In the early nineties in Youngstown, Ohio, sixth grader Shawntera Hardy made a contractual investment that would change the trajectory of her life.
She became a participant of the Ohio State University (OSU) Young Scholars program. The contract stipulated she maintain a 3.0 grade point average or better through 12th grade, participate in summer programming at OSU and volunteer. She accomplished the goal and received full-ride scholarship to OSU.
The decision was easy.
“My entire town was in poverty. No matter what race you were you were dealing with the residual effects of the collapse of the steel industry and the fact that the city could never figure out its way. So for me looking around wanting what I saw in other places from a community building perspective was always in the back of my mind. I had family members they (had) the only house occupied on the block. Then it went to the only house on the block because they (demolished) the entire city block. Can you wrap your mind around that? That for me was home.”
Hardy graduated from OSU and worked for the Ohio House of Representatives. At the time, OSU was buying land for a capital improvement project. As she learned more about the process she became connected to urban planning. Hardy moved to upstate New York to pursue a master’s degree in urban planning at University of Buffalo. In 2004 she graduated and arrived in Minnesota as a new city planner. She had never been to the state. She was impressive enough to hire over the phone by the city of St. Paul.
One thing Hardy always had was a plan and a strategy to navigate her way to success regardless of the setting. She attributes her grounding in the state that eventually helped build momentum in her accomplishments, to community.
“I was fortunate to have a couple key people early in my career, that I respected, not only pull me under their wing from a professional standpoint but pulled me under their wing as family. That was a game-changer for me in being able to connect to the Minnesota culture,” said Hardy.
Those immediate points of connection were the late Angela Burkhalter, former communications administrator for the St. Paul Human Rights Department and community elder and former St. Paul City Council member Debbie Montgomery.
Montgomery and Hardy worked on major development projects together in Ward 1 of St. Paul, such as Amherst H. Wilder Foundation on Lexington and University Avenues; Episcopal Homes; acquiring land for senior housing on Kings Crossing at Dale and University Avenues; employment opportunities and transportation for employees of the Super Target on Hamline and University Avenues.
“She’s a worker, she’s intelligent, she’s got vision and clarity, and she knows how to get through minutia,” Montgomery said.
Hardy’s career has included economic development, workforce development, environmental sustainability, transportation, healthcare and urban planning. She served as government relations manager at Health Partners; policy director at Fresh Energy; deputy chief of staff for former Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, and commissioner of Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development under the same administration – an opportunity where she led 1,300 public service employees, and convened with international leaders to discuss policy and trade.
Her leadership is evident as well in business ventures she has launched. They include Policy Grounds, a public policy and urban planning strategy firm focused on helping organizations navigate public policy and place-making, Fearless Commerce, a publication and platform focused on elevating Black women business owners, Power Moves, a gathering that provides networking space to build the presence, power, and purpose of women of color and Civic Eagle, a technology company focused on civic tech with a platform to help policy organizations track policy smarter at the federal, state and local levels.
Additionally, Hardy was named a 2018 fellow by the Bush Foundation.
“She is someone who puts her head down and gets it done. She's not flashy, but you will see her hand in a lot of policy in not just the state but in the country, said Acooa Ellis, senior vice president of Community Impact at Greater Twin Cities United Way.
Hardy’s imprint has been evidenced in full circle. To honor the investment made in her life at 6th grade by OSU, she seeds two scholarship funds she started at OSU in partnership with sorority sisters from Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. The Pioneer Scholars Award grants funding to OSU students from Youngstown or Cleveland to participate in study abroad opportunities. The Fatima Kinshasa Carter Memorial Scholarship Fund, grants funding to students from Columbus, studying journalism, in honor of Hardy’s late sorority sister who was a journalist that died at the age of 33.
Hardy’s intentions for legacy are clear. She is committed to developing thriving communities through policy, business development, and women’s empowerment.
“I hope that is something that will be seen through my work and I have been bullish about that and willing to make hard decisions to ensure that trajectory,” said Hardy.