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Washtenaw United: UWWC Hosting Online Forum To Address Racism, Poverty, And Trauma

Ebony Robinson
United Way of Washtenaw County

To overcome inequity and injustice, there are systemic issues that must be remedied. Part of what it takes is adequately addressing racism, poverty, and trauma, particularly in communities of color. Those individual and collective issues will be the subject of a virtual forum this week. WEMU's David Fair spoke with a member of the team sponsoring the event. United Way of Washtenaw County's director of corporate giving, Ebony Robinson, discusses how these issues are impacting the entirety of the county, what is being done about it, and where we go from here. 

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.'




In her role at the United Way of Washtenaw County, Ebony implements the annual workplace giving campaign plan and timetable, develops and deploys year-round communications plan and organization-wide strategy, and other collaborative initiatives. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and a Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership


UWWC Community Townhall: "Poverty, Racism, and Trauma"

UWWC Town Hall Registration


United Way of Washtenaw County (UWWC) recognizes that the strength and vitality of an entire community is tied to just and equitable access to resources and opportunities. 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 or 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.

 Equity is the foundation of our work, from our engagement with donors, to our investment of resources across neighborhoods in our community and in our interactions with the public. We define equity as the presence of justice and fairness within the procedures, processes, and distribution of resources by institutions or systems. We commit to equity as a core value and practice in order to advance our mission of connecting people, resources and organizations together to create a thriving community for everyone Our mission compels us to prioritize historically and systematically excluded or marginalized people. Focusing on race, ethnicity and socio-economic status, as well as other intersectional identities, is necessary to end the historical, social and systemic inequities that persist in our County.

David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and welcome to our weekly exploration of equity and opportunity in our community. I'm David Fair. And on Wednesday of this week, there's going to be an online town hall meeting aimed at addressing poverty, racism, and trauma. This town hall is being put forth by the United Way of Washtenaw County. And here to help us get some insight into the aspirations of this panel discussion and the longer term goals for our community is Ebony Robinson. She serves as director of Corporate Giving for our county's chapter of the United Way, which is our partner in this weekly feature called Washtenaw United. Thank you for the time, Ebony. 

Ebony Robinson: Thank you for having me, David. So great to hear your voice. 

David Fair: We talk a lot about equity and equality on Washtenaw United. And at its heart, that's what this week's town hall is all about. The other day someone asked me, "What's the difference between equity and equality?" How does the United Way make that distinction? 

Ebony Robinson: Thank you so much for that question. It's such a great one. And so, as we look and think about equality, equality is saying that we're treating everyone the same and not really recognizing the differences and barriers, whereas equity, what that does, it recognizes the differences. It recognizes the challenges. And they're trying to put some things in place so that we can address it. 

David Fair: From your perspective as an African-American woman, has lack of equity and equality inform how you view the world? 

Ebony Robinson: It does. It really does. Because, you know, I understand that, you know, I'm different, and I come into a place different. And so, it's so important because of who I am, that I'm getting to the place of equity as opposed to equality. 

David Fair: And through your life experience and you work at the United Way, have you found that in trying to overcome some of these challenges, there's a difference between how people of color and how white people look at equity and equality? 

Ebony Robinson: Yeah, I think there definitely are some differences. And I think because of, you know, experiences that we have. And so I think that's why it's so important and particularly with this community town hall, that we can be able to look at the lenses as a together so that we can be able to understand people's differences and how we can work together to overcome them. 

David Fair: Whether the perception of our differences are small or profound, finding ways to get everyone as close to working on the same page as possible is important. I think in the hearts and minds of most, there's a desire to work toward that end. When politics, corporate agendas, money and taxes get involved, that desire often gets convoluted. When these issues are humanized and individualized and we connect in that kind of one-on-one way, I believe the heart usually wins out. United Way's a huge organization nationwide, and here in Washtenaw County, the chapter has its fingers everywhere. What do you all do to create that more personal connection that actually drives change? 

Ebony Robinson: Yeah, and I think what's really key about United Way is that our mission is to connect people, resources, and organizations together to create a thriving community for everyone. And so, United Way wants to be that facilitator in our community, showing what is happening in our community, so that we all can see it come together and work towards a solution. 

David Fair: Washtenaw United continues on Eighty-Nine one WEMU. And we're talking with United Way of Washtenaw County's Ebony Robinson about an upcoming town hall meeting for the community on poverty, racism, and trauma. It will be on Wednesday of this week. And fair to say, Ebony, that those three topics that have individual components all their own are also very deeply connected? 

Ebony Robinson: Oh, yes, they are. We know poverty, racism, and trauma are three root causes that limit people's opportunities in Washtenaw County, and that, yes, they are interconnected and mutually reinforcing systemic factors in that that shape the world that we see today and in particularly our county.

