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Ellison Advocates "Politics of Generosity"

He was running for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, Keith Ellison stated in a pre-election interview, “to call our nation back to its better self.” Now less than two months into his term in the U.S. Congress, he’s already gotten down to the business of turning his thoughts—on everything from the environment to foreign policy—into actions.

On February 22, Congressman Ellison (’90) returned to the University of Minnesota Law School to speak at a Black History Month event co-sponsored by the Black Law Students Association, the Muslim Law Students Association, Law School Democrats, and MLK Raise the Bar.

Referring to his presentation as “my own walk,” Ellison described the steps that took him from his hometown of Detroit to becoming the first African-American member of the Minnesota House of Representatives and the first Muslim in the U.S. House of Representatives.

His years at the Law School changed his life, Ellison said, giving particular credit to the clinical education he received from Professor Stephen N. Simon. He also stressed the value of mentors and cited the late Hennepin County Chief Public Defender William McGee as an important role model.

Using his personal life experiences as illustrations, he stressed the importance of unification, or “the politics of generosity,” in bringing about positive change. Ellison said that the most effective way to make policy is to find common ground among people, regardless of the many potential differences, and go forward through collaboration. He used the Civil Rights Movement as an example, in which a group of people from various backgrounds were unified in the goal of civil and human rights for all.

No issue is truly black or white, Republican or Democrat, male or female, Jewish or Muslim, rich or poor, Ellison said. Rather, he told the audience of more than 200 from the Law School, the greater University, and the Twin Cities, a policy that might seem to benefit one group usually improves life for everyone.

—by Stephanie R. Travis, 2L

Ellison's speech was broadcast on Minnesota Public Radio's Midday program February 23rd. Audio is available online.