The values of military life were introduced to Lake Elmo resident Louis King at a young age. As a veteran, King continues to use the skills he learned to give back to the community.
He was honored Sept. 11 by the Minnesota Humanities Center as one of the recipients of the 2016 Veterans’ Voices Award. The Veterans’ Voices Award recognizes Minnesotans who are former and current military service members who go above and beyond to make significant, positive contributions that improve the lives of people across Minnesota.
After enlisting in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) as a teenager, the Jacksonville, Fla., native and Morehouse College graduate was a commissioned officer in the Army field artillery for 10 years. King rose through the ranks, serving in Europe during the Cold War and ended his service with the rank of major. King came to the University of Minnesota to train ROTC students, but has stayed to raise a family in Lake Elmo.
“In the military, you learn to trust the people you work with, you take care of them and do what you say you are going to do,” King said. “You are prepared and you are fully competent at your profession. You take care of people and trust that they have your back. You fight along side them.”
After World War II, the
military worked to desegregate the officer class and King, an African American man, was able to serve as an officer because of it.
King has devoted his post-military career to building opportunities in the North Minneapolis community, and he uses the military desegregation program as a model to see change in racial economic disparities.
As president and CEO of Summit Academy OIC, an educational and vocational training institute that empowers poor Twin Cities’ residents to become self-reliant and employed, King advocates against the economic disparities between whites and people of color by providing education and job training.
“The best social service program in the world is a job,” King said.
The average age of students at Summit Academy who are obtaining a general education development (GED) certificate is 29 years old. Along with general education, Summit Academy provides marketable skills training in construction and health care, and a network of employers that will hire graduates. King said the academy plans to expand training opportunities for students.
“We are facing tremendous disparities. Healthy communities have adults that work,” King said. “When there are weak economics, there is unrest. That doesn’t bode well.”
Receiving the Veterans’ Voices Award came as a surprise to King, who said he was “humbled” to be included as one of 24 honorees.
“You learn to not expect a whole lot of glory,” King said. “It felt good to be around the other military members and to feel that camaraderie again.”
King said not many people know he’s a veteran, and receiving this award has inspired him to look differently at veterans who are joining the civilian work force and how to support them. King said that, like him, veterans bring valuable skills to the work force that go beyond war.
“We say that we support veterans and wave flags, but are we willing to hire one and support one?” King asked.
King also serves on the boards of the Minneapolis Club, St. Thomas Academy and the Robins Kaplan Miller Ciresi Foundation, and he chairs both the Northside Community Response Team and the Network for Better Futures. He has also served on the Abbott Northwest Hospital Board and the Fairview Healthcare Foundation Board. Louis founded and co-chairs HIRE Minnesota coalition, which works to create jobs that reduce racial disparities and lift people out of poverty.
“I see the work that I am doing as an extension of the oath that I took when I joined the military,” King said. “I am still serving my country.”
Contact Alicia Lebens at [email protected]