Yodit Mesfin-Johnson has been a community activist all her adult life. She serves as president adn CEO of Nonprofit Enterprise at Work (NEW) in Ann Arbor, is active in Black Lives Matter, and is on the board of the United Way of Washtenaw County. It is her mission to create equity in marginalized communities and put more people of color at leadership tables to ensure diversity and equality in our communities. In the final Women's History Month edition of "Washtenaw United," WEMU's David Fair talks with Mesfin-Johnson about her life, career, and the foundations she is helping build for future generations.
WEMU has partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw County to explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'
ABOUT YODIT MESFIN-JOHNSON
As President and Chief Executive Officer, Yodit stewards the organization’s bold vision, strategic direction and overall operations in partnership with our Board of Trustees and staff for Nonprofit Enterprise at Work (NEW), a Michigan based nonprofit 501 (c3) with offices in Detroit and Ann Arbor. NEW offers capacity building and management support to charitable, education, municipal and healthcare organizations in southeast Michigan. Yodit spends some of her time on the Organizational Development team as a consultant and trainer in areas of leadership development, non-profit management and governance, strategic planning and diversity, and inclusion.
Yodit has been addressing issues of diversity and social justice for nearly two decades, first as an activist and more recently as a trainer, consultant, facilitator, and speaker. Her extensive and varied background enables her to bring a range of skills and perspectives to meet the needs of her clients. She has worked with numerous organizations, non-profit agencies, community groups, schools and Universities to create environments that allow all people to feel valued, to be treated fairly, and to work together productively. Recently, she has been facilitating groups for community members to explore race, racism and implicit bias. As a champion for equity and social justice, she has coached and trained hundreds of corporate and nonprofit leaders throughout the country who are interested in advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in their organizations.
In 2017, Yodit founded Black Men Read, an inclusive literacy initiative for elementary aged students in Washtenaw County that centers the experiences and stories of people from throughout African Diaspora. She also serves on the board of the United Way for Washtenaw County and as an advisor to several local organizations, including We The People Opportunity Center.
As part of this Washtenaw United segment, Mesfin-Johnson decided the complexity and nuance of life made it impossible to have the appropriate conversation within the time constraints allowed. As such, she drafted a poem to better encapsulate who she is and what she is working towards. You can hear her read the poem as part of her talk with WEMU's David Fair. Here is the text for you to read.
"WHO I AM, WHERE I'M FROM" -- A POEM BY YODIT MESFIN-JOHNSON
I'm from activism and liberation, the blended DNA of an immigrant and an academic prodigy. I'm from Detroit--Black bottom, a complicated chocolate city steeped in rebellion & revolution.
I’m from Ethiopian grandmothers, elders & loved ones who to this day continue to chop, stir, season, blend, and stew up pots filled with centuries of feasts of love and delight that nourish a nation. I’m from the mountain ridges of Africa that tell the truth & depth & breadth of the Black birthright. I’m from beats that span the diaspora and when I lift my shoulders and feet to the joy embodied in dance and song, the melodies date back to dynasties formed BC.
I’m from uncolonized behaviors, tenacity & resolve-- the swagger of entrepreneurs paving their freedom paths. I’m from churches, mosques & 7th Wonders built long before the Italians tried my homeland. I’m from mommas nursing babies suckling from the bosoms of the descendants of Sheba. I’m from Black fight and Black flight.
I’m from women who were firsts; I’m from strong backs.
I’m from pressing combs, women’s rights, Hip Hop.
I’m from Pan-Africanism and Black power and liberation that spans the African diaspora.
I’m from single Mommas who’ve learned to share our labor with. I’m from mutual aid. I’m from love.
I’m from lots of prayers, loving correction and high expectations.
I’m from warriors.
And I am here to free, and be freed; to break systems and chains.
I am here to significantly change the conditions of my people; our human family.
I’m here to decolonize the nonprofit industrial complex; to challenge every oppressive system, including misogyny, patriarchy, imperialism, capitalism, and systems of dominance that stunt our dreams and our democracy.
I am here to honor the work of my ancestors;
I am here to liberate the path for my children’s grandchildren.
I am here to love, to model courage, strength, vulnerability and to illuminate the beauty of our human family.
I am here to birth visions, to labor with and for our collective higher purpose and our shared freedom. I am here to agitate, challenge, to wonder and ask why, alot!
I am here to align with the Creator for this short time I have to sojourn on this side and to do that with as much grace, care, wonder & curiosity---as much I can muster.
I work at the intersection of racial justice and liberatory practices.
I am a CEO and a momma.
I am a facilitator of change and a challenger of injustice.
I am a trusted guide to those who want to get free with me.
I am a founder and a storyteller; a griot.
I am actively trying to decolonize my mind-- including drawing upon the ancestral practices of her Ethiopian elders.
I am a champion for human rights and social change, and I believe there is no greater antidote for hate than love and liberation.
For nearly 100 years, United Way of Washtenaw County has been connecting people, resources and organizations together to create a thriving community for everyone.
Our Equity Statement reads as follows: Equity is the foundation of our work, from our engagement with donors, to our investment of resources across neighborhoods in our community, and in our interactions with the public. We define equity as the presence of justice and fairness within the procedures, processes, and distribution of resources by institutions or systems.
We commit to equity as a core value and practice in order to advance our mission of connecting people, resources, and organizations together to create a thriving community for everyone. Our mission compels us to prioritize historically and systematically excluded or marginalized people. Focusing on race, ethnicity and socio-economic status, as well as other intersectional identities, is necessary to end the historical, social and systemic inequities that persist in our County.
We acknowledge that we can only be successful if we recognize, develop and support leaders from within under-represented neighborhoods in our County. United Way is committed to engaging these leaders as partners, donors, and volunteers.
Further, we commit to intentionally creating pathways for them to be included in decision-making and leadership roles within our own and other organizations. We can only eliminate inequity when all individuals reach their fullest human potential.
We maintain that building and sustaining equity in our County requires an ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion that must find full expression in our organizational culture, values, norms, and behaviors and those of our partners.
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