Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series.
BATTLE CREEK, MI — Boonikka Herring and her daughter, Khyrinn, are taking their commitment to elevating youth voices in the community to the next level with the founding of a consulting business.
In February 2023, Herring Consulting LLC
became official. On January 15, the mother-daughter duo partnered with the Education and Economic Justice Coalition (EEJC) to host an event called “Emergent Leaders Think Tank & Listening Session.” The event featured a panel of eight community youth leaders including Jenasia Morris, Battle Creek City Commissioner, Devon Wilson, Founder of Sunlight Gardens, and Vania Word, Chief Inspiration Officer with the Arts and Culture Collective of Battle Creek.
Herring, who works in Development and Fundraising with R.I.S.E. Corp. and is also a Racial Healing Coordinator with Battle Creek Truth and Racial Healing (BCTRHT), says panelists talked about ways to bridge the generation gap and what they envision for the future in front of an audience of about 30 older community members who were there to participate, listen, engage and network.
“I feel like that’s what’s missing in our community’s leadership and organization are those youth voices,” says Herring, who is 45 years old. She says she and her daughter, age 22, represent both ends of the current local leadership spectrum.
Boonikka Herring and daughter Khyrinn Herring
“A lot of our leadership is in the 55-plus age range and a lot of times we’re missing the youth voice because that’s what not what we’re actively seeking out,” she says. “Young people don’t feel accepted or included in these spaces. We’re making sure that we’re listening to our youth because they have great experiences. But, they’re made to feel uncomfortable which discourages them from fully participating.”
Herring, a former Battle Creek City Commissioner, says she thinks, “A lot of adults are scared of new things and ideas.” What they don’t realize is that these young people are “adults as well and they have ideas. The City’s lacking fresh ideas and support from adults, not our youth. I see the work that’s going on in the spaces my daughter and young people are taking up. We need to be asking what they need.”
Khyrinn Herring, co-founder of the consulting firm that bears her name and an Associate at Kay Jewelers, says a focus of any organization or business in the community should be on youth which for her encompasses any individual under the age of 30.
“You can’t talk about change and making change and not include youth,” she says. “We shouldn’t be allowed to have conversations about change for the future and not be youth-inclusive.”
Much of the focus of Herring Consulting is on community-driven, community leadership heavily weighted on a youth component so that all young people will know that their voices are being heard in safe spaces that are free of judgment. Boonikka Herring says this will give them platforms to have their voices and concerns heard.
“There is a professional youth development aspect,” he says. “There aren’t a lot of opportunities for youth to get professional development and youth leadership opportunities. We want to make some space for community engagement activities for youth.”
The consulting business’ future events include one highlighting voter registration to make sure young people know about the process and why local elections are important.
L.E. Johnson, founder of Education and Economic Justice Coalition
L.E. Johnson, founder of the EEJC, says he partnered with Herring Consulting on the January event because of their focus on raising voices that have traditionally been marginalized.
“The goal of our organization is to collectively advocate with the community to advance specific indicators of economics and education to get a higher percentage of our community experiencing economic mobility,” Johnson says.
“We partnered with Herring Consulting because for at least a decade Boonikka has been a really strong grassroots bridge builder and Khyrinn is of the age group we really want to engage. While a professional, she’s still grassroots and it’s important to partner with young people like her because of their passion to keep community-centered and advance equity overall.”
Khyrinn Herring became an active participant in these conversations from a young age. At a recent Youth Summit hosted by BCTRHT for the National Day of Racial Healing (NRDH), she shared her experiences as a youth leader working for racial equity
At one point on this journey, she had to stay out of school for one week while police investigated threats made to her on social media. She continued to use her voice.
“I was pushing against a whole system. It was a lot,” Herring says. “In high school, it was very isolating because I felt like I was the only one pushing for change.”
It wasn’t until she was an adult that she found support with other like-minded individuals and safe spaces where she felt like her voice was being heard.
