By Neal St. Anthony, Star Tribune
Donzel Leggett is an accomplished guy with a heart for others.
Leggett, 53, vice president of global manufacturing excellence at General Mills, is a 25-year veteran who has managed plants, packaging and supply chains. He earned graduate degrees in industrial technology and business, and was a three-time Academic All-America football player at Purdue University.
The married father of four children, who grew up in Key West, Fla., considers himself fortunate and called to serve.
\”I always knew that God blessed me with academic and athletic ability and parents who [encouraged me] to take advantage of opportunities,\” he said. \”My mentality was always to strive to be my best. And I knew I had to use my gifts to do positive things.\”
Leggett is chairman of Twin Cities Rise, the business-supported, North Side-based nonprofit that works mostly with low-income people of color. Many of the participants have been raised in broken families without much support or focus on education or careers. They arrive at the nonprofit — sometimes on probation and sometimes simply trying to improve their chances — seeking self-empowerment training, skill development and the mentoring many missed during their formative years.
\”I also knew that I could be a role model,\” Leggett said. \”To help others who may not have had the gifts, the family support and the mentors.\”
Leggett, the youngest of four children and the first to attend college, was raised by a mother who was an office worker and then ran a preschool. His father was a janitor who rose to power-company linemen for Southern Bell over 43 years. His parents have been married 65 years.
\”We were not rich,\” recalled Leggett, who is Black. \”Lower-middle class. My great-grandma was a wet nurse for the children of rich white people. Her daughter, my grandmother, was a maid. [My parents] instilled in me that \’we struggled to put you in position to take advantage of your gifts.\’
\”They told me that nobody is better and you\’re not better than anybody. It\’s how hard you work.\”
There always has been a financial and human connection between Rise and General Mills. Leggett joined Rise\’s board five years ago, after talking to Steve Rothschild, a former Mills executive who started the nonprofit in 1993. It\’s fitting TCR\’s board is led by an African American.
\”Donzel is very active, sincere and passionate about the mission to build the organization,\” said Rothschild, now an emeritus board member. \”And he is a role model. Nothing was given to him. He\’s made the most of his talent and experience. I admire Donzel.\”
And Leggett is not the only Mills alumni at Rise.
Alex Merritt, an 18-year Mills supply-chain manager, joined this year as vice president of program operations for an outfit that has an expanding footprint as its empowerment and train model is adapted by more organizations.
Merritt was raised in St. Louis by foster parents who adopted her as well as several other children. And she had a supportive grandmother.
Merritt was a good student, encouraged by her Normandy High School counselor to study engineering. She won an Emerson Electric scholarship and persevered through the rigorous mechanical-engineering curriculum to graduate from Missouri University of Science and Technology.
Merritt wasn\’t looking for another job. But she took a pay cut to join Twin Cities Rise.
\”My personal passion is giving back and making the world a better place,\” she said. \”Here I get to empower people through training and personal empowerment. I get to do all that in one space and know the impact is immediate. And I see the scalability of this.
\”There are a lot of people who need what we offer. It\’s about fanning the flame in the human spirit. A nod from God … a gift that is dormant in most humans. Most don\’t know it. They get a verdict from parent or teacher or someone and they spend their lives accomplishing that prophecy of failure. We try to [help] one person at a time.\”
Ever the engineer, she said her job is to ensure the \”secret sauce\” of Rise is captured \”through a repeatable processes and clear metrics that allow us to trend, track and deliver outstanding results for participants\” and other stakeholders.
And when a person benefits, we all benefit from a healthier community and economy.