disruptor-in-Residence as we set off on our beta-journey to Paris and Berlin in November 2021. Beyond the small-group coaching she will offer in inclusivity engagement, Katrice will be helping to bring fire to the Wonder-Walks Sabatigo is designing to foreground race and racial thought in business, history, art and culture today.
While she also takes her own critical time to follow the re-boot and regeneration cure that is Sabatigo's heart and soul.