Ypsilanti Community Schools (YCS) will kick off a slate of Black History Month happenings with a Zoom event called "Just a Kid from Ypsi," featuring career professionals who grew up in Ypsilanti.
The program, set for 11:45 a.m. Feb. 3, is the brainchild of YCS marketing and communication coordinator Taryn Willis, who grew up in the Willow Run neighborhood of Ypsilanti Township. She says a few of the participants went to high school in other school districts but all of them grew up in Ypsi.
"There were all these people I knew personally and grew up with, mostly in the same neighborhood, that had cool careers," Willis says. "I thought it was something good to highlight for Black History Month, and something the kids could use."
Willis will serve as one of eight panelists. The other seven are professional chef Darrell Smith, social worker and entrepreneur Cherisa Allen, entrepreneur and radio host Reagan Sidney, education administrator Djeneba Cherif, global branding executive Erica Roberson-Peters, basketball coach Charles Ramsey, and Nycole Flynn Solutions owner Nycole Flynn.
Willis notes that the panelists will be able to speak to the history of the local school system, since some went to Ypsilanti High School while others are graduates of the now-defunct Willow Run School System. Several panelists remember the big rivalries between sports teams from both districts.
"The main idea is to highlight the Black excellence that came from the 48197 and 48198 ZIP codes," Willis says. "Some of us stayed here. Some of us left and explored other areas of the country, but they all do great things, and that ties back to growing up in the city of Ypsilanti."
Willis says it's "super cool" that she grew up with someone like Roberson-Peters, who ended up being profiled in Essence magazine as one of 15 Black women changing the beauty industry – and being in charge of branding beauty products that Willis uses herself.
Willis also notes that Cherif, while the youngest of the panelists, is a "smart, cool go-getter" who, with Willis and another YCS employee, started an Ypsilanti-based project called Girl Magic, which aims to empower middle school girls.
Willis says response to the event has been so positive that she may set up a second installment later in the month or even make it an ongoing series.
Another YCS event, scheduled for Feb. 8 and presented in partnership with the Ypsilanti Rotary Club, will highlight several African-American organizations. They include the historically Black "Divine Nine" Greek organizations, Jack and Jill Club of America, and The Links. That event will provide an opportunity to educate YCS students about scholarship opportunities.
Willis says she is also trying to firm up details of an event featuring a local Black scholar who has written about the Southside of Ypsilanti.
All events are free and open to the public. More details and links to the Zoom events will be available on YCS' website or Facebook.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo courtesy of Taryn Willis.