© 2024 WEMU
Serving Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County, MI
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Washtenaw United: Personal Redemption And Community Opportunity Through Urban Farming

Melvin Parsons
Susan Smith
United Way of Washtenaw County

There are many ways to work towards equity and opportunity in our community, but urban farming might not be the first thing that comes to mind.  Melvin Parsons saw the trade as a way forward for himself and is now expanding and giving back through his "We the People Growers Association" and the "We the People Opportunity Center."  Parson joined WEMU's David Fair for this week's installment of "Washtenaw United."

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.'

Melvin Parson
Credit We the People Growers Association / wethepeoplegrowersassociation.com
Melvin Parson in the garden.


Melvin Parson is the founder of We The People Opportunity Center (WTPOC) in Ypsilanti.  As an urban farmer, social justice and equality activist, Parson founded WTPGA to empower people to make a positive contribution to their community through education and positive social networks using gardening and farming as the vehicle for change.  Melvin was also chosen at The Henry Ford’s inaugural entrepreneur in residence.


We the People Growers Association

We the People Opportunity Center

The Henry Ford Announces William Davidson Foundation Initiative for Entrepreneurship


United Way of Washtenaw County is proud to be an early investor and partner with Melvin and We the People Opportunity Center as they have worked to bring the vision to life. We invest in leaders of color in our community, because we recognize the importance of diverse leadership in the nonprofit sector.
From Nonprofit Enterprise At Work:

The U.S. population is rapidly becoming more culturally and racially diverse; our nation is expected to become “minority white” by 2045. This demographic shift is even more dramatic for younger age groups; the majority of people under age 18 in the country will be people of color next year.  And yet, social sector leadership does not reflect this trend.  There are serious issues of lack of diversity and inclusion in our social service organizations, most notably on nonprofit boards and among nonprofit executive leadership.  Board Source’s 2017 Leading with Intent report found that 90 percent of chief executives and 84 percent of board members report as Caucasian, and 27% percent of boards identify as all white.  The percentage of people of color in the executive director/CEO role has remained under 20% for the last 15 years even as the country has become increasingly more diverse.

This national trend is mirrored by the situation closer to home.  Here in Washtenaw County, the non-white share of the population has increased 5 percentage points since 2000, from 24-29%.  According to Guidestar, there are 2,341 nonprofits in Washtenaw County.  An informal survey conducted by NEW staff reveals only 15 of those nonprofits are led by African Americans, 2 by Asian Americans, and no nonprofits are led by Latinx or Native people.

Diverse leadership is an imperative to advancing the work of the nonprofit sector. Diversity of identity, experience, thought and ideas help nonprofits meet the immense demands required to address the complex issues we face in the sector.  In a 2017 study, nonprofit chief executives across the country concurred about the importance of diversity in their organizations.  They recognized the value of diversity in helping their organizations address their mission through a broader understanding of the external context and the client populations.  Diverse boards and staff leadership also bring innovative perspectives to challenges faced by organizations.  Furthermore, diverse leadership connect diverse networks to organizations, which can lead to increased success with donors and partners in the community.

United Way of Washtenaw County invested in key start-up activities at WTPOC, including strategic planning, accounting infrastructure and board training.  Providing this vital foundation for a start-up organization will help to ensure its success in achieving further impact in the future!

Statement Resources:

Non-commercial, fact based reporting is made possible by your financial support.  Make your donation to WEMU todayto keep your community NPR station thriving.

Like 89.1 WEMU on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
Related Content