Black History Month
History. Tradition. Community.
February is Black History Month.
Since 1926, and the creation of Negro History Week by Carter G. Woodson, the accomplishments of persons of African descent have been recognized each February. The Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights is proud to present Future History Makers, a profile series featuring emerging leaders from the Twin Cities African American community who share our ideals of advancing civil rights and removing barriers to equity.
Honoring The Legacy
Oscar C. Howard was born to Randall and Maria Howard in Rochelle, GA. He grew up on a sharecropper’s farm, but ran away when he was very young to pursue an education. Howard graduated from high school in 1942. He attended Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and after graduating served in the U.S. Army. Howard’s career as a businessman began during the Korean War, when he began operating a food service business in the Twin Cities arsenal near Minneapolis, MN.
In 1956, he opened his own business, Howard’s Catering Co., which managed cafeterias in a number of industrial complexes in the state of Minnesota. In the mid-1960s, Howard took part in the “War On Poverty” program which provided home delivered meals to elderly residents in the inner-city of Minneapolis and St. Paul; some 62,000 were served during that summer. Soon after, Howard started a non-profit minority entrepreneurial program called the Metropolitan Economic Development Association (MEDA).
Howard served on the boards of the American Red Cross, Minneapolis YWCA, and Metro State College. He was also the first African-American member of the Minneapolis Athletic Club. During his life he also worked with agencies such as the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches, Salvation Army, Junior Achievement, and more. An ordained minister, Howard also served as a deacon at Zion Baptist Church. He was on the board of trustees of United Theological Seminary and was a founder of Kwanzaa Community Presbyterian Church.
Celebrating The Future
Today’s Future History Maker understands the commitment and dedication of Mr. Howard. She also is dedicated to empowering and building community. She is Melanie Allen.
Melanie Allen is an entrepreneur and community leader. A native Texan, she relocated to Eagan, MN in 1998 to work for 3M. Allen joined 3M as a plant level Industrial Hygienist, immediately after receiving her Masters of Science in Environmental Health Science (EHS) from the School of Public Health at the University of Alabama. Allen was introduced to the EHS field by her aunt who was a Public Health professor and researcher. Allen wanted to secure a career in a sector that projected job growth and opportunities for professional development throughout the years.
Even as a child, she recognized that many of the adults in her life, especially her grandparents, were physically limited by injuries or illnesses that resulted from hard labor and hazardous work environments. Following the lead of her aunt, she decided to use her abilities to protect a cohort of workers across the nation, who often go unheard.
Over the last 22 years, she has done just that. She has held corporate leadership positions for EHS with Ecolab and Allina Hospitals and Clinics. In 2003, Allen founded Safety Skill Builders, LLC, an EHS consulting firm that offers compliance assurance audits and employee education in the areas of personal protective equipment, respiratory protection, hearing conservation, ergonomics, hazard communication, hazardous waste management and industrial hygiene exposure assessment.
Establishing this new business provided Allen with the opportunity to continue her career but with the flexibly she needed to manage her growing family. Starting a business was no easy feat, however Allen did it with grace and excellence. Safety Skill Builders provides its services to some of the region’s major corporations including Land O’ Lakes, Carleton College and Stericycle.
Today, Allen treasures the quality of life that the Twin Cities community offers. This was not always the case. Feeling isolated and disconnected, she and her then fiance’ Calvin Allen moved to Philadelphia seeking a more diversity-looking and inclusive-feeling community. During their time on the East Coast they enjoyed diversity of cultures, but missed the quality of life that they had observed others experience in Minnesota. Two years later, the couple returned to Minnesota. Convinced, Minneapolis-St.Paul was the best place to grow their careers and begin a family, the Allens were determined to overcome the isolation, create their own community and make MSP feel like the home they saw others enjoy.
It took many years, but eventually Allen became well-established in the community. The hard work of acclimating inspired Allen to establish another business, unlike anything she had done before. In 2008, Allen founded Welcome Matters LLC, which specializes in helping organizations retain the professionals of color they recruit and relocate to Minneapolis/St. Paul. Motivated by her own acclimation journey and supported by her devoted husband and mentors, created a successful model for retaining young professionals of color. Welcome Matters LLC provides its services to some of the region’s major corporations including United Health Group and Greater MSP – MakeIt.MSP project.
Today Allen manages two successful businesses. She says, “I am able to now live out my entrepreneurial passions because my parents and community invested in me. They made it clear to me that because I was African American, I must obtain a good education, achieve the best credentials possible and always pursue excellence in my craft. As an entrepreneur, I treasure my academic training as a scientist. I credit a large part of my success and ingenuity to the scientific methodology for problem solving that I learned in college and the critical thinking skills that I have practiced over my career thus far.”
Allen is deeply invested in community. She is committed to recruiting African American girls into S.T.E.M. careers. She works with Edina Public Schools to help administrators appreciate the new families experience and to develop more inclusive communication and on-boarding practices. Allen serves on the board of the YWCA Minneapolis, and is a member of Minneapolis-St Paul Chapters of Jack and Jill of America, Links Incorporated, and Delta Sigma Theta sorority. She is married to Calvin Allen and lives in Edina with their two blessings Joshua (12) and Noelle (7).
Most Rewarding Work Experience
I enjoy meeting new clients, helping companies solve problems. My work allows me to impact community and raise awareness around issues I’m passionate about.
Beacons of Leadership
I am fortunate to have so many wonderful role models and trail-blazers that I can look to for inspiration as well as call on for advice and support. Three attributes they share that most inspire me are: 1) amazing spirits of perseverance 2) commitment to leverage their position and resources to benefit the communities they serve 3) laser-like focus on results and forward progress.
Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs/ Regulatory Compliance Professionals
- Get to know yourself; your talents, purpose and interests.
- Learn to disagree without being disagreeable.
- Never stop learning; keep growing the list of things you are good at. Be multi-talented.
- Choose hobbies that stimulate your creativity. Ask “what if” often.
- Start Simple.
- Ideas are Easy. Implementation is Hard.
If you want to maintain a career in regulatory compliance become an expert in the things most influential in any community; resource conservation (water) and sustainability and resource recovery (waste management).
- University of Alabama at Birmingham, MSPH (1994)
- Texas A&M University, BS (1991)