The African American Leadership Forum (AALF) is currently requesting submissions from Minnesotans who identify as African American for our 2020 My Blackness Means digital campaign by finishing the sentence, “My Blackness means . . .” The purpose of this campaign is to amplify the voices of African Americans in Minnesota and to explore how the past, present, and envisioned future inform who we are and how we lead.

AALF Executive DirectorWe recently reached out to AALF Executive Director Marcus Owens to get his insights on what Black leadership means to him.

AALF: How does being African American impact your leadership style?

Owens: Being a student of my roots as an African American has allowed me to build my personal leadership from a collective lens; meaning I focus on leading from a perspective of being a part of a bigger whole and not just myself, even though I ensure that I’m bringing my best self to the collective work to serve my community. When faced with decisions of how to use my time, energy and abilities, I have to think of others and the impact that decisions will have on my family and community.

Which AALF leadership persona do you identify with most (Thought Leader, Builder, Ambassador, Influencer) and what have you learned from other African American leaders you’ve worked with or witnessed throughout your career?

My energy and passion is to be a builder of institutions and people. I enjoy the challenge of taking information and assets to build solutions that will lift our community up. I’ve learned from others that it is important to not only come up with great ideas, but also to put the work in to develop the necessary resources, connections, and process to bring those ideas to life; it’s not enough to talk about it, you have to be about it!

What is Black leadership and how does it differ from other leadership styles?

To me Black leadership means that there is a level of understanding of the resiliency and perseverance our ancestors have passed on to us that is unique to the Black experience. Our perseverance has empowered us to become innovators, speakers of truth, and the conscious of our country. Black Leadership also means that despite the hardships we’ve overcome, we are still stronger together and we’re part of a collective.

When you consider the Forum’s leadership personas (Thought Leader, Builder, Ambassador, and Influencer) how do they relate to one another? How does one persona, or several personas, strengthen and influence the others?

My thoughts on this are continuously evolving, respectful of the fact that leadership is fluid and constantly cycles back and forth. However, if we were to start at the beginning of what I’d consider the initial step of solving problems and building a vision for our future as a community, I believe thought leadership must come first. We must have spaces where creative thinkers, problem solvers, and historians can come together to lay out the blueprint for what we will build.

From there I would say we have a parallel starting point for our Builders and Influencers. We know that the Builders are focused on taking that blueprint to begin the work of developing our institutions, programs and people, while our Influencers are out organizing the movement and removing barriers and aggregating resources for action. Lastly, it’s the work of the ambassadors to be aware of the movement, make the necessary connections, and spread the word about what’s actually happening; it’s this that unites all of the Leadership personas.

Thinking of the work in this way allows everyone to play a role in building the community we deserve. It can’t be an isolated group of individuals that take on the burden of building, but rather an interconnected and dynamic community coming together to create change. There are many dimensions to building and we have to change how we see this work, layering our components of community development to match the challenges we face as a community.

If you identify as African American, we’d like you to share your thoughts on what Blackness means to you by finishing the sentence “My Blackness means . . .”

How does being African American inspire you to pursue your goals? How does it influence your leadership style and relationship to our four leadership personas (Thought Leader, Builder, Influencer, and Ambassador)? Whether you’re a working professional, artist, social innovator, student (or otherwise), if you identify as African American we want to hear from you!

Your responses may be included in our digital content for March with the hashtag #myBlacknessmeans.

To participate please complete the following:

  1. Email your response, contact information/title, and a high-quality photo to our program coordinator Alissa Paris at by February 14
  2. Visit our contributor page and complete the form to stay informed about all things AALF, including professional development opportunities, convenings, and special forums.

We look forward to hearing from you!