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Washtenaw United: Reflections On The UWWC's 21-Day Equity Challenge

Washtenaw United
David Fair
89.1 WEMU

The United Way of Washtenaw County's 21-Day Equity Challenge is at an end.  For this week's "Washtenaw United," WEMU's David Fair welcomes three guests who reflected on their participation in the challenge, what they learned individually, and how they can carry the message forward.  A Brighter Way executive director Aaron Suganuma, Building Matters Ann Arbor executive director Jessica A.S. Letaw, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Washtenaw County enrollment coordinator Capri Ervin.

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.'


Aaron Suganuma
Credit A Brighter Way / abrighterway.org
Aaron Suganuma

Aaron Suganuma

Aaron Suganuma is Executive Director at A Brighter Way, a mentoring and social support program for men and women returning to Washtenaw County from incarceration.  He has worked as a substance abuse counselor in residential, outpatient, and prison-based settings.  He is actively engaged in direct service and advocacy efforts related to criminal justice.  He holds a master’s degree in social work from Eastern Michigan University and completed his associate’s degree while serving 4.5 years in prison.

Jessica Letaw
Credit Building Matters Ann Arbor / buildingmattersannarbor.org
Jessica A.S. Letaw

Jessica A.S. Letaw

Jessica is the executive director of Building Matters Ann Arbor, an organization dedicated to exploration, education, and advocacy around a future for our city that is more beautiful, diverse, equitable, and sustainable.  Jess also works for the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, is a member of the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Chamber of Commerce Policy Committee, and founder of the local housing advocacy group Ann Arbor YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard).  Past projects include consulting on the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum's "Towards Net Zero" Building in a Building exhibit update and serving on the Ecology Center's Development and Communications Committee.  Committed to community organizing around housing, affordability, and accessibility, Jess believes that a thriving community is one that works well for everyone.

Capri Ervin
Credit Big Brothers Big Sisters of Washtenaw County / bbbswashtenaw.org
Capri Ervin

Capri Ervin

Capri Ervin currently serves as a Mentor Coordinator: Enrollment.  Capri is a proud graduate from the Detroit Public School System (currently DCS) and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Michigan.  Prior to joining Big Brothers Big Sisters of Washtenaw County, she worked as a Teacher's Assistant atScarlett Middle Schooland as Program Manager at Girls Group.  She is passionate about bringing people together, encouraging others and building relationships which is the motivation behind everything she does.  Capri hopes to one day become a life coach and help other companies expand their youth programming skills.  When she is not working she enjoys reading, encouraging others through writing, fashion, and music.  She is the co-founder of a local book club, business owner, blogger, and devout family member. 


A Brighter Way

Building Matters Ann Arbor

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Washtenaw County


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/equity or by texting UWWCEQUITY" to 22828. 

*The 21-Day Equity Challenge was designed by Food Solutions New England to replicate in communities throughout the country.

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 Index and 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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