Honoring history and heritage, Insight News, in partnership with the Minneapolis Civil Rights Department, profiles past and emerging leaders from the Twin Cities African American community.

Michael Walker

Michael Walker

Celebrating The Future
Michael Walker, Director of The Office of Black Male Student Achievement (OBMSA), leads the Minneapolis Public School District’s (MPS) efforts to eliminate the achievement gap between black male students and their MPS peers. The Office of Black Male Student Achievement is a new department created specifically to address the needs of the largest demographic group within MPS. It represents an equitable approach to tackling the challenges that exist for the school district’s black male students.

Walker has over 15 years of career experience in youth development and helping black youth achieve success. From 1998 to 2006, Walker served as community outreach program and youth development director at the YMCA of Greater St. Paul and Minneapolis, where he developed programs for social, academic, athletic and employment skills for youth. He served as coordinator of the Black Achievers Program, an academic achievement and career development initiative for middle school and high school youth and teens. While acquiring his master’s degree in counseling, Walker interned at Roosevelt High School. There he was encouraged to apply for a job as a career and college coordinator for AchieveMpls at Roosevelt High School. He served in this role from 2006 to 2009. Walker obtained his administrative license from St. Cloud State University and served as Roosevelt High School’s dean of students and later as an assistant principal.

Before Walker became director of the Office of Black Male Student Achievement and before developing or implementing any programming for the newly created office, he took to the streets to learn from the community the challenges young black males encountered in the Minneapolis Public School District. Michael visited Minneapolis barber shops, hair salons, churches, and community organizations interviewing MPS alumni and parents about the experiences of young black males in the school district.

Walker developed B.L.A.C.K. (Building Lives Acquiring Cultural Knowledge), a curriculum that works to empower students. The curriculum introduces students to the complexity of the black male experience by exploring the everyday reality of black men in the United States. The curriculum exposes students to the experience of black male labor force participation and employment outcomes; deconstructs representations of black masculinity in popular culture; explores academic dilemmas associated with primary and secondary educational pursuits; and uncovers issues connected with law, incarceration, and criminal justice. Walker and his team have witnessed promising developments in OBMSA participants. Today he continues to undertake what many consider an intimidating challenge with strength, compassion, and courage.

Walker is a product of North Minneapolis and attended Roosevelt High School. He and his wife have four children, two of whom are school-age and attend MPS schools.

Beacons of Leadership
My mother is the most inspirational person in my life. She has always believed in me and encouraged me through all endeavors. My mother taught me to be confident in decision making, but to remain respectful of all thoughts, perspectives, and opinions. My mother, who is my sounding board for advice, always gives honest critique. She’s the person who keeps me going.

Most Rewarding Work Experience
The Office of Black Male Student Achievement is a new and developing organization. As I chart the path for this organization I’m blessed to work in conjunction and partnership with the young black males I’m entrusted to serve. The young men are present in every aspect of program development. I am intentional about keeping their voice at the forefront of my work.

Advice for Aspiring Educators
This is not a job. This is something you have to be passionate about. As an educator, you are going to lead from 30 to maybe 150 students each day. You must be able to see them each as unique individuals. While content is an important aspect of education, authentic relationship building is critical. Once you form trusting relationship with students, you can teach them anything.

All children want to learn. As educators, we must determine what it is that motivates our students, tap into it, and let learning happen for everyone. Build authentic relationships with students and their families- and be the best educator possible.

Shannon Jones

Shannon Jones

Celebrating The Future
Shannon Jones is the Director of Community Engagement at Urban Homeworks. She is an advocate for equitable housing and is dedicated to empowering her community. In her role, she analyzes the needs of the community and makes appropriate recommendations for housing programs, policy, and practices within Urban Homeworks and beyond. Urban Homeworks responds to the voices of the community by providing dignified housing opportunities, creating space for construction training, weaving together a network of engaged neighbors, and mobilizing volunteers.

In 2012, Jones was hired as a community engagement strategy manager to build relationships with community, connect community to resources, and to provide a safe, respectful way for families to voice their concerns. Shortly thereafter, she began to co-manage the Urban Neighbor Program, a faith-motivated housing program for college students and working professionals. While managing the Urban Neighbor Program, Jones was consistently given more responsibilities and opportunities to expand the community focus of the organization. These efforts led to Urban Homeworks incorporating community engagement as a core principal of its organizational framework. At the time, Jones, who had proven herself a consummate community organizer, was asked to become the new Director of Community Engagement.

In her new role, Jones implemented several programs designed to get renters and homeowners civically engaged. Jones initiated the “Writing Campaign” which allowed community members to use their voice to address issues with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The Campaign is a process by which people can successfully engage with HUD on a number of issues related to fair housing. This proved so successful that Jones led a second campaign addressing constituent issues pertaining to emotional welfare as it relates to police brutality.

