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Washtenaw United: Building community and a new Black History at Ypsilanti-based Mentor2Youth

Darryl Johnson
Darryl Johnson

WEMU has partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw Countyto 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.'


Darryl L. Johnson’s is the founder of I’m Third Ministries, where the motto is God First, Neighbor Second, and I’m Third! The I’m Third motto is “We’re Putting the Neighbor back in the Hood!” Darryl is a proud husband, father, and grandfather.

Minister Johnson moved to Ann Arbor in 2003 and has been an enthusiastic supporter of several youth and community-serving initiatives. In 2016, he joined the Board of Directors for Mentor2Youth, a local 501 (c)3 that is committed to empowering youth to excel in life, academics and work. In 2019, he became the Executive Director of Mentor2Youth. He sits on the steering committee of Washtenaw My Brother’s Keeper, a county-wide transformation and youth empowerment collaborative. He is a proud reader for the local organization Black Men Read and is a member of District-Wide Black Parents and Student Support Group for Ann Arbor Public School District. He is currently the Project Manager for a local transportation company.

In addition to business and psychology coursework completed in the San Diego City College, and Non-Profit Administration coursework complete in Rockhurst College (Kansas City, MO), Minister Johnson has been selected to participate in local leadership development initiatives, including ZingTrain/NEW DELI Leadership training and NEW’s Leaders of Color and attends workshops and conferences to stay abreast of the ever-changing business landscape. He is proud to be a Servant-Leader.



Mentor2Youth Leadership

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Washtenaw Opportunity Index

I'm Third Ministries


UWWC is a long time investor in the mission of Mentor2Youth. Most recently, we invested $18,000 through our Opportunity Fund to support the pilot launch of Raising Royalty, a "chess, not checkers" paradigm that teaches the foundations of choices and consequences through the game of chess to youth in Ypsilanti.

According to M2Y, the ability to view one’s entire life as a chessboard adds simplicity to a complex and multidimensional life that should be played with infinite horizons. How one deals with all of these pieces (or pillars) will define success in the game of life. We recognize that oftentimes our opponent is poverty, racism, or trauma.

All too often the programs offered in disenfranchised and historically marginalized communities are not programs of empowerment. But instead produces band-aids. Raising Royalty serves as the potential to constantly create new mentors for the youth that follow.

Previously in 2021, we invested $10,000 to support the purchase of a commercial van and vehicle insurance to enable M2Y to offer a wider scope of enrichment opportunities to the youth people with whom they work.

Since May of 2020, UWWC has invested more than $66,000 to advance the mission of M2Y in Washtenaw County.


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and we continue our run of Black History Month editions of Washtenaw United. Throughout the month of February, we've been highlighting issues in people that not only don't understand Black history but are writing new chapters right here in our community. Today, we have another such guest. Darryl Johnson is executive director of Mentor2Youth. The Ypsilanti based organization is designed to bridge the opportunity gap in our community through youth empowerment, family involvement, and community collaboration. Its mission is to cultivate purpose through service and, as Minister Johnson is known to say in his I'm Third Ministries, "We're putting the neighbor back in the hood." Thank you for joining us today. It's good to have you back on WEMU.

Darryl Johnson: It's always a pleasure. Thank you for having me. [00:00:47][3.0]

David Fair: Now, it seems like it could be an obvious answer, but I'm betting you can add some depth to those few words. When you say "putting the neighbor back in the hood," what does that mean to you?

Darryl Johnson: Well, I always think of, like, when we say "the hood," what we're really talking about is a neighborless place. And so, when you talk about how to really build towards community, you first got to start with, who are your neighbors? And, in this world, in our society of individualism, we really don't think about our neighbors. I could live next door to people and not even know them, because we rush in our house, we look through our garage. When I grew up, you spoke to everybody. We sat on the porch. And you knew your neighbors, you know, and so that's the big part. Getting the neighbor back in the hood.

David Fair: And let's go back to that time for a moment. Now, you moved to this area in 2003, but where did you grow up and live?

Darryl Johnson: I grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, so I'm a big Chiefs fan, and everybody sees my gear. They all know that, you know? So, yeah. Kansas City, Missouri, and, you know, lived in a beautiful neighborhood, went to Catholic school. So, I just had a lot of that surrounding in that community, and it was a black Catholic school. And so, I'm used to that kind of Black excellence. I just grew up with it and around it. I never knew any different. I never felt being about Black or white. It wasn't a real big issue for us.

David Fair: But was that area in which you lived relatively segregated between Black and white?

Darryl Johnson: Yes. Oh yes. Definitely, definitely. And I mean, we were like..in our neighborhood, it was before I was born. But my mother was, like, maybe the second Black person to move on to our block. And so then, we watch white people move away. My mother was born in 1919, and she cleaned white people's houses. And so, we were aware of it. But our own excellence and what we had to do was always at the top of our minds and what we were. And we would see it when we would go to play other schools, and they would have real football fields, or they would have different facilities. We knew that we didn't have as much as other people, but we never felt left another.

David Fair: I want to talk about potentially the at-odds nature of perception and reality. So, when you say hood, many of the young people I talked to today, again, when they talk about their hood, they express themselves with a great deal of pride. However, if you go into the community at large, and I'm talking in particular among the Caucasian community, if they hear the word "hood," it's a different perception and not necessarily positive.

