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Washtenaw United: The 21-Day Equity Challenge Launches In Washtenaw County In January

United Way of Washtenaw County
Susan Smith
United Way of Washtenaw County

Fighting racism and social injustice is an ongoing battle. Washtenaw County residents will have a chance to make a difference through the United Way of Washtenaw County's "21-Day Equity Challenge."  For this week's "Washtenaw United," WEMU's David Fair sits down for a conversation with UWWC President/CEO Pam Smith and UWWC board chair Yodit Mesfin Johnson about how the challenge works and what it seeks to accomplish.

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.'


Pam Smith

Pam Smith
Credit Linkedin / linkedin.com
UWWC President/CEO Pam Smith

Pamela Smith has been the President/CEO of the United Way of Washtenaw County since 2012.  As a nonprofit executive she is dedicated to strengthening the community through philanthropy, collaboration and community engagement.  Her vision and leadership guides the Equity, Diversity and Justice work of the United Way of Washtenaw County.  She has more than 25 years of experience in Management, Communications and Nonprofit administration.  She has served on local nonprofit boards, as an UM guest lecturer, and on local advisory teams.  Ms. Smith has extensive experience in management, marketing, communications, training and workforce development.  Her development and fundraising skills have made her keenly aware of the intricate balance of the diverse needs within the Southeastern Michigan community.

Yodit Mesfin Johnson

Yodit Mesfin Johnson
Credit Linkedin / linkedin.com
UWWC Board Chair Yodit Mesfin Johnson

As Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of Strategy, Yodit oversees NEW’s staff, operations and program initiatives.  She also joins the Organizational Development team as a consultant and trainer in leadership development, non-profit management, strategic planning and diversity, equity and inclusion.  She is a nationally recognized speaker, trainer and facilitator having provided workshops and keynote presentations in business development, nonprofit management, social justice and entrepreneurship for nearly two decades.  Yodit brings a mix of corporate and entrepreneurial endeavors to this role.  Outside of work she leads, Lips & Hips, a social enterprise that funds the future of girls and women.


UWWC 21-Day Equity Challenge

Pam Smith

Yodit Mesfin Johnson


Inequities hurt everyone, United Way of Washtenaw County is focusing on removing barriers and increasing access so all people have the opportunity to thrive.
To that end, we are inviting the whole community to join us on a 21-Day Equity Challenge kicking-off on Jan 6.  Participation in an activity like this helps us to discover how racial injustice and social injustice impact our systems, to connect with one another, to identify ways to dismantle racism and become better leaders for a more just, equitable community.  Sign-up online now: uwgive.org/equityor by texting UWWCEQUITY" to 22828.

In 2017, we committed to equity as a core value and practice to advance our mission.  We define equity as the presence of justice and fairness within our procedures, processes, and distribution of resources.

In all our roles we will consciously work to eliminate injustice and inequity.  We aspire to live in a community where:

  • Community members seek understanding and awareness using their own power and privilege and actively working to end poverty in our County;
  • Your zip code no longer determines your opportunity in life;
  • The academic achievement gap is eliminated;
  • Everyone in our community has a home;
  • Life expectancy is the same across all populations and communities in our County;
  • Poverty is not generational.  If it exists, it is intermittent and brief;
  • Everyone in our County is able to thrive and meet their needs-- housing, food, transportation, education, health expenses, and childcare.

Right now in Washtenaw County, the data show:

  • The life expectancy of African-Americans is 13 years shorter than that of white residents, and it is 20 years shorter for Latinx folks. (Source: MDHHS)
  • The Infant Mortality Rate varies widely between white and black babies: black babies under one year still die at almost twice the rate of white babies in Washtenaw County.  (Source: MDHHS)
  • While Washtenaw County boasts an average graduation rate higher than the state average (87%), economically disadvantaged youth graduate at a significantly lower rate: 72% (Source: WACY 2015 report card)
  • Good social-emotional and mental health is a key component of children’s healthy development.  Poverty, trauma, and inadequate treatment are three factors that have been shown to have a sustained, negative impact on children’s social, emotional, and mental health.  Recent surveys of Washtenaw County students revealed that 29% of middle school students reported being bullied on school property in the past year, while 68% of African-American students witnessed in-school physical abuse. (Source: WACY 2017 report card)
  • More data about opportunity and equity in Washtenaw County can be found on the Washtenaw Opportunity Indexand Health for Allwebsites.

We invite you to join us on this journey, learn more about Equity: uwgive.org/equity

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— 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
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