MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Professor Nekima Levy-Pounds is powerful voice for civil rights.

She was just named the new President of the NAACP and she played a big role in the recent Black Lives Matter rallies.

Now, she’s trying to overcome her critics who think she’s too focused on police brutality issues.

One way she’s doing that is through a nonprofit that helps at-risk black men.

Pounds’ passion for change started while growing up in Los Angeles. She then attended school in Massachusetts, but Minnesota is the place she’s lived the longest.

It’s what she’s doing in St. Paul around a cup of coffee that makes Levy-Pounds a Minnesotan to Meet.

It’s not hard to spot Brotherhood Brew along University Avenue in St. Paul.

“Human to human, heart to heart, we can make a difference,” Levy-Pounds said.

Why not start with a cup of coffee and some conversation about class and race?

Levy-Pounds helped found the non-profit — Brotherhood Inc. It helps young, at-risk, African American men avoid gangs and the criminal justice system.

“Not only do we provide social support for our young men, educational support – helping our young men get back in school, but we also have created job opportunities for the young men that are part of the program,” Levy-Pounds said.

Levy-Pounds came up with the idea when she moved to Minnesota in 2003 and started teaching at the University of St. Thomas Law School.

“I was excited to get in on the ground floor and to help build the institution,” Levy-Pounds said.

That’s where the Community Justice Project started, a program focusing on race, poverty and social justice — all the things that drew her to a law profession.

“Growing up in an inner-city community in Los Angeles and seeing people on the margins being impacted by poverty,” Levy-Pounds said. “Lawyers are advocates. They speak on behalf of people.”

Professor Levy-Pounds is doing that by working tirelessly to close gaps in racial unemployment by 2020.

In November of last year, she traveled to Ferguson, Missouri as a legal observer.

“I had a chance to see young people on the front lines, chanting, protesting, marching and standing up for what they believe in,” Levy-Pounds said.

When she came back, she was approached by local organizers who asked her to help with Black Lives Matter efforts.

“I get to work with young people who are passionate about racial justice and social justice. They are creative, they are brilliant and they are fearless,” Levy-Pounds said.

Not only does she encourage raising awareness but she tries to focus young people on finding solutions.

“Reforms and being willing to pound the pavement until we see a shift happen in our state,” she said.

Her work in the classroom and in the community has helped her achieve many honors.

She is Minnesota Lawyer’s Attorney of the Year, one of Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 and, most recently, was honored with the Saint Paul Foundation’s Race Ambassador Awards.

“It’s important to get outside of our comfort zone, to be willing to learn about different people’s experiences,” she said.

Which sometimes best happens over a strong, black cup of coffee.

The guys at Strong Black Coffee came up with the marketing strategy themselves.

Brotherhood Brew Inc. will be opening a coffee shop and a screen printing business all within the same business complex along University this summer. But you can buy bags of the coffee now either online, at charity events or by stopping in the current Brotherhood Brew space.

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