An upcoming virtual event called "Just a Kid from Ypsilanti" will allow local youth to chat with professionals who grew up in the Ypsilanti area, ranging from a real estate agent who also serves on the board of education to a singer-songwriter.
The event, part of a Black History Month event series hosted by Ypsilanti Community Schools (YCS), will take place from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. Feb. 9 on Zoom. Taryn Willis, events and logistics specialist for YCS, will host the discussion.
The panelists will be artist Shannon Williams; singer-songwriter Kenyatta Rashon; massage therapist and stylist Kacey Stewart; chaplain the Rev. Wanjiku Kamuyu; real estate agent and YCS trustee Jeanice Townsend; entrepreneur Lynwood Powell; health equity advocate Brandon Denson; and restaurateur Gary Johnson.
Townsend had many challenges in childhood, including losing her mother at age 17 and entering the foster care system. But she says her best friend's parents took her in and have been encouraging her ever since, representing the community spirit that Ypsilanti is known for.
"Ypsilanti is one of those communities where everyone, no matter race, creed, color, or ethnicity, is considered family," Townsend says.
She went on to college and marriage, starting her career in banking and switching to real estate in late 2008. She ran for the YCS board in 2020 and lost, but later was appointed a trustee after a vacancy opened up. She says the board put her to work immediately.
"We're doing a lot of things behind the scenes to push the district forward," she says.
The message she hopes to convey to young people at the Feb. 9 event is that they are the authors of their own stories.
"I want to make sure that [the panelists] are providing positive role models and demonstrations of why it's so important to have an opportunity to do something great," she says. "Don't let anyone else write the narrative of who you are."
Rashon says she felt honored to be chosen for the event and says she's "in good company" with the other panelists. She knew since high school that she wanted to pursue music and other forms of art as a career. Rashon met a musician who fronted a band that needed a female lead singer, which launched her career. The men in the group helped mentor her in everything from how to lead a band to how to book gigs.
Rashon says she had laid the groundwork for her career, but she received a boost after recently participating in a local program for African-American musicians, the Amplify Fellowship
"It was a tremendous opportunity to network with people who are pretty prestigious in the area," she says. She adds that the album she released as part of the fellowship was "the best piece of art I've put out in a long time."
Rashon says she put in a lot of hard work in 2021 and expects to see the fruit of that labor in 2022. She hopes to be a role model to local youth.
"I'm doing it to show that it can be done," she says. "I want to motivate all young girls, whether in Ypsilanti or not, who are contemplating what to do with their life. They may not feel confident, but I'm showing that it can be done. You can do it."
Anyone interested in the program can find more information and the Zoom link here
. The event will also be broadcast as a Facebook Live event on the YCS Facebook page
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.