Ypsilanti

Envisioning the future with four of Ypsi's young leaders

On the Ground Ypsilanti is hosting a free panel discussion on what's next for the community, featuring young leaders from Ypsi and Ypsi Township.

 

"Ypsi's Next Generation of Leaders" will be held July 18 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Off Center, 64 N. Huron St., next to Riverside Arts Center. The event, which is open to the public, will feature local artist Yen Azzaro as moderator and four young community leaders as panelists.

 

Djeneba "DJ" Cherif has served as an assistant principal at Ypsilanti Community Schools for the last two years. Graphic designer Jermaine Dickerson brings inclusive superhero-related events to the community through his organization Hero Nation. Morgan Foreman works with kids as a paraprofessional educator at Ypsilanti Community Middle School and a site coordinator for the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission's Summer Playground Program. Sculptor Elize Jekabson helped establish First Fridays Ypsilanti and cofounded Ypsi Alloy Studios.

 

To preview the upcoming discussion, we asked each of the panelists to share their thoughts about the changes that Ypsi's next generation of leaders can bring to the city and township. This is what they had to say.

 

(The following interviews have been edited for length and clarity.)

 

Jermaine Dickerson

Founder, Hero Nation

Ypsi resident since 2009

 

How can the younger generation address Ypsi's greatest challenges or problems in ways that older generations couldn't or didn't?

 

"Through the tools we have access to, such as social media. We’ve often seen how powerful that can be when utilized in a variety of different ways. It’s effective in spreading the word and it’s effective in creating a movement and bringing awareness to various issues that we would not normally be exposed to had we not had access to that sort of platform. For example, there are tons of world issues going on that I wouldn’t have been aware of if it weren’t for me being exposed to people from different countries and different places around the world that speak about their issues and speak about the things that they need help with. I don’t want to say that the attitudes are different or as people we’re more resilient than we were before. I think that we’re still just as resilient, we’re still just as firm, we’re still just as determined to bring forth change. The younger generations just express that differently, but the spirit is just the same."

 

How can the next generation of Ypsi leaders move the community forward in a way that respects and preserves the heritage of the city and its residents?

 

"I think it’s all about observing and listening, putting yourself in the position where you can absorb information and be less inclined to step in front of someone and instead step behind them so you can see how it is to walk in their shoes. I think that’s one of the first steps that anyone can take, even youth, to help move the city forward. But also not being afraid to be outspoken whenever you see injustices or other things that are oppressive. We’ve seen that with the marches and the protests at (Eastern Michigan University) and other places locally.

 

Even though some things may happen here, more than likely it’s connected to other cities or other places around the country. There’s a lot of solidarity and connectivity that’s happening, so if something is impacting something or someone else around the country, it’s more than likely going to impact you here. How can you prepare for that? How can you be aware? For example, Ypsilanti might not have the same issues Flint does with not having access to clean water, but I still think that the issue of accessibility to food or resources is still a big issue in a lot of places, including Ypsilanti. A lot of people don’t have access to certain foods, or good foods, or healthy foods, or things that every human should have access to."

 

What does your ideal Ypsi look like in five to 10 years?

 

"Rollercoasters everywhere? Well, maybe not that, but that’s a good question. I think that it’s really hard for me to answer that question because I’m thinking again about how everything is connected to the state of the country, and the world even. But ideally, I would hope that Ypsilanti is definitely a place where we’re already seeing this resurgence of creativity and this sort of creative artistic movement that’s been led by a variety of people. The Riverside Arts Center and other people are avid believers that there is a leadership voice here in Ypsilanti, a creative voice that we should definitely get behind, especially those of color or those who occupy various marginalized intersections. So I think maybe five years from now, we’ll see more of that.

 

I think now there are initiatives in place where people are actively trying to build bridges in the community, so maybe those might be more fruitful in five years or so from now. We might see more connection, we might see less obstacles or hindrances, especially when it comes to transportation or people being aware of certain things that are happening in the city or on campus. Maybe that will take five years. It may take more, it may take less. But I hope that those bridges that are currently trying to be built, that those platforms that are currently being established to make the city a better place, are in a much better place five years from now."

 

Morgan Foreman

Paraprofessional educator, Ypsilanti Middle School; site coordinator, Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation's Summer Playground Program

Ypsi Township resident since 1990

 

How can the younger generation address Ypsi's greatest challenges or problems in ways that older generations couldn't or didn't?

 

"I think the younger generation can address our problems with our understanding of technology. I think the way that we use technology, the way we research, and the way we think about things is unique compared to other generations. Of course every generation has their challenges, but I think that especially millennials have overcome a lot of challenges and are still overcoming a lot of challenges, given that we’re a lot poorer than the past two generations. We’re poorer than our parents, some of whom were born in the baby boomer generation. I think what we’ll do best is understand things that the prior generations didn’t do as well or couldn’t do, identify issues, and create solutions to eradicate issues. By using technology and teamwork, we can help bridge these gaps."

 

How can the next generation of Ypsi leaders move the community forward in a way that respects and preserves the heritage of the city and its residents?

