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Kaleena Burkes named director of Murdered and Missing Black Women and Girls Office

Office is first of its kind in the nation; will be a voice for Black women and girls, work with law enforcement, and stand with communities

ST. PAUL — A proven researcher and passionate advocate has been named the first-ever director of the Missing and Murdered Black Women and Girls (MMBWG) Office. Kaleena Burkes brings years of a unique blend of professional and personal experience to the Department of Public Safety (DPS).

Burkes’ foundation of analytical experience combined with a commitment to collaboration will help ensure the MMBWG Office is successful in giving a voice to a group that often has gone overlooked, said DPS Commissioner Bob Jacobson.

“It is not simply that Director Burkes has what is needed to use proven analytics to start this important office,” Jacobson said. “Talk to her for even a few minutes and it becomes obvious that within her lies a much-needed, empathetic soul, ready to bring solutions and attention to issues the MMBWG Office will work through.”

Before being appointed as MMBWG director, Burkes spent nearly seven years working in various roles at the state’s Guardian ad Litem Board. While there, she led organizational development by implementing racial equity and advocacy initiatives. She also addressed training needs throughout the state to improve outcomes for families and children involved in juvenile and family court proceedings. Director Burkes has earned master’s and bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice from the University of Alabama, but maintains a strong appetite for learning.

“What I continue to learn in the classroom is important, but what I learn from the people around me is just as powerful,” Director Burkes said. “The Missing and Murdered Black Women and Girls Office will succeed because we will first listen to the needs of those we serve — Black women and the community that supports and uplifts the voices of Black women. We will learn from them and we will work to bring light to people who are often in some of the darkest moments of their lives.”

Legislation to establish the MMBWG Office was signed into law by Governor Tim Walz in 2023. The office will address systemic barriers that perpetuate the disparate violence that Black women experience. For example, Black women are three times more likely to be killed than their white counterparts. Additionally, although Black women make up only 7 percent of the population in Minnesota, 40 percent of domestic violence victims in Minnesota are Black women.

The MMBWG Office is under DPS’ Office of Justice Programs.

About the Minnesota Department of Public Safety

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s 2,100 employees operate programs in the areas of law enforcement, crime victim assistance, traffic safety, alcohol and gambling, emergency communications, fire safety, pipeline safety, driver licensing, vehicle registration and emergency management. DPS activity is anchored by three core principles: education, enforcement and prevention.

About the Office of Justice Programs

The Office of Justice Programs (OJP) provides leadership and resources to reduce crime, improve the functioning of the criminal justice system and assist crime victims. To accomplish this, OJP administers grants, provides training and technical assistance, conducts research, publishes reports, protects crime victim rights, and provides financial assistance to victims of violent crime.

 

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