DEI Leaders of Minnesota: Tru Pettigrew

The chief diversity officer for the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx wants players to reach their full potential
Tru Pettigrew
Tru Pettigrew

Minnesota Timberwolves

In the last few years, Minnesota has seen a number of prominent killings by police officers and has found itself at the center of national attention on racial disparities. The murder of George Floyd, in particular, caused people to examine how they fit into (or hinder) the goals of a broad social justice movement. Because tragedy doesn’t exist in a vacuum, we asked four of Minnesota’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) leaders about how everyday work decisions and company culture can make a better future. Here, we speak with Tru Pettigrew, chief diversity officer for the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx.

After Michael Brown, an 18-year-old Black man, was shot in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014, Tru Pettigrew walked through the doors of his local North Carolina police department and asked, “Do I have to worry about my son? Where do you all stand?” Those questions led to a conversation with one of the officers, which led Pettigrew to create diversity training that was eventually given across the country.

While Pettigrew had never sought a career in diversity and inclusion, he knew how to connect disparate groups because of his marketing experience. First, he pivoted his consultancy Tru Access to focus on building trust and empathy, and now as the chief diversity and inclusion officer of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx, he builds bridges between the players, workers, and community.

“Oftentimes, we attempt to compartmentalize the personal and professional, and it’s virtually impossible for a human being to do that because it is all a part of who we are,” he says. When a person feels othered, he adds, they spend so much time fighting themselves that they can’t reach their full potential.

From a player standpoint, Pettigrew says that the NBA, NFL, and MLB leagues include many people from Black and Brown communities who have dealt with racism and, in the WNBA’s case, sexism. Therefore, these teams also have a bunch of people who are best positioned to identify solutions, he says.

This player-led mentality was seen in 2021 when Daunte Wright was fatally shot. Josh Okogie and other Timberwolves players felt they needed to do something to demand accountability. Working with Pettigrew, they came up with shirts that read “with liberty and justice for all,” with “for all” capitalized and underlined. The team wore them for warm-up that week, as did their three opponents. Afterward, the four teams—plus the Minnesota Lynx—signed and auctioned off their shirts to raise money for the Wright family.

From a non-player standpoint, Pettigrew’s work includes developing a talent pipeline to the Timberwolves and Lynx corporation that aims to represent the community and provide resources to those who have been marginalized or who may not fit the corporate mold.

And Pettigrew has fun while doing the hard work. “I always tell our president, Ethan [CEO Ethan Casson], about how funny I am,” Pettigrew says. “I’m always flexing my comedic genius at company meetings, and he just shakes his head every time.”

But in all seriousness, “My purpose is to be a bridge builder, and the way I do that is through workshops, through education, talks, writings, and understanding that if it’s not on purpose, it’s off purpose,” he says, emphasizing the importance of mindful, deliberate action. “No one of us can accomplish what needs to be accomplished.”

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