The African American Leadership Forum’s (AALF) Josie R. Johnson Leadership Academy is a six-month hands-on path to personal and professional discovery directed by facilitators, mentors, developmental tools, and experiential learning opportunities. Each fellow builds a vocabulary for articulating their purpose and passion in a way that leads to impactful change. The skills developed through this program serve as a launching pad for exercising leadership in AALF’s Collective Impact projects.

The overall goal of the academy is to accelerate the leadership development journey of emerging African American leaders and those of African descent. Our participants are aware of the challenges facing our community, proficient in fulfilling specific leadership roles that match their skillset and have a passion for community-engagement work. Fellows are chosen for the Leadership Academy through a closed application process and must be nominated by an AALF Board Member or JRJLA alum in order to submit an application.

AALF Leadership Academy 2019 Cohort

Highlights from the 2019 cohort:

Graduation Ceremony: The JRJLA graduation event took place at Amherst H Wilder Auditorium in St. Paul, MN. Approximately 40 attendees were present to celebrate the closing of our JRJLA cohort experience and congratulate Fellows on their growth. Throughout the event those involved in contributing to the development of the Leadership Academy had the opportunity to share remarks. Speakers included Torch Bearers DeVonna Pittman and Justin Terrell, an AALF Board Co-Chair Stella Whitney-West, the AALF Executive Director Marcus Owens, as well as AALF Associate Director and JRJLA Coordinator Ernest Comer

Each fellow shared reflections in response to the following prompts: (1) What impact has your experience in this JRJLA Cohort had on your leadership development? (2) What will you do next to further your learning, and grow your capacity for leadership? And (3) Call to Action: What should people in our network be doing to help strengthen our collective & uplift the community?

Program Evaluation and Application Process:

Being intentional about the evaluation of the JRJLA cohort experience is critical to the success of this initiative and more importantly to understanding the value that is contributed to the lives and leadership development journeys of those who are selected to participate.

The application for participation in the Leadership Academy presents the first of a few surveys our fellows are presented with throughout the year. In the application they are asked to share insights on underlying causes of racial disparities for a specific field of interest (education, economic opportunity, or health/wellness) in order to demonstrate the level of expertise that they bring to leadership in community; this was helpful in understanding the community engagement priorities and social perspectives of our applicants.

Here are some of the responses from our 2019 fellows on above elements of the application process:

  • Economic Development: Lack of reparations and/or acknowledgment of the historical manipulation/divestment from AFAM economic development is, in my opinion, the root of opportunity gaps. Lack of financial literacy and the continuation of structural oppression toward the African diaspora is what we see currently happening in the United States, preventing individuals from truly being able to advance economically.
  • Education: I believe the underlying racial disparities in education would be the cradle-to-prison pipeline. If a student is not at grade level in reading by 4th grade they’re already on this track (especially children of color); not to mention contributing factors, such as housing instability, social-emotional and behavioral health factors, to name a few.
  • Health & Wellness: Some underlying causes of racial disparities for minorities trying to access mental health care include lack of access, screening/preventative methods, racism, discrimination, poverty, and the stigma attached to mental health for African Americans and other minorities who have historically experienced lack of access to regular health care. Research has been done for decades on the inability of minorities to access health care, yet companies still neglect to prioritize hiring a diverse staff and/or board of directors and educating at-risk communities.

At the orientation event that launched the 2019 JRJLA cohort experience fellows received the program’s Handbook Survey and were asked to share areas of opportunity for their own leadership development. Encouraging the fellows to deeply consider and reflect on this was beneficial as they prepared to thoughtfully engage with the coach they were assigned and prepared for stepping into what was designed to be an accelerated leadership development journey.

Here’s some of what our fellows shared in response to the prompt:

  • Operating in Black Philanthropy (moving the Black dollar), Strategic Planning, Building Personal Brand, Grad School connections, Connect with community elders, Develop young leaders, and Budgeting/Financial advising
  • Learn to listen and grow from the experiences of others
  • Practice leadership in a more structured and organized way and build an accountability system with like-minded individuals who value the African American experience
  • Expand network and gain deeper knowledge of the African American experience

At the close of the 2019 Leadership Academy cohort experience fellows were sent a Year-End Evaluation to share insights and perspectives on their time spent as a participant in the cohort. We were glad to find that 100% of those surveyed would recommend the JRJLA experience to leaders in their network and 100% agreed the experience was “Good Quality” or “Extremely High Quality”.

Quantitative Insights About the JRJLA Program

  • 4:1 Applicant ratio
  • 100% Retention Rate
  • 60 Coaching Hours
  • 160 Excursion Hours
  • 190 Possible leadership connections facilitated through participation
  • Six (6) Black owned businesses represented in the 2019 cohort and Torch Bearer Collective
  • $21,000.00 Invested in leadership development for Fellows through coaching, leadership capacity assessments, and leadership development grants.

Are you interested in participating in the Josie R. Johnson Leadership Academy (JRJLA)? Learn more about the program here.