Josie R. Johnson Leadership Academy launches year-long training program

It has often been said that as a leader dies, so does the movement.

In the struggle for advancement among African-Americans there have been a myriad of leaders in various arenas who have carried the baton of progress, but far too often that baton never gets passed on. It has been seen in politics, business, civic engagement and other areas where African-Americans have struggled to gain a foothold. Many times in the process of trying to fill the void of leadership the movement stalls and by the time other leaders emerge the momentum is lost.

With the newly created Dr. Josie R. Johnson Leadership Academy (JRJLA) the African American Leadership Forum (AALF) is hoping to avoid any dearth of capable and qualified individuals ready to grab the baton from the previous holders.

nikki-mccombThe academy, named for Minnesota human and civil rights pioneer, Dr. Josie Johnson (who continues to play an active role is Minnesota politics, education and human and civil rights), is a year-long training that seeks to engage identified emerging leaders in developing a united urban agenda that will address the critical issues facing those in the African-American community. From hundreds of applicants 22 emerging leaders were selected as fellows in the inaugural class of the academy. Those selected were Abdul Wright, Alida Abdullah, Amber Jones, Banna Kidane, Billy C. Russell, Brandon Jones, Cedrick Frazier, Danielle Jackson, Devonna Bentley, Jason Sole, Keith Brooks, Lamar Hylton, Maher Abduselam, Maya Buckner, Mike Hestick, Nicholas Styles, Nikki McComb, Rhonda Hylton, Tabitha Seyon, Tawakal Hire, Toni Newborn and Zeinab Jeylani.

jeffrey-hassan-photo12-12-08-001Jeffrey Hassan, executive director of AALF, said his objective in curating the leadership academy is to create leaders who put the needs of the community over the selfish desires of those seeking singular advancement. He said younger African-Americans in the Twin Cities have struggled to gain access to positions of power and it has created a vacuum.

“I continually heard from young people in particular that say there’s no structure set up for them to get into positions of leadership, and old heads don’t see this as an issue so there’s a bit of a disconnect there,” said Hassan, who took over as the executive director of AALF this past November. “Even at our recent forum (that brought hundreds together to craft an urban agenda for the Twin Cities) my own administrative assistant said she didn’t see opportunities for younger people to participate so we’re trying to be more intentional about providing opportunities for (young people) to participate.”

Hassan said the recent forum was attended by mostly 35-55 year-olds, with several above the age of 55 years, while very few were younger than 35 years of age.

In creating the JRJLA, Hassan said it will fill a critical gap in leadership by addressing culturally-specific needs of African-Americans, including racial pride, psychological development, collective consciousness and community building. According to the forum’s website (, the JRJLA will develop, connect, support, and train new African-American leaders through monthly meetings, quarterly trainings, mentorship and project-based learning. In addition, Hassan said the academy will address the needs of the African-American community by identifying solutions through project-based learning, break down intergenerational barriers between established and emerging African-Americans and prepare and facilitate JRJLA fellows to take on influential positions in business, philanthropy, government and community action where their participation can advance the interests of the African-American community and improve racial equity.

Nikki McComb, a parent engagement specialist with Pillsbury United Communities, said being selected as an emerging leader is a cherished honor.

“There were hundreds of applicants, so to be accepted (into the academy) means a lot,” said McComb. “I’ve been doing this for 17 years – working with families and youth – but I never took that next step in accepting leadership. This academy gives us the opportunity to come together and better affect change for those who have various barriers placed in their lives.”

The expected measurable outcomes of JRJLA are to increase leadership capacity as measured by the number of African-American community members prepared to represent the community in employment, civic, advisory, decision-making, and/or elected positions and to increase the number of African-American leaders at tables of employment, appointments and commissions where decisions are made that affect the African-American community in the areas of education, employment and economic development, health, culture and spirituality.

March 10, 2015
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