 

"I think that if the young leaders in Ypsi really care about their town, they will respect what those who came before them have done. We will try to uphold legacies and try to create as much peace as possible, but also with the mutual respect and understanding that we’re trying to move this township and this city forward to where it could be. I think that it’s just a respect thing. But I definitely think that we are going to be able to help catapult a lot of change."

 

What does your ideal Ypsi look like in five to 10 years?

 

"In five to 10 years, my ideal Ypsi and Ypsi Township looks like a rising area to live in. I’d like to see an expansion of things to do for families and young people. Ypsi, of course, has Eastern Michigan (University) and it’s growing as well, but outside of that there are people who live here and are building families, like myself, and there’s not a whole lot to do. I would love to see the Michigan Avenue corridor flourish and grow with shops and restaurants and locally-owned businesses. The same goes for the Ecorse Road area. I’d like to see things renovated and refaced and updated and upgraded because I think that if the city and the township looked a little better, we could do a little better. I’ve been involved recently in some conversations about grants to bring things to different parks and do some more things and expand programs and things like that. So I’d just like to see an expansion of things that we already have, but with new, younger leadership in place to help grow it and sustain it and then pass the torch on to someone else."

 

Elize Jekabson

Program director, First Fridays Ypsilanti; coordinator, Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority

Ypsi resident since 2008

 

How can the younger generation address Ypsi's greatest challenges or problems in ways that older generations couldn't or didn't?

 

"I think the younger generations put a great value on collaboration, community, and partnerships. It's not easy to be in the creative field on your own, and realizing that others may have strengths that you might lack is important to create something even more beautiful than what you could on your own. When we were 'breaking into' the art scene in Ypsi, many of the older generation didn't seem to like what we were doing or how we were doing it. Some told us that every art walk attempt here in Ypsi has failed, so why bother. It was a negative energy that I am glad we ignored, and I hope the generation 'breaking into' the scene now do not feel that we treat them that way."

 

How can the next generation of Ypsi leaders move the community forward in a way that respects and preserves the heritage of the city and its residents?

 

"Listen to the community. If someone has concerns about what you're doing, engage and listen. Learn from it. Do better. First Fridays and especially Ypsi Pride would have never taken off if there was no community support."

 

What does your ideal Ypsi look like in five to 10 years?

 

"This is a tough question. How to make something ideal, but preserve what's great about it? To list a few: more public art by local artists (that get paid for their work), more accessibility and thoughtful design, more flowers, and less trash on the ground. Whatever it is, I hope we do things right and ideally, 10 years from now, Ypsi will be the entire community's ideal or a great collaboration of it – not just mine or yours."

 

Djeneba "DJ" Cherif

Assistant principal, Ypsilanti Community High School

Ypsi High grad, Washtenaw County resident since 2000

 

How can the younger generation address Ypsi's greatest challenges or problems in ways that older generations couldn't or didn't?

 

"I don’t think that the older generation can’t or didn’t. I just think that as time changed, the needs changed. I think that for the younger generation, we can basically just be a little more intentional and strategic about what supports are needed and what are the issues, without focusing on the issues so much, but really focusing on the solutions and being really asset-based. I think that collaboration is what’s essential. I think that’s one of my biggest struggles – 'Yes, you have a great idea, but no, I’m not listening to you because we’re not the same age and you haven’t lived life long enough to even know anything about anything.' I think that’s the biggest struggle."

 

How can the next generation of Ypsi leaders move the community forward in a way that respects and preserves the heritage of the city and its residents?

 

"I think just by operating with a sense of humility and knowing that we still have a lot to learn, but just taking a lot of risks – educated, conservative risks, but it being a risk nonetheless. I think that there’s a fear when new ideas come into play that something will be deleted, but I don’t necessarily think that’s the case. I think if we look at it from a place of it being enhanced or adjusted as necessary for the common good or the greater good, I think that we can definitely move forward and preserve the integrity of the community and the enriched history of the community, but still be very strategic in making sure that we’re moving forward and keeping up with trends and things that are happening now in this day and age."

 

What does your ideal Ypsi look like in five to 10 years?

 

"That’s a really good question. I just turned 29 years old as an assistant principal in the very high school that I graduated from about 10 or 11 years ago. I think in the next five to 10 years, I just want people to be open-minded. Just to be transparent, I struggled with people worrying about my age and me not having 20 or 30 years invested in the profession, questioning my ability or my credibility, rather than working with me so that we can do what’s best in the name of kids. I think if we work hard and work through things together, in five to 10 years Ypsi can be a place where we’re learning from what the older generation has put in and taking that and making our adjustment. The reality is that we’re going to be leading the baby boomers in a couple years. They’re going to be retired and they’re going to count on us to be the leaders that they need and lead their grandchildren and things of that sort, so they should have a vested interest in our success and in our learning. I think that’s very important."

 

Brianna Kelly is the project manager for On the Ground Ypsi and an Ypsilanti resident. She has worked for The Associated Press and has freelanced for The Detroit News and Crain's Detroit Business.


Photos by Doug Coombe.
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