The Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership (ACSJL) at Kalamazoo College has named four Southwest Michigan social justice activists to its inaugural ACSJL Regional Fellowship Program. The four Regional Fellows – Lolita Moss, Fernando Ospina, Jacob Pinney-Johnson, and Janai Travis – will serve in their fellowships through June 2016. They will receive funding, training, and mentoring through the ACSJL.
According to ACSJL Executive Director Mia Henry, the Regional Fellowship Program aims to build the leadership capacity of emerging and veteran social justice leaders that work and reside within the nine-county Southwest Michigan region.
“The fellowships are designed to support participants in clarifying their core values, increase their effectiveness and bring a stronger social justice focus to their work,” said Henry. “We hope the program also helps to strengthen the existing network of social justice leaders in the region.”
The new ACSJL Fellows were selected via a competitive application process. All work with nonprofit organizations on projects addressing issues such as black infant mortality, media literacy in marginalized communities, use of performance art to effect social change, and leadership development and community organizing among young people.
“I was ecstatic when I found out my project had been selected for the Regional Fellowship,” said Lolita Moss. “I have been searching for a way to lend my interest and expertise to the current fight for social justice. I’m very grateful and feel very fortunate that we have the Arcus Center right here in Kalamazoo.”
Fellows will be expected to implement or further develop a project in their local organization and community. They will also attend leadership retreats with other fellows and leadership training and coaching sessions with the ACSJL or a partner organization. They may also engage with Kalamazoo College students in a class, with a student organization, and through the College’s Center for Career and Professional Development.
Brief bios and project descriptions for each ACSJL Regional Fellow follow. Applications for the 2016-2017 Regional Fellowship will be available in May 2016. For more details, contact: Mia Henry, firstname.lastname@example.org or 269-337-7398.
The Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership (www.kzoo.edu/socialjustice) was launched in 2009 with support from the Arcus Foundation (www.arcusfoundation.org), including a $23 million endowment grant in January 2012. The ACSJL’s mission is to develop new leaders and sustain existing leaders in the field of human rights and social justice, which in turn, supports Kalamazoo College’s mission to prepare its graduates to better understand, live successfully within, and provide enlightened leadership to a richly diverse and increasingly complex world.
Lolita Moss was born and raised in Kalamazoo, and received her B.A. degree from University of Michigan. Her professional background includes youth development work and developmental psychology research. She is a fierce advocate for media literacy and inclusive media representations.
Lolita’s project features the development of a curriculum that teaches critical media literacy to youth ages 12-18. The curriculum will be based on critical race and culture theory, which centers and affirms marginalized identities, specifically: people of color, women, trans, queer, disabled, and low-income communities. After the curriculum is developed, she will seek community partners for whom she can deliver the curriculum during summer 2016. Participants will gain an understanding of the media’s ability to impact one’s thoughts and behaviors. The primary goal of this project is to educate and empower youth from marginalized communities.
Fernando Ospina is an anti-racism organizer and trainer with Eliminating Racism and Claiming/Celebrating Equality (ERACCE). His professional training is in Conflict Resolution and Counseling Psychology. Fernando’s previous work has focused on violence prevention with court-mandated youth and adults as well as in research on courageous altruism.
Fernando’s project will focus on assisting the Kalamazoo Infant Mortality Community Action Initiative with designing and implementing strategies and activities to ensure the reduction of black infant mortality in Kalamazoo. In Kalamazoo, black infants are 4.5 times more likely to die than white infants. This fact is a direct consequence of systemic racism. In order to reduce this disparity, it is vital that those affected, and throughout the healthcare system in Kalamazoo, are knowledgeable of at least two things: 1) how racism contributes to disparities and 2) how to engage in systemic interventions to reduce disparities. Fernando’s organizing goals will be to help the initiative: 1) maintain focus on and increase awareness of how racism contributes to disparities; 2) approach the problem with a systemic lens and implement systemic responses; and 3) organize community and institutional support to address racial disparities like infant mortality through systemic, race conscious interventions.
Jacob Pinney-Johnson is a fourth generation Kalamazoo resident with a lineage of family members who have contributed to the uplifting of African Americans in Southwest Michigan. He is a recipient of the Kalamazoo Promise and holds a B.A. degree in social work with a minor in Holistic Health from Western Michigan University. With a focus on racial equity, social justice, health and wellness, and youth development, Jacob has experience organizing within institutions and on a grass-roots level. Jacob currently sits on the Board of Directors for Educating for Freedom in Schools and the Kalamazoo Farmers Market Advisory Board. He is also a member of the ERACCE Regional Organizing Team. Along with serving as the Assistant to the Director at SHARE (Society for History and Racial Equity), Jacob also works part-time as a coordinator for the Kalamazoo Farmers Market.
Jacob’s project, the Institute for New Leadership (INL or project X), is a leadership development and community organizing program for the rising generation in Kalamazoo. The program will work with a multicultural group of 10-15 young people, and will focus on building awareness about systems of oppression as well as organizing for justice and social change. The program will be based around studying resistance, social change, and re-imagining communities, and will culminate in a community-based event, a People’s Movement Assembly. INL is based on a vision of leadership that is inclusive and non-oppressive of any gender, ethnicity, class, education level, or identity.
Janai Travis has been engaged in the performing arts since the young age of eight years old and decided early on to make a career out of her passion. Thanks to the Kalamazoo Promise, Janai was the first generation to graduate from college earning a B.A. degree in theater performance from Western Michigan University. She finds her purpose rooted in serving youth in the community through arts, culture, and artistry. For the past five years, Janai has been instrumental in the Freedom Schools movement. She currently holds the position of coordinating program director with Educating for Freedom in Schools. Janai is also one of the co-founders of the Black Arts and Cultural Center’s Face Off Theater Company.
Janai’s project, Activism and Artistry for Youth Initiative, explores the impact artistry can have in society as it relates to activism and demonstration. Youth will have the opportunity to express themselves while learning the artistic and rigorous technique of movement work. This Initiative is designed to merge service learning and authentic performance art in a way that is transformative. The objective is to create a piece that youth of color can use as a tool to combat injustices in our society. This project has the potential to set a new style of demonstration that will provoke substantial change.