Jones leads community listening sessions throughout the Twin Cities with renters, homeowners, and police. The listening sessions allow for candid dialogue and address major issues such as responsible banking, discrimination, excessive force, and the role of grand juries, and police shootings. “These opportunities to engage are essential because community members are telling me, ‘We want those in positions that affect our lives to know us; we need them to know us.’ The listening sessions are a major success. I believe things can change. I am committed to doing my part to promote understanding and the need for humanity in policing,” said Jones.

Jones is experienced in non-profit and community-based work and is passionate about bridging the gap between community and policy making. “My job is to keep the community informed and involved in policy-making decisions that affect their most basic needs – housing being one of them,” she said.

Jones focuses on connecting renters and homeowners to resources so that individual and communal assets emerge and thrive. She is recognized in the Minneapolis community as an innovative leader who leads with compassion.

Most Rewarding Work Experience
Helping to diversify neighborhood associations. I initiated a program that encouraged Urban Homeworks renters and homeowners to get involved in neighborhood associations. At the beginning, a lot of residents were uncomfortable with the idea of participating in neighborhood associations. At the end, we had residents represented on many boards throughout the City. They felt empowered and recruited others to do the same.

Beacons of Leadership
Family. I’m inspired by my mother and grandmother because I know the road they traveled was tough, yet they endured. Their efforts allowed me to have opportunities they never imagined. I’m also inspired by my uncle, Richard Green, who was a zealous advocate and never afraid to take initiative. My sister is a strong leader and I’m inspired daily by her work.

Advice for Aspiring Housing Advocates
Be comfortable with people, differences, and yourself. Any role in which you’re working with people it can be emotionally exhausting. Don’t try to be a hero; this line of thought is too burdensome. Instead, understand people have free will; and your responsibility is to help them make the best choice.

Melvin Carter III

Melvin Carter III

Celebrating The Future
Melvin Carter III is Executive Director of Minnesota Children’s Cabinet. In this position, Carter works to support positive outcomes and healthy development for children, prenatal through third grade. Under his leadership, the office builds coalitions to raise the profile of the importance of quality investments and to advocate for new resources from various funding sources, when necessary. He collaborates across agencies to leverage existing state supports for synergistic impact.

After graduating from Florida A & M University, Carter worked at a Saint Paul-based insurance and financial services firm. Carter excelled in this work, but maintained a passion for community and policymaking. This passion was initiated when as a young college student Carter witnessed his brother being turned away from a Florida polling precinct during the 2000 presidential election. This was a defining moment for Carter. He says, “Here we were in the year 2000, and a young black man has taken time off from work to set an example for his family and exercise his right to vote. He is then denied the opportunity to vote, without cause.” Carter decided to commit his work to ensuring no one else would ever endure such a disturbing rejection.

Carter became engaged in electoral politics and has a passion for helping others engage – he’s trained progressive candidates, community organizers and campaign workers in over 30 states. His work encompasses several renowned national organizations, including Wellstone Action, People for the American Way Foundation, Blacks Organizing for Leadership & Dignity (BOLD) and Progressive Majority.

Carter served on the Saint Paul City Council from 2008 to 2013, sponsoring legislation to address various social justice issues. He played a leadership role in forming Saint Paul’s Department of Human Rights & Equal Economic Opportunity (HREEO) and championed “ban the box” laws to eliminate employment discrimination against people with criminal backgrounds. He also sponsored legislation prohibiting the sale of candy cigarettes and toy lighters, to discourage smoking among children.

From his office in City Hall, Carter also created the Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood, a place-based education initiative designed to bring city, county, school district and community stakeholders together to combat educational disparities and ensure every child has the opportunity to succeed.
Currently, in his role as Executive Director of the Minnesota Children’s Cabinet, Carter serves as an advisor to Gov. Mark Dayton, and works to build energy and support around for increased investments in Minnesota’s youngest learners and their families. “Instability in early childhood education and care is upstream of every other disparity in Minnesota,” said Carter. He is cognizant that implicit in his work is an opportunity to create a better future for Minnesota’s underserved communities.

Most Rewarding Work Experience
I am very proud of the ground we’re taking as a state on behalf of Minnesota’s children and families. We have invested hundreds of millions of new dollars into early childhood investments in the past few years alone, and leaders all around the country are watching our progress. I’m excited and hopeful to see that progress continue through this year’s legislative session, as we approach a projected budget surplus of nearly $2 billion with a Governor who is a proven champion for Minnesota children.

Beacons of Leadership

My parents set the example of servant leadership. Growing up, I recall them opening their home to the homeless, feeding the hungry, and investing in the youth in the community. Both of my parents founded non-profit organizations which serve youth. My father exhibits leadership that focuses on maximizing others’ potential. My mother is exceptional in being able to see the best in all people and situations. Together, they are the epitome of leading by example.

Advice for Aspiring Politicians
Don’t focus on what you want to ‘be’; focus on the impact you want to have on the world and build on your personal mission statement. Start by identifying your own passion, and then allow your work to become a vehicle for exhibiting your passion. Never stop learning.

February 22, 2016
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