David Fair: Who will be the panelists at the town hall?

Ebony Robinson: Yeah, I'm really excited. So, we have our moderator, Cryss Campbell, who is part of the Washtenaw County Racial Equity Office. Then our panelists are Morgan Boydston, human service manager of Office for Community Economic Development. Derrick Jackson, who is a director of community engagement with the Sheriff's office. And then Dr. Matthew Countryman, who is the professor at University of Michigan.

David Fair: Why were these specific people chosen? 

Ebony Robinson: These folks were chosen because they are local experts in our community. Morgan with her work in regards to poverty, Derrick Jackson with his work, how he's out in the community in regards to trauma, and Dr. Matthew Countryman as he does his work with history and race. He is an expert in systemic racism in our county and also in our country. 

David Fair: The idea is to drive conversation and enact change. Will this be exclusively a panel discussion, or will online participants be able to interact? 

Ebony Robinson: Yeah, well, the thing is, is that this is a start of a conversation. So, our panelists will be discussing. Our participants can engage online. And we're asking that people do engage, ask questions, get your input, so that we can continue this conversation and that we all can be a part of the solution. 

David Fair: I was just going to ask. I know there's going to be discussion of the issues that were charged with overcoming. So it will be a solution-oriented approach? 

Ebony Robinson: Yes, everything that we do is all about how can we get to the solution. But, of course, David, at first, we have to uncover what those issues are. So, at the beginning, we're showing, we're sharing what's happening in our community. And then we're going to get to that point where we all can say, "How can we be part, what are those solutions, and how can we work together?" 

David Fair: This is Eighty-Nine, one WEMU. We're talking with Ebony Robinson from the United Way of Washtenaw County about Wednesday's community town hall meeting on poverty, racism, and trauma. And beyond the town hall, Ebony, this is an event that speaks to the organization's stated vision for the future of Washtenaw County. Can you kind of encapsulize what that vision is? 

Ebony Robinson: Yeah, well, our vision is by 2030--so in nine short years--that we see individuals in our community thriving. You know, one of the big points that I always like to point out is that we want to see an equitable community where your opportunity is not limited, and every member reaches their full potential. And one point that I want to bring out is that your zip code no longer predicts your opportunity in life. So, wherever you live in Washtenaw County, we want to make sure that there is equity and that we all can thrive. 

David Fair: You know, over the past 60 years, we have seen slow and incremental changes toward a greater sense of equity. But let's be very clear. Injustice and inequity are still in abundance. For those that feel defeated or perhaps even hopeless, why is it you think in a relatively short period of time by 2030, we're suddenly going to overcome? 

Ebony Robinson: You know, I think that, you know, like you said, in nine short years, can we get there? And this still remains to be seen. But I tell you, with United Way and folks in our community and partners and collaborators and interrupters, there were all working hard to get there. Well, am I going to say, David, at 2030, that this is what is going to be? I truly hope so. But I think by us coming together now that we have a greater opportunity to be able to reach that vision.

David Fair: There is no question I hear the optimism in your voice, and at the heart of that is hope. How strongly is hope tied to activism and ultimately participation and then the change you're looking for? 

Ebony Robinson: I think it is so key. Hope is so important. You know, that's why we get up in the morning when you have a bad day the day before, because you hope that things are going to work out. And so, yes, hope is the key. And if we can have hope, that we can then get to the point where we can see change and we can meet all of the needs in our community. 

David Fair: What might you recommend, Ebony, for someone who is listening and looking to get more actively involved and working towards those longer term goals? 

Ebony Robinson: Yeah, I will say, number one is please register for our community town hall. Go to our website at uwgive dot org. I will also say look around where you are to see what you can do. It only takes one person. So, if it's doing something with your neighbor for your neighbor, start there, and then begin to galvanize your community. Also note, there's other organizations, people that are doing the work, be a part of the work. And then, you can again make sure that you're looking in your community. That's where we can start. But again, register for our town hall. uwgive dot org. We want for you to be a part of this as our community is striving towards equity. 

David Fair: Thank you so much for taking the time and talking with me today. I appreciate it, Ebony. 

Ebony Robinson: Thank you so much. 

David Fair: That is Ebony Robinson. She is director of corporate giving for the United Way of Washtenaw County. To find out more about Wednesday's Town Hall on poverty, racism, and trauma, go to our website at WEMU dot org, and we'll have all the links you need. And I have the directions for how you register. I'm David Fair, and I invite you to join us next Monday for another edition of Washtenaw United. This is 89 one WEMU FM and WEMU HD one Ypsilanti. 

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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 atdfair@emich.edu

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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