Blackwell, Jr., to Receive State MLK Commitment to Service Award

Bill Blackwell, Jr., executive director of Bemidji State University’s American Indian Resource Center, will receive the State of Minnesota’s MLK Commitment to Service Award Jan. 15 at the 32nd Annual State of Minnesota Governor’s Council Martin Luther King, Jr., Day Celebration.

Minnesota MLK Jr. Day Celebration 2018 Flyer Front
Minnesota MLK Jr. Day Celebration 2018 Flyer Back

Awards have been given by the Governor’s MLK Celebration during the entirety of its existence. While names of the awards have changed over the years, they have showcased Minnesotans who are committed to serving their communities and to making Minnesota an inclusive state that works for all, and who lead with integrity and serve as inspirational role models.

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

“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.”

This year’s celebration focuses its theme on a famous quote from King — “Life’s most persistent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'” The event will feature speakers including Gov. Mark Dayton, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, III, and State Representative Ilhan Omar, with special musical guests Stokley and Maria Isa. The event will be hosted by Brandi Powell, KSTP news anchor.

The free event begins at 9 a.m. with a youth rally, with the main program beginning at 10 a.m. at the Ordway Center for Performing Arts, located at 345 Washington Street in St. Paul.

Blackwell, a member of the Grand Portage Band of a 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.

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.


Bemidji State University, located amid the lakes and forests of northern Minnesota, occupies a wooded campus along the shore of Lake Bemidji. Enrolling more than 5,100 students, Bemidji State offers more than 80 undergraduate majors and eight graduate degrees encompassing arts, sciences and select professional programs. BSU is a member of the Minnesota State system of colleges and universities and has a faculty and staff of more than 550. The university’s Shared Fundamental Values include environmental stewardship, civic engagement and international and multicultural understanding.