On May 25 the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Affairs hosted the 18th Hubert Humphrey Leadership Awards. The event, held on the University of Minnesota campus at the McNamara Alumni Center, was created to honor individuals and organizations that have contributed to the common good through leadership and service.
Tracey Williams-Dillard, the CEO and publisher of the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder newspaper (MSR), was one of five Humphrey Leadership Award recipients during the fundraising dinner that evening.
Williams-Dillard is credited with continuing the legacy of her grandfather, the late Cecil E. Newman, who founded the MSR publication in 1934. The MSR mission has always been to provide original and timely news and information, with an emphasis on education and giving voice to underrepresented voices.
Williams-Dillard became CEO/publisher in 2007 and doesn’t hesitate to remind anyone, “I have been around the MSR ever since I was a child. The MSR has always told and will continue to tell those stories that other publications won’t cover.”
Williams-Dillard’s award acceptance speech was bittersweet. As she thanked those who came before her and expressed gratitude for the award, it was her wish that her late husband Robert Dillard and her late grandmother Launa Q. Newman could be there to witness her latest achievement.
There were two University of Minnesota alumni award recipients. The first was Acooa Ellis, who is the senior vice president of community impact for the Greater Twin Cities United Way, directing their grantmaking. Ellis was recognized for her leadership on the Minnesota Housing Taskforce, St. Paul’s first Public Safety Commission, and the Minnesota Business Coalition for Racial Equity.
“As part of what makes me so passionate about the work I do,” Ellis said, “is the belief that every individual has the capacity to be great in some regard and we benefit when individuals discover that, refine it, and give it.” Ellis received her master’s in public policy from the Humphrey School in 2007.
Lee Wallace, the owner and CEO of Minneapolis-based Peace Coffee, received the Outstanding Achievement Award, which is the highest award presented by the Humphrey Public Leadership Awards to a University of Minnesota alumni. Wallace was honored for her efforts to promote fair trade practices while growing a successful business. She is known nationwide and in other countries for her groundbreaking efforts in organic, ethically sourced, sustainable coffee.
Wallace received her master’s in public policy from the Humphrey School in 2005. In 2006, she became CEO of Peace Coffee, named after a partnership in 1997 to purchase coffee from Nobel Peace Prize Winner Rigoberta Menchu from Guatemala.
Recipient Dr. Reatha Clark King is a renaissance woman known for her many accomplishments in business, philanthropy, community service, education, and chemistry. King was the first African American woman to earn a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Chicago.
In the 1960s, King invented a coiled tube that allowed fuel to cool instead of exploding, which led to NASA using King’s device to make a successful moon landing with Apollo 11 over 50 years ago. During King’s career she has served as the president of the General Mills Foundation, the president of Metropolitan State University, and has served on several Fortune 500 boards.
When King’s name was called to receive her Humphrey Leadership Award, the entire room stood up for a five-minute standing ovation. After the ovation, King stood up with a smile and waved. Her youngest son Scott went up to accept the award on her behalf.
The Humphrey Leadership Award was given to Excel Energy. Accepting for Excel Energy was Brett Carter, group president of utilities and chief customer officer.
Excel Energy was honored for its commitment to reduce its carbon emissions by 2030, along with 100% carbon-free electricity to several million customers by 2050. Excel has also set an aggressive goal of powering 1.5 million electric vehicles by 2030.
There were two fellowships presented, the first given to Dakota Crowell, master of urban and regional planning. While attending the Humphrey School, Crowell focused on housing, community development, and health equity. Crowell’s fellowship was with the City of Minneapolis.
The second fellowship was awarded to Selem Kubrom, master of development practice. Kubrom is originally from Asmara, Eritrea in East Africa, and has been living in Maryland since 2004. Kubrom was the 2021-22 MINN fellow with the Minnesota International NGO Network.
The Humphrey Leadership Awards dinner serves as the school’s signature fundraising event to support future leaders in public affairs. Over the last 17 years, the Humphrey Leadership Awards has honored 72 recipients, raising more than $1.5 million for student scholarships.
James L. Stroud, Jr. is a contributing writer and photographer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.