Darryl Johnson: Yeah, it's not positive for me either. So when I went, and that's a funny conversation, even among Black people that when I stirred this up. You know, I've had some people challenged me. They don't like when I say that, right? And I have to really explain to me when I say hood, it's not positive. And I don't think that the young people coming up really comprehend what they're saying. They're almost admitting that, maybe, this is a neighborless place, and they've gotten used to that. And I think that, you know, you know, I'll say this other side of it. There's a lot of affluent white communities that don't have neighbors.

David Fair: Correct.

Darryl Johnson: Right. So, this neighborless nature isn't really a color issue, as much as it is a rugged individualism that comes from the white supremacy of this western culture. Right? And so, when we start talking about concepts and constructs, how do we really develop that? We've got to give people an opportunity to see it who maybe have never seen it.

David Fair: Washtenaw United and our conversation with Mentor2Youth executive director Darryl Johnson, continues on 89 one WEMU. Through your I Am Third ministries, you seek to build community on those principles of God first, neighbor second, and I'm third. Still, as young Black men begin to come into their own, they have to wrestle with a society that continues to make taking advantage of more limited opportunities very difficult. Is it your position that by putting oneself third that it provides the greatest opportunity for service to self and community?

Darryl Johnson: It is. It is. It's so funny how my wife is. Sometimes, "You ain't third. You first." You know, because it's always a struggle, right? That is the battle. I think we were reading quotes the other day. And he said, "When the battle begins within a man, now we have something." Something to that effect, right? And so, I think this I'm third mentality speaks to that. There's a battle inside of me that wants to be of service. And I think everything in our lives transitions once we start to think from that place. And so, how we serve and how we become neighbors with each other, how we live in community with each other now becomes a priority. Whereas before, getting my needs met, where was the priority? So, I think it's a big change.

David Fair: Well, you came on board at Mentor2Youth in 2016, but you were involved in a number of these community building endeavors. Washtenaw My Brother's Keeper is a countywide transformation and youth empowerment collaborative you were involved with. You're a reader for the local Black Men Read program and a member of the District Wide Black Parents and Students Support Group for the Ann Arbor Public Schools. All initiatives aimed at building community and progress. You've used it many times. I have used it many times, but community is a word that maybe gets bandied about and not as well-defined as we should. What does community mean to you?

Darryl Johnson: Yeah, man. At the heart of it, I love Scott Peck's definition, and he talks about community as a group of people who have learned how to communicate with each other, whose masks goes deeper, whose relationship goes deeper than their mask of composure. I love that line, right? Because it's something about community is where we have learned to be vulnerable with each other, and we know that, in reality, we live in a world where vulnerability is almost like, "No, don't ever let your neighbor know your weakness. Never let your neighbors see you down," Right? Always, you know this social media kind of put your best image out there all the time where we know that's not how you live it. Right? When we're talking about able to talk about my mental health, my physical health, my dreams, my aspirations, my weaknesses. I think when we learn to live in that kind of environment, then we can really start to see, "Oh, you need this?" And I got it, and I need that, and you have it, and we can live in harmony with each other. So, I think community is just so right a word that we do not really understand and few people have ever seen.

David Fair: Once again, this is WEMU. We're talking with Darryl Johnson on Washtenaw United. He is executive director of the Ypsilanti based Mentor2Youth Program. So, in working with that definition of community, a program I find fascinating, and Mentor2Youth, is one you're calling Raising Royalty. It uses the game of chess as a prism from which participants get to view life. What is your philosophy there?

Darryl Johnson: Yeah. So, it was raising what we look at that, you know, first of all, everybody has royalty within them. It's not something that we create for our young people. It's already there. You're born with royalty, right? And so, our mission is to how do we cultivate that and bring that out and let you live in that. So, we use the game of chess as a way that a young person can actually physically put their hands on this mentoring process. You actually get the feel and see the moves being made in your life. Then we come back and we teach the kids how each piece represents a different component of character in their lives and that they have the opportunity, no matter which hand it's been dealt them. Now they get to play, whether you're in poverty, whether you come from a single family household, whatever the circumstances are to come up against you. Here is your opportunity to make the next move. Every move has consequences, right? Every move where you make one move, it will counsel your ability to make other moves, right? And so, starting to be able to see this and be able to sit back and take this kind of bigger issue of your life, I think, is amazing.

David Fair: When future generations study this era, what do you believe will be written?

Darryl Johnson: Here's what I hope is written. One: I hope that they see in Washtenaw County that Black love is a thing that tells you all of the other stuff is a lie. That Black love is a thing that allows you to survive. Black love is the thing that makes us believe in the American democracy, even when the American democracy hasn't believed in us. Black love is a gravitational force within the Black community. And so, when we look back, I hope that all of that Black love will register, and people will honestly get a chance to really see and experience and recognized what a force it is.

David Fair: Thank you so much for the time today. I appreciate it.

Darryl Johnson: David, always a pleasure. Thank you, and be well, my brother.

David Fair: That is Darryl Johnson, the executive director of Mentor2Youth. For more information on the program and its mission, visit our website at WEMU dot org. Washtenaw United is produced in partnership with the United Way of Washtenaw County, and you hear it every Monday. I'm David Fair, and this he is 89 one WEMU FM and WEMU HD One Ypsilanti.

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Josh Hakala is the general assignment reporter for the WEMU news department.
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