During the late 1960's and early 1970's, Blackwell served as a community development specialist with the National Council of Negro Women. Since 1977, she has served as mayor of the Issaquena County Community of Mayersville. Blackwell has risen as a prominent speaker on rural housing and development. In 1979, she participated in President Jimmy Carter's Energy Summit at Camp David. She later received a master's degree in regional planning from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. In 1992, Blackwell received the prestigious MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.