The award was established in 1996 in honor of the former Dean of the School of Social Work, Harold R. Johnson. It recognizes faculty whose service goes above and beyond their regular duties and contributes to the development of a culturally and ethnically diverse campus community.

Among his many contributions, Professor Yates was one of the founders of UM's Comprehensive Studies Program which today serves more than 2700 undergraduates from underrepresented groups.  He was also instrumental in the formation of the longest standing association for Black graduate students in psychology, the UM Black Students in Psychology Association (BSPA) in 1969.  Finally, Professor Yates founded and has served since 2005 as Faculty Director of the Preparation Initiative in the Ross Business School, a learning community designed to attract and support diverse first year undergrads who have expressed an interest in applying to the business school.