Lifetime's 'Her America' project features 3 St. Paul women

2018-02-12 | Springfield News-Sun

Feb. 13--Putting herself in the national spotlight wasn't easy for Brooke Blakey, but she hopes it will help spark a change.

Blakey, the first African-American woman to become a full-time Metro Transit police officer, is among three women who live or work in St. Paul and are featured in a new Lifetime television digital campaign that launched Monday.

They're talking about serious subjects, including race, policing, politics and gender identity.

"Hopefully, I'll be the last of the first of anything," Blakey said Monday. "I would like to see (African-American female officers) become very normal and it not be a necessity to have these types of shows because it will be part of every day life. ... I hope there will be some little girls, like my daughter, who see this and say, 'Hey, I see somebody who looks like me and I want to do something like that.' "

The other local women who are in the Lifetime campaign, "Her America: 50 Women, 50 States," are Kathleen Culhane, a chemist who previously owned a brewery in St. Paul and was trying to open a new one in Lowertown, and Ramsey County sheriff's Deputy Celina LaBlanche.

The series is available at, and will also be featured in spots on the Lifetime television channel, and the network's Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.

The campaign "was inspired by the events of last year," said Lea Goldman, editor-in-chief at Lifetime, in a statement. "Like the rest of America, we were overwhelmed by the noise coming out of the election. At a time when America seemed more fractured than ever before, Lifetime set out to capture the truth about women's lives in the United States, bringing them closer together and amplifying the voices that go unheard and unrecognized."


Blakey has been a Metro Transit officer for nearly four years and works in the juvenile unit.

She was previously an investigator for the Ramsey County public defender's office and became a police officer because she felt it would give her "a little bit more ability to impact people's lives."

She also grew up seeing her father's work as a police officer -- Art Blakey was a Ramsey County sheriff's deputy and the Minnesota State Fair police chief for 37 years until he recently retired.

Brooke Blakey, who also is treasurer of the National Black Police Association's Minnesota chapter, said there are no more than 300 black police officers in the state. There are 10,763 total active officers in the state, according to the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards.

"Being a police officer, it's about being part of a brotherhood," Blakey said in the video. "And I think talking about differences makes people uncomfortable. ... When you talk about Blue Lives Matter, we put ourselves in places that are inherently dangerous, but ... when you look at Black Lives Matter on a national level, it makes sense because we're talking about historical interactions with the police."


Lifetime's Goldman said they also wanted to showcase "local traditions to each state" and they knew Minnesota was home to many breweries. They found Kathleen Culhane, who previously owned Sidhe Brewing Company on St. Paul's Payne Avenue.

The video shows Culhane welding in the old Station 4 club at Fourth and Sibley streets, where she planned to open a brewery and taproom.

"I would say that there is kind of a stereotype of your average brewer being a white guy wearing flannel, wearing a beard," Culhane said in her video. "Well, I'm trans, I'm pagan and I'm bi."

Culhane noted in the video, which was filmed last year, that they were having trouble raising money for renovations and to get the brewery started.

"We certainly are more liberal, more progressive here in the Twin Cities metro area, but the people around here that have that kind of money are generally conservative folks and they're not going to be as interested in investing in a business owned by me," she said in the video.

Culhane said last week that they were not able to attract investments, but she doesn't blame others for the brewery not getting off the ground.

"I accept it as fact that there are fewer opportunities for me," said Culhane, who lives in St. Paul. She's currently a packaging operator with Fulton Brewing with hopes of being a brewer again "somehow, someday," she said.

The first floor of Station 4 remains condemned, but use of the upper floors is still allowed, according St. Paul Department of Safety and Inspections spokesman Robert Humphrey. No one has applied to get a license for the building and there have been no recent permits pulled for construction that would indicate activity on the first floor, he said.


The crew working on the project met Celina LaBlanche, a Ramsey County sheriff's deputy, through Blakey. It was "spontaneously while just grabbing a coffee," Goldman said.

"We were struck by her openness and ease with, again, tackling very tricky political issues," Goldman said.

In the video, the woman interviewing LaBlanche asked if she had voted for President Donald Trump. She said she had, mainly because "he's pro-law enforcement."

"Whether you hate me for voting the opposite of you, I guess that's your prerogative," LaBlanche said in the video. "... I don't feel like it has everything to do with, 'Because you're liberal you're this, that and the 12th thing' and 'Because I'm Republican I suck and I'm racist and I'm all these horrible things.' One, I don't know how I can be racist when I'm of mixed race. I want to represent the race that's the underdog and I want people to look at me and say, 'I can do that, too and I want to do that, too.'"