Minneapolis honors ‘home history makers’ for Black History Month  

A woman speaks at a podium
Sherlonda Clarke speaks in front of an image of civil rights honoree Josie Johnson on Thursday.
Regina Medina | MPR News

Three African American changemakers — an iconic civil rights leader, a master storyteller and a faith leader — were honored at the Capri Theater in north Minneapolis on Thursday. 

Sherlonda Clarke, director of Equity and Engagement for the Civil Rights Department, said the annual History Makers at Home event honors leaders in business, criminal justice, education, human rights and faith.

“So when we say history makers at home, we mean our greater home of Minnesota,” said Clarke. “So whether someone is doing something amazing in Duluth, or in Morris ... or right here in north Minneapolis, we want to make sure that we highlight their achievements.”

Six of the city’s community partners were honored for their roles in Minneapolis’ “Violence Interrupters Initiative.” These city-funded groups work to  de-escalate situations before they turn violent through intervention and mediation. 

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One of the honorees was Nothando Zulu, a storyteller and community activist who passed away last fall. The daughter of Virginia sharecroppers, Zulu’s stories focused on African determination. She and her husband, Vusi Zulu, started the annual storytelling festival, “Signifyin’ & Testifyin” in 1991. 

Vusi accepted the award for his late wife.

“The woman was a little short, powerful, mighty Black woman,” he said.  “You understand? Ain’t nothing more powerful than a Black woman, you hear me?” 

A man stands for a photo
Larry Cook, one of the History Makers honored, stands with his award inside the Capri Theater.
Regina Medina | MPR News

The city also honored Larry Cook, a senior pastor at Real Believers Faith Center Church, which he co-founded in 1999. He also founded a sober living housing program for people seeking to recover from addiction. Two years ago, Cook bought a gas station on West Broadway, which was a frequent scene of drug transactions, as a way to improve the community.

Cook said the company of honorees he was with, put him at a loss of words.  

“I was ready to say something until I knew who was being honored today,” said Cook. “So I just want to say I love my city. I love my state. We don’t do what we do for people to recognize that we do what we do — because we care about people.”

As she introduced civil rights icon Josie Johnson, Clarke let the audience know Johnson was watching a livestream of the event from Atlanta.

“I am honored to accept this on behalf of Dr. Johnson,” said Clarke. “We will be giving this to her and again, Dr. Johnson, we know you’re watching. Know that you are loved by so so many.” 

Johnson 93, moved to Minnesota in the 1950s.  She worked behind the scenes to pass Minnesota’s fair housing law, making housing discrimination based on someone’s race illegal in the state, well before it was prohibited under federal law.

Black woman seated at table with white men
Josie Johnson was the first Black person to sit on the University of Minnesota Board of Regents, 1971. Her life and civil rights activism are the subject of a new documentary premiering Feb. 19 on TPT called "Hope in the Struggle."
Courtesy of the University Archives, University of Minnesota Libraries.

Johnson’s life is also the subject of a documentary titled “Hope in the Struggle.” It premiered earlier this week and is streaming on Twin Cities PBS.