The Minneapolis NAACP selected outspoken law professor and local Black Lives Matter leader Nekima Levy-Pounds as its next president, offering a new direction for a local chapter facing criticism for languishing in recent years.

Levy-Pounds, 38, has pledged to establish a youth and collegiate branch, approach companies about adding more local jobs in certain neighborhoods, and tackle the issues of excessive force as well as more diversity and transparency in the police department.

She also takes over at a time of growing scrutiny of the vast economic and achievement gap between white and black Minnesotans.

“The Twin Cities and the city of Minneapolis have some of the worst disparities for people of color across the country in key indicators of quality of life,” Levy-Pounds said Monday. “There’s a lot of work for us to do.”

On Monday afternoon, Levy-Pounds checked in at the St. Paul office of the grass-roots nonprofit Brotherhood Inc., which she co-founded to help young, at-risk black men. One young person remembered how he was arrested and questioned shortly after his uncle was shot and killed by police. Another came to realize that he was living in survival mode worried only about what immediate things he needed instead of concentrating on the future.

“It’s deep stuff that you don’t really get to talk about,” Levy-Pounds told the men.

Levy-Pounds said she herself grew up surrounded by poverty and crime in South Central Los Angeles.

As a child she dreamed of becoming a lawyer “to change things.” It wasn’t until she was awarded a scholarship to attend a mostly white boarding school in Massachusetts that she grew to understand the difference between those with financial means and those without, she said. As a teenager, she began to study black history.

Levy-Pounds moved to Minnesota in 2003 to work at the University of St. Thomas. At the law school, Levy-Pounds serves as the founding director of the Community Justice Project, a civil rights legal clinic, which focuses on race, poverty, and social justice issues.

Levy-Pounds is also involved in myriad organizations. She serves as the chairwoman of the Minnesota State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and the co-chairwoman of Everybody In, a collaboration working to close the racial unemployment gaps in the region. She is also a writer for Your Voices, a blog for the Star Tribune.

During her time as a local activist, Levy-Pounds has shot to the forefront of racial disparities discussions and has been vocal on several issues including a controversial gang database, school suspensions of students of color and a now-terminated school contract with advocacy group Community Standards Initiative.

“Her mission in life is in line with what the NAACP is about,” said Jeff Martin, president of the St. Paul NAACP chapter. “I think she’s going to bring some new energy.”

After she announced her candidacy in a Facebook post last month, Levy-Pounds was endorsed by Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, which has staged several marches and rallies in the wake of several cases of black men being killed by police across the country. Levy-Pounds was one of 11 activists charged for involvement in a protest at the Mall of America.

Supporters and critics

Black Lives Matter organizer Lena Gardner called Levy-Pounds “a strong and visionary leader,” in a statement.

The NAACP also elected an all-female slate of board members.

“The reorganization of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP under her leadership is already off to a good start with black and African women, of many ages, having been enthusiastically voted into their positions,” Gardner said.

But not everyone is impressed by Levy-Pounds.

Outgoing NAACP branch president, the Rev. Jerry McAfee, who had been criticized of late for letting the chapter languish, said Monday that Levy-Pounds was a “turncoat” for criticizing local black leaders and organizations.

“What I’ve seen thus far demonstrated, by her talking and just marching along, don’t say a whole lot to me,” McAfee said.

Levy-Pounds dismissed critics. “I’m a strong woman of faith and I’m answering my calling,” she said.