N. J. Akbar, Ph.D., is the Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer for the ACLU. He is a social justice champion, educator, researcher, and EDIB senior leader. As Chief Equity & Inclusion Officer, N. J. provides vision, leadership, and direction for the ACLU’s nationwide strategy to support equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging (EDIB) across all aspects of the organization’s work and efforts. N. J. is both the internal and external ambassador on the importance of EDIB as a crucial cornerstone of the ACLU’s culture of belonging.
Prior to the ACLU, N. J. spent 14 years at Kent State University, most recently serving as the Associate Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. In this role, he was primarily responsible for leading institutional equity strategic planning, research, assessment and student success initiatives, and coordinating the University Diversity Action Council, among many other things. He led the university in developing a university-wide diversity, equity, and inclusion strategic planning process, which required every unit to develop a strategic plan for their DEI goals.
Additionally, Akbar is actively engaged in the Akron, Ohio community; he currently serves on many boards and committees. Most notably, he served two terms as President for the Akron Board of Education and Vice President for one year. His 2019 election made national news, as he became the first Black gay Muslim elected in Ohio and one of a few in the history of the country. While on the board, his leadership was instrumental in the district declaring racism a public health crisis; instituting a livable wage priority raising wages for hourly employees as much as $4/hour more; developing the first chief diversity officer role for the district; and authoring the new racial equity, public comment, and gender pronouns and chosen name policies, just to name a few. In 2020, he was named a Champion of Pride by the Advocate Magazine and the Public Elected Official of the Year by the Ohio Chapter of National Social Workers Association.
N. J. has been an advocate for equity, social justice, and human rights from a young age. In high school, he was named the Detroit Division of the FBI’s Outstanding Young Citizen of the Year for his efforts to bring diverse and young adult voices to school-related decisions, speaking at the Board of Education, and helping change processes at his own high school. In college, he earned the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award in 2006 for his efforts to raise awareness around difference and having difficult conversations, while also serving as the lead author of the EMU Creed, which is still used widely at the university almost 20 years later.
N. J. earned his Ph.D. in Cultural Foundations of Education from Kent State University, and both his Master of Arts in Educational Leadership for Higher Education and Bachelor of Science in History and English for Secondary Education from Eastern Michigan University. Akbar is the author or co-author of several papers on educational equity, inequitable education, race, and student achievement.