As a freshman at Central Michigan University (CMU), Australyah Coleman wanted to find her place. This search led her to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the largest civil rights organization in the country.
“I heard about the NAACP in high school, but I was never really aware that I could be a part of it so when I found out that there was a chapter on campus I wanted to see what it's about,” says Coleman, who is originally from Grand Rapids. “The organization is built on activism, so the councils, college chapters, youth councils, and the adult branches that are in your area are the people that are really doing the work. You're writing the pieces of legislation, doing the community service, and essentially the face of the organization in your area.”
Coleman served as president of CMU’s NAACP chapter during her time as a student. She helped further many initiatives such as assisting with the development of an online diversity training program for incoming students, coordinating a water drive to bring 16,000 liters of water to Flint, and working to help address food insecurity on campus.
Coleman was recognized for her efforts at the NAACP Image Awards in 2019 when she received the Organizer of the Year Award for Region 3 and again in 2020 when she received the first-ever Youth Activist of the Year Award.
“It was a collective effort, it was never anything that I did by myself,” says Coleman. “When I won the Organizer of the Year Award, it was more so that my chapter won those awards.”
She graduated from CMU in November with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in political science. She is considering whether to continue her education in psychology or pursue law school to become a defense attorney.
“We don't always have somebody that's willing to fight for you and there are people that are wrongfully convicted,” says Coleman. “Sometimes that falls on the fact that their attorney didn't spend that extra 10 minutes getting to know that person or looking further into it. So now there's somebody sitting in prison for 25 years when they really shouldn't be in there at all.”
She says that one of her primary goals for this upcoming year is to mentor new community leaders.
“It's not something that I was able to commit my time to while I was in school,” says Coleman. “What that would look like is finding people that are already passionate about the cause, want to be involved, and then working with the qualities and skills that they possess.”
Coleman is continuing her work through the NAACP and currently serves as vice president for the Michigan NAACP Youth and College Division.
Coleman says that a great way for community members to show solidarity is to get involved and participate in events such as CMU’s Martin Luther King Jr. Week held each year in January.
“It would be amazing to see people that live in Mt. Pleasant that are not part of the college participating more in those events,” says Coleman. “Having that community presence and just people being there and showing their face in a way to say, ‘We support you.’”
To learn more about the NAACP or how to get involved, visit naacp.org.