Hamline Law alum Hli Xyooj, JD '07, MBA '08, was one of five anti-racism advocates honored by the Saint Paul Foundation at the seventh annual Facing Race Ambassador Awards on April 29.
The Ambassador Awards celebration, organized by the Facing Race "We’re all in this together" initiative of the Saint Paul Foundation, was created to recognize anti-racism leaders and promote the need for productive and open community-wide conversations about race.
Xyooj was honored for her efforts to reduce racial disparity in Minnesota as a staff attorney and Hmong outreach coordinator at Farmers' Legal Action Group (FLAG). Last year, she dealt with a notable incident when a group of about 40 Hmong farmers in May Township (Washington County) were surprised by the news that a local ordinance was to be enacted that would restrict vegetable farming. The Hmong farmers had not been consulted about the ordinance even though they only grow vegetables. Local corn and soybean farmers were exempt from the ordinance.
Xyooj and her team of lawyers briefed the farmers on their rights and went to work to get the ordinance repealed. She knew that going to court would have ruined relationships, so Xyooj connected her farmer clients with township leaders and residents. They met several times, sharing stories and the history of Minnesota’s Hmong farming families. The township rescinded the ordinance, and today, the farmers and township leaders are working toward a more involved and inclusive relationship.
"Anti-racism work has allowed me to have a clearer and deeper understanding of the social and power structures that enforce racism," Xyooj said. "It has taught me many lessons in humility and continues to remind me that my actions and decisions can work for or against racial justice."
Xyooj joined Corinth Matera of Minneapolis South High School and Oluwaseyi Daniel Oyinloye from the University of Minnesota Duluth as honorable mentions honorees at the Ambassador Awards.
The Ambassador Awards also honored two long-time racial justice advocates: Dr. Josie Johnson, University of Minnesota regent emeriti, and Ellen O’Neill, executive director of the YWCA of Duluth. Dr. Josie R. Johnson was honored with the East Metro Award. For over half a century, Dr. Johnson has served as an ambassador for racial equity. She courageously took a stand for civil rights, joining her father in gathering signatures on an anti-poll tax petition, and has continued to advocate for policy reforms both locally and nationally. Dr. Johnson was the first African American to serve on the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents. Dr. Johnson was nominated for her recent work inspiring and mentoring new leaders and educating voters about the ramifications of the proposed 2012 Voter ID constitutional amendment.
Ellen O’Neill was honored with the Minnesota Award. Ellen has served as executive director of the YWCA of Duluth since 2003 and she is known as a tireless advocate for racial and gender equity. She was nominated for her leadership in working with people and organizations in Duluth to break the silence around racism. Through her efforts, O’Neill has helped to spark thousands of conversations around racial equity in families, workplaces, community gatherings and in the media.
Dr. Manuel Pastor, professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at University of Southern California, served as the keynote speaker at the awards celebration.
The Facing Race Ambassador Awards were established in 2007 to celebrate and honor individuals and organizations working to create a racially equitable community. By highlighting the valuable work of award recipients and honorees, the Saint Paul Foundation hope to inspire discussion, dialogue and action around critical issues of race and racism.
Facing Race Ambassador Award Recipients: Hli Xyooj
Saint Paul Foundation: Facing Race initiative