The Josie R. Johnson Leadership Academy (JRJLA) is a six-month AALF leadership development cohort experience that’s designed to meet the cultural, personal, and professional development needs of 20 African American leaders. Known as fellows, these 20 individuals share a lifelong commitment to improving outcomes in the Black community. Each fellow builds a vocabulary for articulating their passion and purpose.  JRJLA leverages the time and talents of established African American leaders, referred to as Torchbearers, dedicated to mentoring, advocating and championing other leaders. With individualized Professional coaching and connection to these leaders the JRJLA fellows actively engage in experiential learning sessions to deepen our framework around Leadership, Sankofa, Community, and Thriving. Each fellow designs an individual project that will benefit the community through their leadership exploration and connections made with local businesses and community organizations.

This is a unique opportunity for Twin Cities-based African American Leaders. Join the network completed by more than 120 JRJLA Alumni, Torchbearers, and Community Leaders.



Upon successful completion of this Leadership Academy experience, fellows will have the opportunity to share their leadership projects to community and celebrate their graduation from the JRJLA. Additionally, each fellow has the opportunity to earn an investment into their continued leadership development in the form of a $1000 grant (based on participation and attendance).


Through this initiative the African American Leadership Forum provides emerging leaders with the guidance and tools needed to improve outcomes for African Americans in Minnesota. The success of JRJLA is measured by accomplishing the following objectives:


  • To become a part of the AALF Family (network)
  • Comprehend leadership from multiple perspectives
  • To apply evidence-based leadership strategies and framework
  • Complete an individual project to significantly impact and/or influence one or more of AALF’s six impact areas to strengthen the Black Community
  • Develop a continuous learning plan
  • Develop a Black-centered self-care practice/plan
  • Dismantling white supremacy in leadership
  • Understand how Blackness is an asset in Leadership
  • A growing community of JRJLA Alumni diverse in age, professional and life experiences to deepen connections among Black leaders across the Twin Cities


All successful applicants will be required to commit to the following:


JRJLA is an in person, Twin Cities-based academy. Attendance at community excursion events throughout the program’s duration is required with no exceptions. Fellows are expected to attend each excursion on time and stay for the entire event. Some sessions will require reading and other work assignments.


Fellows are required to execute an individual community leadership project that will influence one or more of AALF’s focus areas. They’ll be responsible for providing reports on progress throughout the academy. Each fellow will make a short presentation or pitch to AALF stakeholders (Alumni, Community members, Torchbearers, Staff, and Board members). These stakeholders will champion launch opportunities while sharing knowledge to better the proposals.


The African American Leadership Forum has invested in offering six months of leadership development coaching for each JRJLA Fellow. During the leadership academy experience, fellows are required to engage the coach they are assigned for a minimum of one hour each month.


Growing your network is a significant part of the fellowship. Each fellow will be paired with a Torchbearer, a community/organizational leader committed to being a champion for Black leaders. Fellows are expected to meet with Torchbearer mentors at least once a month.



Alumni are the gemstones of the academy. Each fellow will be matched with an alum for support during the leadership academy to share experiences and gain insights on how to strengthen a leadership project. This is the first connection to the network.



2023 Cohort Dates:
*Please make sure you are able to attend all dates before applying.

June 16 & 17, July 21, August 18, September 15, October 20 and November 17.

Applications Open February 15th to April 7th, 5 p.m. Central Time

Meet AALF’s Managing Director, Adora Land Tolefree, who oversees the Leadership Academy…

Our Leadership Philosophy & the Josie R. Johnson Leadership Academy

The African American Leadership Forum (AALF) seeks to uplift the Black community by identifying and empowering Black leaders. We believe everyone can be a leader with the potential to impact change. But knowing who you are as a change agent requires an understanding of the varied personas that currently exist within the ecosystem of leadership. Our personas rely on one another and there isn’t one persona that is more important than the others. Instead, the personas are fluid — working in parallel and overlap of each other, webbing the necessary links and building collectivity in our community. Anyone may exhibit the capabilities of one or more leadership categories, but we all have a natural tendency toward one, and we tend to thrive when we build and deploy our talents in that persona. By understanding the characteristics of the leadership types present in our community we can build better systems and develop and deploy our leaders more effectively.



  • Thought Leader: A seeker, analyzer, and synthesizer of information who understands and solves problems by developing progressive solutions through innovation and creativity.
  • Influencer: An activator in community who organizes people to take actions around an issue or strategy. Someone who takes the initiative to impact the distribution of political and/or economic power by encouraging, persuading, or directing decisions.
  • Builder: A developer of programs and infrastructure who utilizes information. A builder is one who prioritizes inputs and desired outcomes to establish support for community-level activity. These people build solutions to problems based on knowledge gained from others along with what they already know
  • Ambassador: A person who promotes community empowerment by working directly with members of the community and organizing action. This person shares stories and information, supports awareness and insight on key issues, acting as a hub for community members.