Barbara Jordan

Activist, Mother, Friend
By Terri Allred
Photography by AB-Photography.us

The first time I met Barbara Jordan, I was struck by her warm demeanor and focused attention. She was talking to another person, but when I was introduced, her complete attention shifted to me. That focused connection is a hallmark of Barbara’s leadership, whether she is serving as the administrator for the Office for Education Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Mayo Clinic or volunteering with the NAACP.   

ACTIVIST FOR LIFE

Barbara has been a connector and vital member of the community since she moved here 29 years ago. “Back in the day,” she reminisces, she was on the founding board of the Boys and Girls Club, at the time a modest initiative “where we had to do art projects without running water.” Barbara was also involved in the early days of the Diversity Council and Rochester Chamber of Commerce.

The thread that runs among her varying personal and professional contributions to the Rochester community is activism, specifically making connections to help people advance. “We are stronger together when we work together. It is my community; it is our community. I take a living here and want to give back. I want to make this community that supports me and my family better.”

Barbara started at Mayo as a medical meeting planner, but within three years had moved into administration. She considers herself a medical educator—not a teacher specifically, but rather someone who looks to advance learners in higher education and medical education. In her position, she oversees the development of programming that introduces young learners to careers in medicine/medical roles and biomedical science. 

“So many kids don’t see themselves on those pathways, so it is a lot about inspiration.”  However, it is heavy on the preparation too. The earlier that young adults can envision themselves on a medical or scientific path, the sooner they can get the foundational knowledge necessary to understand the pathway, know the decision points and know how to make the good decisions in order to progress in an efficient and affordable way. She basically tells young adults, “You can become a (doctor, scientist, researcher). Here are the steps you can take.”

While she loves her work at Mayo, working in community is where she says she has learned the most. Using her master’s degree in organizational leadership, she volunteered with nonprofits, the NAACP and her church, learning skills such as how to be a treasurer, how to manage CEOs of nonprofits, how to evaluate staff and so much more. She jokes that her volunteer roles have felt like a practicum.  

Barbara has also spent time organizing in Rochester at the community level, primarily focused on African-American youth. Every January, she helps organize the Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) birthday celebration and programs. Last Fall she worked with the Rochester NAACP to enact a four-point strategy to get out the vote. This work included organizing volunteers, hosting community forums and registration, and working to establish strong voter protection in the event of suppression.

‘SO, WHAT’S YOUR STORY?’

Barbara’s dad was in the Air Force. She and her family traveled with him around the globe. She believes that experience formed her into a person who “never met a stranger.” She is always eager to meet new people and hear their stories.  

When she isn’t community organizing or working, she enjoys spending time with a diverse group of long-time friends. Before the pandemic, they traveled and dined together. Now they are finding creative ways to stay connected, and they are able to connect even more than before. She loves all kinds of music, and both of her children are musicians. Since the pandemic began, she has taken up walking and intentionally being in nature more.

Barbara loves Rochester because it’s small enough to know folks when you are out and about but large enough to have a cultural and restaurant scene. Because of the size, she explains, people still have a great sense of community and see themselves as a collective, not just a decentralized place where you live.

  ‘THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES…’

People who know Barbara are familiar with her tagline, “The struggle continues …” When asked if she sometimes gets tired or discouraged, Barbara shares a story about a conversation with her grown daughter Angie when she was 6 years old. Barbara had been considering stepping back from helping to organize the MLK program that year and was talking about it in front of her daughter. Angie said, “Mom, you can’t not work on the program.” Her daughter didn’t know the exact, grammatically correct way to say it, but her meaning was crystal clear.  

We asked Barbara for an idea of how she is spending her time STUCK AT HOME these days:

Fortunately, I spend at least 45-50 hours a week working my day job. The five things below are how I spend the rest of my waking hours.

 1. Watching every “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” and “Law and Order” marathon with W.C. (my husband). The cable networks have made that easy for us, as we have found that between the two shows, at times there are three episodes playing at one time. We love Mariska Hargitay, Ice-T and Sam Waterston!

2. Texting, chatting and Zooming with my girlfriend group, whenever and wherever we might be. There are seven of us, and we have managed to stay well-connected throughout the pandemic. It has been such a blessing to have my girls to lean on during these tough times. The chats and texts can get a bit crazy, especially last fall during the debates—that play-by-play was priceless! 

3. Hopping onto the Douglas Trail during the spring, summer and early fall and on the treadmill once it got a bit too cold! Funny how 4 miles goes so much quicker on the trail—I much prefer the trail! 

4. Growing in my faith, as our church now has Zoom Bible Study on Wednesday evenings and Zoom Sunday School on Saturday mornings. Due to some departures from relocation, I found myself being appointed to serve as superintendent of the Sunday school. I am enjoying going much deeper in my study now, as I truly believe that to teach is to learn! 

5. Working with W.C. to plan for several vacations that we hope to take once the pandemic is over and it is safe to travel. We have fallen in love with Hawaii, and that is definitely on the list, as is Barbados and our domestic favorite: New Orleans. And this year, we hope New York for the U.S. Open.