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Bill Blackwell Jr. receives MLK Commitment to Service Award

Jan 19, 2018 06:54AM ● By Editor
The Governor’s Council recognized Bill Blackwell Jr. for his work at BSU with American Indian students. Photo courtesy of Bemidji State University

By Staff Reports from The Cook County News Herald - January 20, 2018

A Grand Portage band member, Bill Blackwell Jr., received the State of Minnesota’s MLK Commitment to Service Award at a Jan. 15 ceremony held at the 32nd annual State of Minnesota Governor’s Council Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration.

Bill is the executive director of Bemidji State University’s American Indian Resource Center.

“I’m extremely humbled,” Blackwell said. “To be associated with a statewide award given by the governor shows the work we’re doing here at BSU. It shows our emphasis on American Indian students, and it shows that we’re being good partners and community members with our local tribal nations.”

The Office of the Chief of Inclusion selects recipients. Blackwell is one of 15 Minnesotans who will receive Commitment to Service Awards, along with two Lifetime Achievement Award recipients.

This year’s celebration focused its theme on a famous quote from King—“Life’s most persistent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” The event featured speakers including Gov. Mark Dayton, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter III, and state Rep. Ilhan Omar, with special musical guests Stokley and Maria Isa. 

Blackwell, a member of the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, was named AIRC executive director in June 2015. Since then, he has helped develop a broad range of programming and support services which have had a dramatic impact on BSU’s retention rates for American Indian students — which in his two years as executive director has increased to nearly 84 percent.

Before overseeing the college’s advancement efforts, Blackwell was an admissions and outreach coordinator. He implemented outreach activities and helped Leech Lake Tribal College to an 11 percent increase in student retention. He also managed a project to revamp the college’s marketing and electronic communication materials.

Prior to that, Bill spent several years in retail management before moving into college administration.

With Blackwell’s leadership, Bemidji State University has developed an unprecedented series of dual-enrollment agreements with Fond du Lac, Leech Lake, Red Lake and White Earth tribal colleges, granting students at those four colleges automatic admission into BSU after meeting certain requirements.

The MLK Commitment to Service Award is the second significant honor for Blackwell in recent months. He received the Distinguished Diversity Leadership Award from the Minnesota State colleges and university’s Academic and Student Affairs Division in October.

Like a lot of people, Blackwell started his educational journey right out of high school but didn’t finish. “I was 35 when I went back to school and got my undergraduate degree,” he said, earning a diploma from Bemidji State in 2012 and a master’s degree in Tribal Administration and Governance from the University of Minnesota- Duluth in 2014. Currently he is working on a doctorate in education from Capella University.

Following 12 years of working in retail, Blackwell went back to school because he wanted to make an impact on society, and in particular, the native community. He was honored for those efforts January 15, but for Blackwell, the work has just begun.

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