by TOPIC

Profiles of People

An influential network of African American leaders and activists in the Twin Cities is harnessing its strengths to eliminate long-standing racial disparities.

The African American Leadership Forum members work in the public, private and nonprofit sectors to develop a common agenda that creates a more equitable, healthy and just community.

And it all began around AALF Co-Chair Gary Cunningham’s dining room table.

PORTRAITS BY DAVID ELLIS

Hair and makeup Amber Young

Bush Fellows in the business sector are leading community change.

Native nation building has been central to the Bush Foundation’s work since it launched the Native Nations Initiative in 2009. The initiative, designed to span 10 years, invests resources, consultation services and leadership development opportunities to support tribal self-governance work. Since it began, the Native Nations Initiative has invested in 21 of the region’s 23 tribes, developing connections that lead to strategic, thoughtful partnerships.

Even before there was a Bush Foundation, Archibald Bush invested in education. His support to both individuals of promise and multiple educational institutions inspired a Foundation priority that’s been constant for the last 62 years.

by Andy Steiner

Practicing the Art of Fellowship

Martha Lee
Martha Lee (Photo Bruce Silcox)

Deciding when a person is ready for a Bush Fellowship is “an art, not a science,” according to Martha Lee, who served as manager of the Bush Fellowship Program before leaving in December 2014 to start her own consulting practice. “I think it starts with a person who has some scars. A person who’s been knocked down and had to pick themselves up—people who know what they don’t know, who are at the point where the investment in them could really make a difference.”

Hired in 1994 by Foundation President Humphrey Doermann and Bush Leadership Fellowship Director John Archabal, Lee started in a part-time role that required some heavy lifting. Literally. “It was my job to send out the application forms, sort out the information, request the references…there were bags of mail. And it was my job to open them up.

“There were so many bright, accomplished people who were Fellowship applicants or were working at the Foundation—I was just praying I wouldn’t sound stupid,” Lee remembers, laughing. But by the time her mentor Archabal retired in 2009, she had a firm grounding in the Foundation’s long legacy of investing in individuals.

During her 20 years at the Foundation, she says, she learned two things. “I found out that the Foundation needed the grantees as much as the grantees needed the Foundation, because we learned so much from them. Second, this idea of providing an invitation to people to step outside their comfort zone in the service of their own learning and growth is crucial. Not a lot of other foundations do it, so my hope is that the Bush Foundation will continue to invest in bright, accomplished individuals with great potential.” —Nick Coleman

Who is Jennifer Alstad?

Five facts about Foundation Board member Jennifer Alstad

  1. Jen AlstadMulticultural, multilingual: Adopted as an infant from Korea, Alstad was raised in a Norwegian-American family on a “century farm” near Granite Falls, Minnesota—the same town where Archibald G. Bush grew up. In addition to Norwegian and French, she is fluent in Mandarin and moved to Taiwan to study the language.
  2. Baked to perfection: To improve her award-winning entry in the Minnesota State Fair’s 4-H baking competition, Alstad baked 200 practice loaves of pineapple bread with a cinnamon-and-coconut topping at the age of 13.
  3. Community contributor: “My belief system stems from growing up in a place where you can’t just pick things to do because you’re good at them—you have to do them because they need to get done. Alstad served as president of her class from seventh to tenth grades, and earned varsity letters in tennis, basketball and track for the Granite Falls Kilowatts. “I was a terrible athlete, but they needed everyone so they had enough kids for practice.”
  4. Early riser: After tenth grade, Alstad earned a scholarship for the University of Minnesota, becoming the first high-school-age student to enroll under the state’s new postsecondary options. (Her parents made sure she lived in a dorm on the farm campus in Saint Paul.) After graduating with a degree in political science in 1992, she considered becoming a lawyer before she cofounded bswing, a digital design and consulting firm based in Minneapolis.
  5. Force for the future: The mother of a first-grader and a preschooler, Alstad was named Minnesota’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2000 and made Minnesota Business Magazine's "(Real) Power 50 List" in 2013. She joined the Foundation’s Board in 2010 and believes passionately that the Foundation is “an important force for good and innovation” in the region. She likes to ask questions to help decide what work needs to be done: Why does it matter? What difference does it make? How will it make things better in the future? “I think we are true to what Archibald Bush envisioned—to ask how your gifts and challenges can be used in the world, to make it a better and stronger place. We have to hold those things up.”

Rita Kelly

Fellowship: 20 Years Out

Rita Kelly
Rita Kelly (Photo Tom Roster)

What’s the biggest obstacle to opportunity students in North Dakota’s public schools face? “Poverty,” says Rita Kelly (BF’94), a former high school principal in Bismarck. “I can’t think of anything bigger.”

Twenty years ago, Kelly won a Bush Fellowship that allowed her to earn a Ph.D. in school administration, writing her doctoral dissertation about the experiences of Native American students in urban schools. One lesson she took away: Teachers need more training when it comes to understanding the daily challenges faced by low-income kids. “Things look very different, depending on where you’re standing,” Kelly says, adding that it was once a “revelation” to her that schools had to send food packages home with many students to ensure they had enough to eat over the weekends. “You have to be an extraordinary child to overcome the effects of poverty, but not everyone can be that extraordinary.”

Now retired from her role overseeing gender and race issues in North Dakota’s Department of Instruction, Kelly hasn’t stopped advocating for Native American and minority students in her state:  “If these problems were simple we’d have solved them a long time ago. But they’re not simple. The deeper you go, the more layers you find. It’s humbling.” —Nick Coleman

By Heid E. Erdrich (2001 Bush Fellow)

Find Past Fellows

Search from an in-depth list of Bush Fellows from 1965 to the present.