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Catching up with Bill Blackwell Jr.

Brian Larsen


Billy Blackwell Jr. has been selected to be the keynote speaker for the March 9 Cook County Social Justice Conference that will be held at Cook County High School. 
Photo courtesy of Bemidji State University Billy Blackwell Jr. has been selected to be the keynote speaker for the March 9 Cook County Social Justice Conference that will be held at Cook County High School. Photo courtesy of Bemidji State University He’s been in the news lately, gathering some awards and kudos for his work with American Indian students at Bemidji State University, but Bill Blackwell Jr.’s path to success had some starts and stops along his journey. He attended elementary school in a log cabin in Grand Portage and graduated from Cook County High School, playing on two state championship football teams. Here is some more to his history that wasn’t mentioned in our previous news account.

You were recently selected to receive the State of Minnesota’s Martin Luther King Commitment to Service Award, a big honor. Could you expand on that?

First and foremost I am extremely honored and humbled to have my name mentioned with some of the other amazing people who also received this award. It may say my name on the award, but it’s the work that we’re doing collectively to make sure that we’re moving American Indian student success in the right direction. Having that work recognized by Governor Dayton’s office is really something to be proud of.

You took time off after starting college. By going back you have opened doors that would have been closed to you. What is your advice for people who have stepped away from college or believe a college education isn’t obtainable?

My educational path was certainly not a point A to point B journey. I stopped out of college twice and finally received my undergraduate degree from Bemidji State at age 35. For me education has opened up so many doors. My advice to people is that higher education is for everyone. It comes in many forms from Technical College, Community College, Tribal College, and University. There is a form of higher education for everyone. There is never a “right” time or situation to go back to school. Just go back and you will be so happy you made the decision. For parents especially, it role models the importance of education, and how it can be life changing.

Did your parents influence you in your decision making to pursue higher education? Do you have any mentors?

Both of my parents (Bill Blackwell Sr. and Mary Howes) have been very influential in my life. They both taught and modeled how important community is to me and how we should put others before ourselves. That is a value that I hope my sons are listening to and that I hope they see me model. I have had the great fortune of being around many great role models and mentors. Two that stand out to me are the late Jack Briggs, former president of Fond Du Lac Tribal and Community College. He had the ability to sell his vision for Indian Education to anyone. The second is my former boss at Leech Lake Tribal College, Dr. Donald Day. Dr. Day really had confidence in me before I had confidence in me. The job I have today would not have been possible without him.

I really appreciate the opportunity to share some of my story and I hope it helps people to know and understand that higher education is for them and that they posses the ability inside them to succeed. Miigwech.


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2018-02-10 digital edition


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