ChangeMakers: Leslie Redmond, youngest leader of Mpls. NAACP

Leslie Redmond stands for a portrait at University of St. Thomas on Feb. 11, 2019. Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Every weekday in February, MPR News is featuring black Minnesotans making history to celebrate Black History Month.

Leslie Redmond, 26, became the youngest president of the Minneapolis branch of the NAACP when she was elected to the position in March 2018 at the age of 25. Redmond is pursuing her law degree and Master of Business Administration at St. Thomas University.

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Editor's note: The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

In the context of Black History Month, what does it mean to you to be a black Minnesotan?

When I think about Black History Month I think it's important to look at the root of it. It was created by Carter G. Woodson and the idea was not just that we would celebrate black people in the month of February. When he created it it was actually celebrating all that we've done the other 11 months of the year.

It's celebrating the contributions of black people because when we think about black history it's not just black people's alone. This is American history and it's an opportunity because we know a lot of the history books and curriculum has been whitewashed. So not only are black people miseducated, as Carter G. Woodson put it, but also America as a whole is miseducated about the contributions of black people. So it's an opportunity for us to celebrate our ancestors and the current people, like myself, that we have coming up doing extraordinary things that are in Minnesota as a whole.

What figures have shaped you into the person you are today

Personally, I have to start [with] my own family: my mother, my father, my grandparents. They were all a part of the Great Migration. They migrated from North Carolina, South Carolina and Houston, Texas. They all received about a fifth- or sixth- grade education and really stepped out on faith to really help to activate themselves for future generations, like myself, to come. I was a first generation college graduate and [am] now pursuing my law degree and my business degree. I'm so thankful for them for stepping out and believing in a dream.

When I think about historical figures I think about people like [former U.S. Senator] Paul Wellstone, who really talked about the compassionate agenda. When I lead the NAACP I lead with three C's: communication, collaboration and compassion.

I think about people like Lena O. Smith, who was the first African-American female attorney in the state of Minnesota. She also helped found the Minnesota Urban League and also the Minneapolis branch [of the NAACP]. She was the first female president [of the branch]. People who paved the way for me.

And when I think back even further historically I think about people like Sojourner Truth. Because she's so me. When it was times of chaos and conflict, she would sing and bring people together. And I found myself doing that in places like the 4th Precinct when there was chaos and confusion and recognizing that the enemy was trying to work. I recognize that this is spiritual warfare ... [and] I believe in Negro spirituals. I believe in common spaces so that we can bring it back to what we're actually here to do.

What's your vision for the future of black people in Minnesota?

I'm super excited for the [black] people in Minnesota and just people overall. Because I recognize there's only one race, which is the human race.

We just had our first black attorney general, Keith Ellison, elected into office. We have Representative Ilhan [Omar] who is making national headlines as the first Somali woman to be in Congress and Muslim woman to be in Congress. We have people like Angela Conley who became the first black Hennepin County commissioner.

We are seeing historical waves from a political standpoint, from the arts and culture, from the professional standpoint, from the young lawyers who are up and coming. I believe that Minnesota black people are really just reclaiming their greatness and are making sure that their voices are being heard.

And so I expect great things from black people in Minnesota and I expect Minnesota to allow black people to be great. Because black people in Minnesota have always been great.

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