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Washtenaw United: Systemic Racism Underlined In Pandemic, But Opportunity And Optimism Abound

Nonprofit Enterprise at Work

The Washtenaw County Health Department recently released data regarding confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the county.  The data shows African-Americans have a disproportionately higher number of cases, despite representing a much smaller segment of the overall population.  On "Washtenaw United," WEMU's David Fair talks with Yodit Mesfin-Johnson, president and CEO of Nonprofit Enterprise at Work (NEW) and chair of the board of the United Way of Washtenaw County.  They discuss what the data reveals and what is being done to address the immediate and underlying issues. 

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.'


As President and Chief Executive Officer, Yodit stewards the organization’s bold vision, strategic direction and overall operations in partnership with our Board of Trustees and staff for Nonprofit Enterprise at Work (NEW), a Michigan based nonprofit 501 (c3) with offices in Detroit and Ann Arbor.  NEW offers capacity building and management support to charitable, education, municipal and healthcare organizations in southeast Michigan.  Yodit spends some of her time on the Organizational Development team as a consultant and trainer in areas of leadership development, non-profit management and governance, strategic planning and diversity and inclusion. 

Yodit has been addressing issues of diversity and social justice for nearly two decades first as an activist and more recently as a trainer, consultant, facilitator, and speaker.  Her extensive and varied background enables her to bring a range of skills and perspectives to meet the needs of her clients.  She has worked with numerous organizations, non-profit agencies, community groups, schools and Universities to create environments that allow all people to feel valued, to be treated fairly, and to work together productively. Recently, she has been facilitating groups for community members to explore race, racism and implicit bias.  As a champion for equity and social justice, she has coached and trained hundreds of corporate and nonprofit leaders throughout the country who are interested in advancing diversity, equity and inclusion in their organizations. 

In 2017, Yodit founded Black Men Read, an inclusive literacy initiative for elementary aged students in Washtenaw County that centers the experiences and stories of people from throughout African Diaspora.  She also serves as the chair of the United Way for Washtenaw County board and as an advisor to several local organizations, including We The People Opportunity Center



Washtenaw County Health Department Provides COVID-19 Data by Zip Code and Race

Nonprofit Enterprise at Work (NEW)


For nearly 100 years, United Way of Washtenaw County has been connecting people, resources and organizations together to create a thriving community for everyone.  We are monitoring developments of this global pandemic — particularly for families in vulnerable communities in Washtenaw County.  In our region, 39% of households struggle to meet their basic needs.  For many of these families, one small setback can lead to a major financial hardship.  A prolonged crisis like this can be catastrophic.  We’re committed to doing all we can to help those who need it most. 

Though the way we work may temporarily change, our commitment to the community will not.  United Way has responded to our community’s most pressing needs for nearly 100 years.  We will continue to be there to help in every way we can. 

Most importantly the COVID-19 Community Relief Fund will help ensure that there is financial support for individuals, families and community organizations. 

Our 2-1-1 helplineis still available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to answer calls from individuals in need.  Our community care advocates are also equipped with the information to help direct callers who are concerned about exposure, and we’re tracking that information to help with statewide data tracking.  We’re working with local public health departments to make sure we know the protocols they are putting in place and to ensure we are involved in any relevant conversations that are related to the community response should the risk level increase. 

We’re coordinating with food banks and schools to ensure that, whenever possible, families in need of food assistance can get the help they need.  

Lastly, we’re convening various groups of stakeholders to discuss immediate and long-term solutions.

As a community, we are all in this together.  This crisis affects everyone regardless of age, race, nationality or income.  When we stand together as a community, we are all stronger.

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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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