Activist • Community Organizer • Actress • Playwright Director
Author • Poet • Professor • Orator
Billie Jean Young’s life is about moving forward, the way up and out to better lives for the people she touches with her art, ideas, and activism.
Young is not only a bridge builder. She will circle back and bring along new groups of people over that path with her – black, white, red, brown and yellow – everyone.
Dr. Billie Jean Young has spent her highly productive lifetime focusing her talents on the Civil Rights Movement and life’s challenges for the poor and disenfranchised, particularly in America’s rural South. She has led major efforts and organizations for change in Alabama and, in earlier decades in Jackson, Mississippi Delta. She continues to be involved in assisting the socio-economic growth of people in the Central American nation of Belize.
Her work, stories, and focus translate globally. An internationally renowned artist, she has performed her one-woman, self-penned theatrical show – “Fannie Lou Hamer: This Little Light” – before audiences on four continents over the last three decades. She also is widely known for her motivational speeches, books and poetry readings, and as a director of dramatic productions.
Billie Jean Young’s countless awards and honors include the most highly esteemed MacArthur Fellows “Genius” Award for her community development leadership.
A native of Choctaw County, she is one of seven children born into a family of sharecroppers. Billie Jean earned a B.A degree from Judson College in Marion, Alabama, one of three Blacks in its first class to graduate African Americans. in Marion, Alabama. She earned her law degree from Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law.
When Dr. Young sees needs, she builds community, regional or national alliances for answers and change. She is active in community affairs, women’s rights, children’s issues, and the arts.
Dr. Young is the founding chairperson of the Rural Development Leadership Network, which sponsors rural community development and training opportunities across the United States; she remains involved as a lecturer. She is president of the Southwest Alabama Association of Rural & Minority Women and she was a community organizer for the Southwest Alabama Farmers Cooperative Association. Dr. Young was a land specialist for Rural America of Washington D.C. and served as its Southeastern director. She was instrumental in organizing rural black women across the Deep South in the tri-state Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative. In 1981 she co-founded (with Julia Winn) and served as executive director of the seven-state Southern Rural Women’s Network-based Drin Jackson, Mississippi, an organization dedicated to political and social development in the South.
Billie Jean is a firm believer that exposure to the arts transforms the lives of children and lifts up entire communities. She is the director of The Drama Project in Alabama and founded The Drama Project/Child Abuse Project in Drama (CAPID) for the Belize Rural Women’s Association. Dr. Young also co-founded Alabama’s Branch Heights Dance Company and Theatre and she was artistic director and co-founder of the Blackbelt Arts & Cultural Center in Selma, Ala. She also served on the boards of the Alabama School of Fine Arts and the Alabama Humanities Foundation.
Throughout her career, Dr. Young has worked at various colleges and universities on faculty or in a visiting role. In 1988 and from 1990 to 1996, she was an Assistant Professor in the Department of Speech & Dramatic Art at Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi. She also has served as an adjunct professor, artist-in-residence or visiting professor at such institutions of higher learning as the University of Southern California, the University at Albany-SUNY in New York, Colby College in Maine, the University of Alabama, Mississippi State University, Selma University, Stann Creek Ecumenical College in Belize, and Judson College. She joined the Judson College faculty in 2006.
A mother of two sons U.S. Army Retired Sergeant Anthony Duane, and Keith Allan Young, a former Choctaw County educator now deceased. She is the proud grandmother of seven, and great grandmother of three.
- Black Women’s Hall of Fame from SRBWI
- MacArthur Fellows Award
- Inaugural Alabama African-American History Calendar
- Women of Distinction Award, Girl Scouts of North-Central Alabama
- Lucy Terry Prince Unsung Heroine Award
- ESSENCE Magazine ‘Legend in Our Time’
- Mississippi Governor’s Award for Artistic Achievement
- Outstanding Alumna of Judson College
- Citation from the Governor of Maryland
- Honorary Citizen of Belize, Rural Women’s Association
- Alabama Black Belt Hall of Fame
- U.S. Congressional Black Caucus’ Fannie Lou Hamer on the Road to Freedom Award
- The Child of Too © 1981 Visions, Inc.
- My Name is Black (Audio Book of Poetry) © 1995 Better Word Music
- Fear Not the Fall Poems & Two Act Drama © 2003 New South Books
- Now How You Do? A Memoir © 2010 Westry Wingate Books
- Family Secrets © 2010 Westry Wingate Books
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