The African American Leadership Forum is a collective of institutions and individuals that serves as a community innovation accelerator. AALF empowers Black communities to imagine and create an equitable future for themselves. The organization’s ultimate goal is to manifest a world in which Black excellence thrives in all its forms, through breakthrough collaboration and coordinated action.

With opinion research, design solutions and discourse-based action AALF advances racial equity through a Black Agenda For Change in Minnesota and beyond. It’s focus areas are community prosperity, criminal justice, climate justice, public education, health and generational wealth.

Through the cultural lens of Afrofuturism, AALF centers the rich heritage of its ancestors while embracing the unlimited potential of tomorrow. It strives to inspire innovation and spark imagination. Founded in 2006, and today 5000 strong, AALF harnesses the collective power of Black communities to solve complex social problems, building a healthy and stable society that works equally well for everyone.


Originally founded in 2006, we sprouted from a dining room table at the home of AALF’s first co-chair Gary Cunningham in early 2007. He was seated with a handful of his friends. Cunningham is today, the current CEO of Prosperity Now. 

“We started asking the question, ‘What are we as African Americans going to do to actually address some of the deep problems within our community?’” explains Cunningham, former CEO of the Metropolitan Economic Development Association, a group that offers assistance to businesses owned and managed by entrepreneurs of color. 

Problems for black Minnesotans include some of the biggest educational, employment, and health disparities in the nation. Efforts to address these challenges were historically driven by white-led organizations and institutions. As a result, their approaches were largely ineffective. 

“There was this feeling amongst the group of women that there was a change happening in the United States, and that the African American community had to prepare for that change,” says AALF Founding Co-Chair Trista Harris. The year was 2008 when the United States was on the cusp of electing its first African American president. 

That year, the two groups merged to become a cross-sector collective of about 45 prominent men and women. By that time, AALF had already grown out of Cunningham’s home and into the Northwest Area Foundation, where he was serving as vice president and chief program officer. At last, there existed an entry point to develop a common agenda that actively addresses the range of disparities in the Twin Cities — exactly what Cunningham says had been missing in the African American community. 

Fast forward to today. AALF employs a full-time staff of a dozen people and is thriving in it’s mission. With each day, the organization is making history in its commitment to advance racial equity. More AALF history here.