MSU grad launches Muskegon Young Black Professionals to support community

When Jocelyn Hines, born and raised in Muskegon County, returned home from Michigan State University with her bachelor’s degree in social relations and policy, she was ready to put her degree to use and bring together a network of young professionals who could relate to her and her experiences as a person of color striving for more in her community.

Hines witnessed such a network of young professionals when she visited a friend in Detroit who invited her out to a rooftop brunch that consisted of a diverse group of young professionals socializing and networking with common goals of growing in their various fields and uplifting their communities. She knew she wanted to bring this camaraderie back to her community in Muskegon.

The Beginnings of MYBP

Hines, founder of the Muskegon Young Black Professionals (MYBP), immediately went to work putting together the group that serves as a primary resource for local black professionals.

“I was so inspired by that event, I made a Facebook post,” Hines explains, adding that her post to bring others together over breakfast to discuss creating this opportunity in Muskegon brought out six individuals. “I hand-selected some people I thought would be great to be our inaugural board, and we had our first social in April of 2017.”

This event, the first of many that MYBP would host to provide social and professional development opportunities to professionals of color, exceeded Hines’ expectations. She says more than 40 black professionals from West Michigan were in attendance, including some from Grand Rapids and surrounding areas.

After that first event, Hines established a more stable board, and the MYBP started getting together monthly with social networking events held every fourth Friday of the month. She says that MYBP, which has been a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization since December, also holds quarterly professional events, with topics such as entrepreneurship, financial literacy, and mental health.

Although no longer a membership organization, Hines says the emphasis will always be on black professionals ages 18 to 45, but the events and opportunities will be open to everyone.

The need for MYBP In the community

“Social networking was important to me when I was in college,” says Hines, saying it was important to get together to network and talk about experiences in the workplace.

Hines, a Muskegon Heights graduate, stresses the importance of being able to connect with other minorities like herself, from women to black professionals, to share their experiences and encourage one another to reach their goals.

Also, returning to her hometown to connect with individuals with the same mindset was crucial. “It is so easy to get into your same friendship groups when you are trying to grow professionally, so I thought we needed to establish that network of like-minded people so we could strive in excellence.”

Hines stresses that she loves her hometown, but there are challenges to navigating the professional spaces in Muskegon, causing many young black professionals to not return home to Muskegon or, once they have returned, to move away again for better opportunities.

“Muskegon needs to look deeply into that perspective of that – on how are we creating succession plans for professionals of color in our organizations, and how are we elevating and growing professionals of color and paying them the money they are worth so they can stay in our county.”

Hines says that she has heard the advice from others about “paying your dues to climb the ladder,” but says some have become stagnant in their careers trying to follow that advice. So she understands, and is open to, moving somewhere better with higher pay and more opportunities.

Coming from a service-oriented upbringing

Hines, who works full-time with the Community Foundation of Muskegon County as a community investment officer, just celebrated her five-year anniversary with the organization, where she leads diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives and has established grantmaking that reaches grassroots programs and organizations in the community beyond the traditional funding opportunities.

In March 2020, Hines developed the Community Empowerment Small Grant Program for the Community Foundation, which has reached over 40 organizations with grants up to $3K. She also is the co-adviser to the organization’s Youth Advisory Council.

Hines started young when it came to community service and giving back, being active with her church since childhood, Phillip Chapel A.M.E. Church. She credits her parents for her passion for service, adding that she remembers going to the polls with her parents growing up and volunteering in the community.

“My parents were service-oriented, so I went to college and was involved in service too,” Hines says, adding that when she first returned to Muskegon, only working part-time, she used her spare time to volunteer, which included participating in canvassing and voter registration efforts.

Hines, who just celebrated receiving her master’s degree in public administration from Grand Valley State University, knew service and working in this field was a great fit for her.

Hines has been nominated for several community honors and awards, including the Governor Service Award for United Way/The Lakeshore, Youth Volunteer for several organizations, The Future 15, the Young Feminist Award for the Progressive Women Democratic Caucus, and the “20 Under 30” for West Michigan Works.

A member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, Hines also is a co-founder and treasurer of the newly formed Muskegon Women in Formation Political Action Committee, which helps women of color get into office. She also is a board member for the Muskegon Civic Theater.

The Future of MYBP

Hines says that much of what the MYBP has hosted has been due to members' contributions, including financial donations, so the goal is to do more fundraising to accomplish more in the community. She also points out this year’s goal of MYBP creating a website that houses the resumes of professionals looking for job opportunities.

“We often get called upon by employers and community groups expressing difficulties in finding black professionals to serve on their teams and boards,” Hines explains. She says MYBP feels the solution is to provide a database of resumes for these employers and groups to search and request interviews. “It’s innovative in regard to listening to the community and providing a service,” Hines adds.

In reference to up-and-coming young professionals who are deciding if they want to come back home to Muskegon to begin their careers, Hines says Muskegon does offer some incentives, especially for those passionate about working in the nonprofit or manufacturing sectors. “We have a great ecosystem of nonprofit organizations – Muskegon is the hub for this,” she says.

Hines also adds that the cost of living in Muskegon is more reasonable in comparison to bigger cities, plus it has the benefit of the view and summer festivities, noting this community is just minutes away from a body of water that residents can easily enjoy.

In the end, Hines is hopeful about the future of Muskegon County and how organizations go about finding ways to attract and retain talent of color. 

“Case studies have shown that when you have a diverse staff, they flourish more than a monolithic community,” she says. “Implementation is still lacking, but people are more receptive and open to ideas. We have the resources to do it, we have the people who want to do it, and it’s something that needs to be implemented with our organizations.”

Read more articles by Shanika P. Carter.