Minnesota elementary school teacher Michelle Young will become "The Bachelorette."
After a tough breakup with "The Bachelor" star Matt James that aired Monday night, Young was one of two women announced as stars of back-to-back seasons of the reality show.
"We're the bachelorettes," Young and Katie Thurston said in unison onstage.
Minnesotans have cheered for Young, an Edina resident, who appeared Monday on "After the Final Rose," the post-finale special taped earlier this month amid a firestorm over the show's handling of race. This season of the ABC reality series was historic — the first to feature a Black leading man. But many fans say ABC failed to follow through on the change it had promised, with host Chris Harrison defending fellow finalist Rachael Kirkconnell as allegations of her racially insensitive actions circled.
Young, then, was a bright spot.
She won fans' hearts with the help of her students, who sported "Team Miss Young" T-shirts and asked James the tough questions, and her parents, who held hands and welcomed James to the family.
Young, 27, who was a prep basketball star at Woodbury High School, now teaches fifth grade at Echo Park Elementary School in Burnsville. Her students who popped up via Zoom were from her previous post at Normandale Hills Elementary School in Bloomington, where she was "very well loved," said Nicole Baggett, whose two stepsons, now 11 and 12 years old, had Young as a teacher.
Young's "true personality" came through on the show, said Baggett, of Minneapolis. Positive, caring, kind. "It really felt like I was watching the person I know."
She and other moms made "Team Michelle" T-shirts to root for Young, who has been "a vocal cheerleader for the kids — academically and athletically," Baggett said. More than once, Young attended her boys' weekend basketball games.
"Anytime a teacher makes that extra effort to see you outside of the role that they usually do," Baggett said, "and to support you in another part of your life — that really forms a bond with a kid."
Young went into the finale as a fan favorite who had avoided the season's drama and seemed focused on James, telling him that she wanted "someone who will change the world with me."
Monday night's episode started with snow.
"I brought the weather to you," Young joked.
She met James' brother and had a happy, teary conversation with James' mother, Patty. "Talking to you, Michelle, I see your sweet heart," Patty told her.
But James broke up with Young, picking — but not proposing to — Kirkconnell, who has apologized for her "racist" actions. The pair has since broken up.
Longstanding concerns about how the show has represented contestants of color erupted this year when Harrison defended Kirkconnell, who is white, after photos showed her attending an "Old South" plantation-themed fraternity formal in 2018. In an interview with Rachel Lindsay, the first Black star of "The Bachelorette," Harrison asked for "grace" for Kirkconnell, criticized the "woke police" and argued that "this judge-jury-executioner thing is tearing this girl's life apart."
In his place, author and former NFL player Emmanuel Acho hosted the post-finale special. Acho wrote "Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man" and hosts a show by the same name.
During her interview with Acho, Young addressed the controversy as a teacher, advocating for a history lesson.
"That was a prime example of not understanding the history behind it — not being educated enough on what that actually meant, what her actions actually meant, how we see it," Young said. "I feel like Rachael has a good heart, I do.
"But I think there's a lot of learning."
Taking a stand
Young was among the contestants who stood in solidarity with Lindsay, posting a shared statement on Instagram denouncing "any defense of racism."
"Just because she is speaking the loudest doesn't mean she is alone," they said. "We stand with her, we hear her, and we advocate for change alongside her."
Young played Division 1 basketball at Bradley University in Illinois and in high school made the Star Tribune's all-metro first team in 2011 as "perhaps the fastest player," the newspaper said then. The 5-foot-9 guard "scored in double figures in all 28 games, averaging 22.1 points per game."
During the finale, Young gave James, a former college football player, matching jerseys. "World Changing Warriors," they said, with "Mr. James" and "Mrs. James" on their backs. Young could feel James pull away and asked him: "Tell me where you're at, actually."
"I don't think I can get there with you," James said.
"It's hard to feel like you have this connection with somebody," Young said, crying, "and then with the flip of a switch, it's gone."
During the special, Young said that she's ready to find love.
"You have taught me a lot about relationships," she told James, "what I'm looking for — and what I'm not looking for at times. You will always hold a piece of my heart."
Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168