In a letter of introduction to the faculty of the University of Hong Kong’s School of Social Work, one of Gail Chang Bohr’s coworkers once wrote, “I am excited to see where her career will take her.” Gail’s colleague was certainly right to look forward to Gail’s future. Gail was among Pollen and AARP’s inaugural 50 Over 50 list in 2016, and her work only continues to grow and evolve.

Now president of the Infinity Project, a group that works “to increase the gender diversity of the state and federal bench to ensure the quality of justice,” Gail’s journey started at Simmons College, where she graduated in 1968 with her master’s degree in social work.

Born and raised in Jamaica, Gail attended Wellesley College on a full scholarship and later changed her student visa to a professional immigrant visa. She practiced clinical social work for over 19 years, on both coasts of the US, in Hong Kong, and in Minnesota. Throughout all of those moves, Gail held fast to her learnings and her methods —
“my way was just to be there,” she says.

Gail was there for children with terminal illnesses and their families. She was there for young people experiencing pregnancy, and for birth parents grieving adoption.

Despite the different settings and different people she served,
“it was all the same kind of work,” Gail says. “It was all around that process of grieving.” 


But as Gail continued to be there for the people she served, she became more and more aware of her limitations as a social worker.

“The law is always involved,” she realized. “I could do more by knowing the law.”

So at age 43 — much later than most of her peers — Gail started at William Mitchell Law School. Gail remembers how even in the throes of balancing law school, her family, and her own needs, she helped a classmate with an emergency move.

“It’s what you do,” says Gail. “You help people.”


After graduating magna cum laude in 1991, Gail began her law career as a clerk for Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Sandy Keith. That same year, Governor Rudy Perpich appointed Justice Sandra Gardebring Ogren to the bench, making four of the seven judges — the majority — women. It “gave me the idea that I could do this,” says Gail. There, she got to understand how decisions are made and remembers the emphasis those judges put on the human aspect of their job.

Gail has always centered the people she serves in her work. Though she was just beginning her legal career, Gail knew that her experience as a social worker and her understanding of the law would make her an exceptional judge. However, it would be 17 years before Gail was elected Ramsey County’s first Asian American judge.

During that time, Gail served as the Children’s Law Center of Minnesota’s first executive director. To Gail this was a direct continuation of her work before law school — she was still advocating for children, now just a little further upstream of where she’d previously been. 

Gail’s social work training and experience made her the perfect person for this role. As she trained volunteers, she was able to counsel them on how to build meaningful relationships with the kids. “We have to know the child,” Gail says — building relationships that allow for meaningful advocacy takes time. But, Gail emphasizes, people working with youth also must be extremely mindful of boundaries. 

“I still think about what my social work teachers would say,” says Gail. “If you are not comfortable, you need to know that and you need to take care of that.”

In work that can take a huge emotional toll, taking care of yourself is being a good professional, she says, dispelling the idea that advocacy work should be self-sacrificing. Being able to listen to not only her clients and volunteers, but also to herself, is a part of what allows Gail to continue her work even at age 77.  

After more than a decade of rejected applications to be a judge, in 2008 a seat on the bench opened for election in Ramsey County. Gail knew that statistically, as a woman, and a person of color, the most achievable way for her to earn the title of Justice Chang Bohr was to win an election. So she ran. Despite her opponent’s attacks on her age, Gail’s conviction in herself and her ability to care for people carried her through the election —

 “I wasn’t just going to be a good judge,” she says.

“I was going to be a damn good judge.”

With the support of the Infinity Project, she ran, and won, becoming the first Asian American judge in Ramsey County at age 65. 

Though she’s been retired from the bench since 2014, it’s clear where Gail’s passions still lie — she sports a shirt with “dissent” written in bold letters underneath the iconic silhouette of late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. As president of the Infinity Project, a year-long volunteer appointment, Gail works to bring diversity to the bench. Part of the Infinity Project’s work is to decode the rules — written and unwritten — that exist in the judicial system to make it more accessible to everyone.

“When you bring diversity of thought to any situation, you increase the number of solutions,” says Gail.

Having a group of people with different perspectives increases the quality of the decision. 

Part of this work is helping people with the process of applying to be a judge. Sometimes Gail sits in mock interviews for aspiring judges, helping them practice their skills and gain confidence. When there are vacancies for judges, Infinity Project reminds the selection commission of the need for diversity and inclusion on the bench. Gail also continues the work of the previous president to bring diversity not just to the judicial branch, but to the groups of people who choose judges. 

“The makeup of the judicial selection commission should reflect our society,”
she says,
for the very same reasons that the judicial branch should.

Gail also still serves as a senior judge, a role that has become especially important as the judicial system works to catch up on the backlog of cases created by the pandemic. “The combined time of the work of senior judges in Minnesota over the past year adds up to something like the work of 12 or 13 full-time judges,” she says. “It’s a lot!” The workload doesn’t diminish Gail’s enthusiasm, or her commitment to her vision.

“Never think about how old you are,” Gail says,
meaning, never let your age stop you from doing something you want to do.

She is always learning and trying new things. And Gail’s biggest piece of advice for people who are aging: surround yourself with young people. You never know what the newest phone update will bring.

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Alia Jeraj
Alia Jeraj (she & they) is a performer, writer, and educator in the Twin Cities. With support from MRAC's 2018 Next Step Fund and as a part of Pillsbury House Theater's 2020 Naked Stages cohort, Alia continues to explore their connection to the songs and stories of her ancestors. Alia's bylines include American Craft, the Twin Cities Daily Planet, and Pollen Midwest. When not singing, writing, or working to subvert mainstream education systems, you can find Alia curled up with hot chai and a book, or somewhere near a body of water.
Jerome Rankine
As Editorial Director, Jerome is the keeper of Pollen’s editorial voice and vision. He works with Pollen’s talented stable of writers to produce stories that entertain, enlighten, and invite readers to take action. Jerome spends a lot of time hunched over keyboards--either editing the latest Pollen feature, or composing music in his home studio. He’s active in local politics, less active on social media, and more active in his kitchen.
Leeya Rose Jackson
Leeya Rose Jackson is an Art Director, Graphic Designer and Illustrator. She is the Creative Founder of Noisemakers Design and a Design Lead at Pollen Midwest.