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Washtenaw United: Changing The Face Of Racial Leadership In Washtenaw County

Washtenaw United
David Fair
89.1 WEMU

Nonprofit Enterprise at Work (NEW) has made it its mission to get nonprofit organizations the help they need.  Their latest endeavor is the "Champions for Change" project, which intends to help achieve racial equity in leadership positions.  Two of NEW's representatives, Melvin Henley and Will Jones III, explain the program in detail in this week's "Washtenaw United" with WEMU's David Fair.

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.'



Melvin Henley

Credit Linkedin /
Melvin Henley

Melvin joined NEW in January 2018 as an Organizational Development Consultant.  In this role his work focuses on supporting non-profit boards, staff, and leadership through facilitation and training, assessment, strategic planning and on-site customized sessions.  Through NEW’s commitment to racial justice, Henley has worked to expand the diversity, equity and inclusive efforts of non-profits across Southeastern Michigan as well.  In the summer of 2019 Henley assisted with the development and launch of NEW’s Champions for Change program, a program aimed at changing the narrative on racial equity leadership across Washtenaw County.  He continues to play a critical role supporting the program design and delivery of the program that has now engaged over 500 people and counting.  Prior to joining NEW, Henley worked across the non-profit sector, nationally and internationally, for the past 8 years in various capacities ranging from development and grant writing to communications to program management.  Most recently, he managed and oversaw the visioning and engagement process for a UNESCO City of Design designation.  He has attended and presented at various conferences and gatherings across the US and abroad focused on leadership, the creative economy, and strategic collaborations.  Hailing from Chicago, Melvin holds a bachelor’s degree in public relations from Drake University (Des Moines, IA) and a master’s degree in arts and cultural management from Queen Margaret University (Edinburgh, UK).

Will Jones III

Credit Linkedin /
Will Jones III

As Relationship Manager, Will serves as a liaison between NEW’s key stakeholders and partners, like our peer clients, fellow capacity-building organizations, and generous contributors.  In support of NEW’s vision of “vibrant communities,” he strives to build multi-faceted relationships with the other people and organizations that make up the social sector ecosystem, believing that the complex challenges facing today’s nonprofits require collaborators in capacity-building to create bonds that transcend the transactional.  Having joined NEW as Program Coordinator in February of 2018, Will gained first-hand insight into the needs of other nonprofits and the ways in which our organization is positioned to help address them.  This experience has been vital in helping him foster connection and bring the people of the sector closer together in ways that help improve the impact of our work in the communities we serve.  Believing that relationships in today’s world often are built before people meet face-to-face, Will also manages the bulk of NEW’s marketing and social media communications, including our regularly distributed newsletter.  Will is a proud graduate of both Eastern Michigan and Michigan State Universities, having received his Master’s of Business Administration with a concentration in Entrepreneurship from EMU in 2019, and Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from MSU in 2011.  He currently resides in Ypsilanti with his wife and their two dogs. 


Nonprofit Enterprise at Work (NEW)

Champions for Change


In 2017, UWWC 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. 

UWWC recognizes that 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. 

Despite these compelling reasons for increased diversity and inclusion among nonprofit leadership, the social sector lacks straightforward, accessible pathways for people of color.  The Race to Lead report makes a strong argument that it is not lack of skills, education, or aspiration that is keeping people of color off of nonprofits and the executive leadership team; it is structural racism.  The system by which emerging leaders are nurtured, supported, and cultivated into these influential positions is self-perpetuating and limits the number of people of color elevating into these leadership positions. 

Here in Washtenaw County, the Leaders of Color (LOC) program seeks to disrupt this cycle and change the face of leadership in the nonprofit sector.  UWWC has invested multi-year funding to support the LOC program to help to flood Washtenaw County's leadership pipeline by identifying, cultivating, and investing in local leaders who come from communities/identity groups most impacted by racial inequity/systemic racism. By investing in these leaders of color, we envision a remarkable change in the cultures of the organizations they work and volunteer in.  By centering leaders from the communities most impacted by the barriers of structural racism in the cultural and policy shifts of said organizations --and surrounding them with allies willing to leverage their power and privilege in service to the shifts.  By 2030, we will contribute to measurable change in the disparate outcomes and circumstances of people of color in Washtenaw County.

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at

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