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Twin Cities native becomes first Black woman director of UMN's School of Social Work

"Fairness has always been my core value," said Dr. Joan Blakey, a St. Paul native.

FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. — Being in her office on the University of Minnesota campus is something Dr. Joan Blakey never imagined for herself growing up in St. Paul.

"I grew up wanting to be a judge," said Dr. Blakey. "I've always felt a strong pull about justice."

Dr. Blakey continued the path toward justice, going on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree and a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Minnesota.

She later received her doctorate from the University of Chicago's School of Social Services Administration.

With over 25 years of experience, she made stops in Wisconsin and New Orleans, but coming "home" was always her goal.

"I am a fourth-generation Minnesotan," she said. "My mom was born here in Lindstrom, Minnesota. My great-grandfather is very famous; he worked on buildings in St. Paul. My cousin was the first Black sheriff over the fair."

Dr. Blakey specializes in child advocacy, diversity equity and inclusion, and antiracism initiatives.

She says "fairness" has always been a core value.

"It was words like 'social justice,' 'marginalized populations'; advocating for people who couldn't advocate for themselves, and it really drew me to the profession," she said.

While she credits mentors and her family for helping her on her journey, she's focused on inspiring the next generation of leaders.

"I think it's important to see that, even if I never interact with those students, seeing me, seeing my brown face, is really important in saying, 'If she can do it, I can do it.'"

"My motto is 'try to leave things better than the way I found it,'" she said.

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