Bloomington pioneers and changemakers is a profile series featuring Black leaders who have a connection to Bloomington. February is Black History Month and a fitting time to recognize the impact the people featured here have made. The people featured in this series have worked to advance civil rights and remove barriers to equity in the fields of faith, education, law, housing, government and more. In this new annual series, the City is honoring pioneers who have done so much to chart the path to where we are today and changemakers who are paving the way for future generations. If you would like to nominate someone to be featured in the 2022 Bloomington pioneers and changemakers campaign, contact Racial Equity Coordinator Faith Jackson at fjackson@BloomingtonMN.gov or 952-563-8779. Extended versions of these interviews and other Pioneers and Changemakers features, including an article about Imam Mohamed Omar, will be posted on the City’s Facebook page and website through the month of February.
Dr. Josie Johnson
Dr. Josie Johnson has been a leader in the civil rights movement for decades. At nearly 90 years old she has an impressive history. She campaigned against poll taxes as a teenager, fought for equal housing and employment, worked as a community activist in Mississippi in the era of Martin Luther King Jr., voted as the Minnesota delegate to confirm Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate in 2008, and was the first Black woman on the University of Minnesota Board of Regents. Dr. Johnson is an author of Hope in the Struggle: A Memoir, a lobbyist and was a campaign manager or chief of staff to numerous elected officials. She’s also worked with the Minneapolis NAACP, the Urban League Twin Cities and the state’s African American DFL caucus. When she moved to Bloomington in the 1960s, Dr. Johnson remembers being only the second Black family in the city. Her children were some of the first Black children to attend Bloomington schools. Dr. Johnson has three daughters, three granddaughters, three great-granddaughters and a great-grandson.
“To live long enough to see that our young people today have expressed their pride in who they are and have continued the struggle of their ancestors for freedom and justice makes me and my generation of activists so proud,” she said. “We hope we have made them proud and given them the strength to continue.”
As Bloomington Public Schools’ office of educational equity director and office of educational equity Leadership Academy founder and director, Dinna Wade-Ardley serves students and families that are underrepresented, helping them find resources to address individual challenges or barriers to success. She began her career in social work, then went into the corporate world and shifted back to public service more than 20 years ago when she came to work at BPS.
Wade-Ardley has volunteered as program director for the NAACP’s Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics (ACTSO). She served as the director of the young people department at her church and has been the director of its youth and adult choirs. She also volunteers to mentor youth every Saturday.
Longtime Bloomington resident Nur Mood serves as Hamline University’s assistant director of social justice programs and strategic relations and does extensive work in the community. In his work, Mood advances social justice, equity and inclusion. For example, Nur’s work led Hamline University to achieve the highest student-voter participation rate of all four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. in the 2018 midterm election. He also serves on Bloomington Police Department’s Multicultural Advisory Committee where his work has strengthened the connection between the Somali community and the City. Mood was part of the community engagement process over the last year to find budget solutions to challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jasmyn Green is a program manager at local nonprofit Oasis for Youth. She is a fierce advocate for youth, with 15 years of direct service and leadership work in youth services. Green started her career as an outreach worker with District 202 StreetWorks. She then went on to work at Lutheran Social Services, Salvation Army and Face 2 Face. Green is part of several community efforts that focus on the importance of racial equity and how inequalities create youth homelessness in Minnesota. She is also a teacher. Green continues to share her knowledge and skill with the youth-serving community as a trainer and advisor, especially on the topics of parenting and working with youth who are commercially sexually exploited.
Jerry W. Blackwell
Jerry W. Blackwell is the founding partner and chair of Blackwell Burke P.A. He serves as national and trial counsel in complex litigation cases around the country and has recently accepted an appointment to serve as a special prosecutor in the State v. Chauvin et al. prosecution involving the death of George Floyd. Blackwell is a founder of the Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers and served for eight years as an at-large member of the Minnesota Commission on Judicial Appointments during the Governor Mark Dayton administration. He collaborated with the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial and other supporters to secure the posthumous pardon of Max Mason, who was wrongfully convicted of raping a white woman in 1920. The posthumous pardon was the first ever in Minnesota history.
He is the recipient of numerous recognitions for community service and excellence in the practice of law, including being ranked by Chambers and Partners; named a Minnesota Attorney of the Year; recognition by BTI as a Legal Mover & Shaker; being named a Client Service All-Star, and also being named a Client Service MVP. He has also been recognized as a Minnesota Super Lawyer continuously since 2003.
Photos courtesy of Dr. Josie Johnson, Dinna Wade-Ardley, Nur Mood, Jasmyn Green and Jerry W. Blackwell.