Shaping Black Change Agenda
“We are uniting diverse efforts on the ground, bringing them together, and helping to advance the work,” says Marc Watts, VP of amplification at the African American Leadership Forum

Shaping Black Change Agenda

The African American Leadership Forum's new strategy addresses public safety and employment challenges.

The nonprofit African American Leadership Forum, or AALF, was formed in Minnesota in 2006. Today it has more than 7,000 network members who support its vision to be a hub that aligns, accelerates, and amplifies Black-centered solutions to persistent social problems.

Members are asked to join with a donation and to contribute their time, talent, and/or treasure to advance AALF’s mission.

Since George Floyd’s 2020 murder in the custody of Minneapolis police, individuals, foundations, and corporations have increased their financial contributions to AALF, fueling the organization’s growth from one employee to a team of 11 people.

AALF’s mission and leadership are at the core of what many investors realize is necessary to make Minnesota and the surrounding region a welcoming place for African Americans to live, work, buy a home, raise children, receive health care, and participate in civic life.

In each of these measurements, the state’s track record is bleak, ranking among the lowest in the 50 states on key indicators of health, education, and economic opportunity for African American residents.

To support its growth, AALF recently launched a detailed set of strategies to address six focus areas: public safety, education, health care, economic opportunity, housing, and employment.

Goals for each area form its 2030 strategy; by that year, AALF wants the region to exemplify successful, sustainable, and long-term approaches to shared prosperity, physical and psychological safety, and equitable access to health care, housing, and education.

Bringing together partners across the African American community to set and achieve these goals, AALF created an “alliance of alliances” that aims to galvanize collective action.

The effort is named “United by Black, Powered by All” (UBB for short), showcasing the approach that AALF will take for these initiatives. They are designed by, for, and about the Black community, while inviting and enlisting allies and supporters in the campaign for progress across the six focus areas.

“We are uniting diverse efforts on the ground, bringing them together, and helping to advance the work.”

—Marc Watts //  AALF vice president of amplification

Marc Watts, a former television journalist, joined the AALF staff as vice president of amplification last fall. A former Minnesotan, Watts has returned to his roots to articulate and communicate AALF’s work to accelerate success. Watts also serves as co-interim CEO as AALF searches for its next CEO.

Watts explains that AALF has developed a “Black Centered Design’’ (BCD) approach to building solutions. “BCD draws on the inherent knowledge of Black people to collectively create solutions to problems,” he says. BCD deploys a sequence of community input, consultation, and involvement as problems are identified, described, and addressed, and as learning informs iteration and continuous improvement. All of AALF’s working processes are based in BCD as the organization works deliberatively, focus area by focus area.

AALF is working to fully establish its public safety and employment focus areas first. In both areas, AALF has set goals, determined policy change recommendations, and identified key Black-led organizations as partners.

Those partners include larger nonprofits such as the Minnesota Freedom Fund, which has gained national attention for its efforts to pay criminal bail and immigration bonds for people who cannot afford to do so on their own, and to advocate for wide-scale decarceration; and smaller, growing, organizations including the Man Up Club, a northeast Minneapolis nonprofit focused on mentorship and leadership development for African American males ages 12 to 24.

“We are uniting diverse efforts on the ground, bringing them together, and helping to advance the work,” Watts says. This could include help with policy reform, fundraising, supporting coordination and collaboration among nonprofits working toward a common purpose, or with influxes of funding so that money is allocated to its highest and best use.

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Watts’ role is to help amplify these efforts and build momentum for them. He is leading the development of a video channel, podcasts, events, and news releases. Initial videos, launched in February, share information about AALF’s and UBB’s purpose and ways of working.

AALF’s board of directors includes Black leaders from corporations and nonprofits in the region, and its list of contributors is growing. Actively seeking collaboration with the business community, AALF is ready for more businesspeople to connect. AALF offers a unique gateway to get to know, connect with, and support our region’s Black community and its dynamic leadership. Haven’t done so yet? It’s time.

Sarah Lutman is a St. Paul-based independent consultant and writer for clients in the cultural, media and philanthropic sectors.