“We have a very traditional community and people still think I’m young, I’m 42,” Johnson says. “It’s very hard to get Babyboomers who have made their way into leadership positions to share space and widen the table so I can only imagine how they feel about someone in their mid-20s wanting to have a seat at that table. My goal is to center and elevate those voices and become a bridge builder.”
Growth or stagnation
Younger people aren’t getting the support they need in the form of networking and resources to feel confident and encouraged to become the community’s next leaders, Boonikka Herring says.
“So many people are stuck in this mindset that only someone who has done this job for 40 years can do this job,” she says. “That’s discrimination and it’s not fair and I feel like it holds us all back. We can’t change what’s going on in this country but maybe we can impact what’s going on in Battle Creek.
Age is playing a key role in this year’s Presidential campaign and voters have been very vocal about this issue
The frontrunners, President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump are 81 and 77 respectively, and would be among the oldest men to ever serve as president if elected this fall.
Boonikka Herring this is a problem, but says her focus needs to remain on what’s happening locally that’s stopping young people from seeking opportunities professionally and personally within Battle Creek.
“We have a lack of job opportunities, affordable housing, access to fresh affordable food and entertainment options and this is what’s not keeping our young people here,” she says. “They have ideas and skills and we need to be listening and appreciating what they have to offer, otherwise, we don’t grow as a community. We need to work with these young people so they know they are a part of this community.”
Lifelong residents of Battle Creek, the mother-daughter duo credit their work as Facilitators and Racial Healing Practitioners with BCTRHT by giving them a skill set and tools to work from in their new business venture. In addition, they have each worked alongside teachers at various local schools, in addition to volunteering in the community with different nonprofits. Noticeably absent from this work has been a focus on finding those youth leaders.
“So we can sit together at the table and say, ‘I have this experience and skills. Let me teach you so you can grow that leadership ability and take it to the next level,” Boonikka Herring says. “Maybe we can all come to the same table and work together so we get the best of all generations to work together.”
As they plan more community engagement opportunities on their own and with community partners like the EEJC, the Herrings also are working to identify funding sources to establish a firm financial footing for their consulting business and participating in events to further their knowledge and expertise.
In April they will be traveling to Tulsa, OK., to attend the White Privilege Conference #WPC25 (Tulsa 2024) hosted by The Privilege Institute
(TPI). They received a five-year contract to participate in the conference as presenters and will be accompanied by four young people from Battle Creek interested in leadership.
“WPC is an annual dynamic, challenging, comprehensive, and collaborative experience. As has been our tradition for decades, we dive into the difficult concepts of privilege and oppression around race, gender, sexuality, class, disability, etc.,” according to information on the WPC website. “Through the exploration of their role in all systems (banking, health care, justice, education, etc.), we offer solutions and team-building strategies to work towards a more equitable world. We empower and equip individuals to work for equity and justice through self and social transformations.”
Khyrinn Herring attended her first WPC when she was 16 years old and a student at Lakeview High School. This year, she is one of the presenters at the WPC. Her first touch point with racial equity work was as a 14-year-old who became involved with the youth arm of Kellogg Community College’s Center for the former Diversity and Innovation Initiative.
“That was a pivotal point for me and when I developed a passion for youth and community work,” she says.
In 2025 or 2026, the Herring’s would like to host a similar conference to the one held in Tulsa in Battle Creek. Boonikka Herring says it would be a smaller-scale event.
“I feel like people in our area need to experience that,” she says. “I would love to see opportunities for young students and youth interested in leadership to have access to that training and increase their confidence through the same information shared at the national WPC conference.”
The consulting work that she and her mother have embarked on is very important to Khyrinn Herring.
“As part of a family I think about what our legacy will feel like,” she says. “It’s my life purpose not to leave a footprint for glory, but for those who come after me. I know I have a greater purpose and I can amplify voices for those who need to be heard and navigate channels for those who get lost. There needs to be someone to do that work and I want to be part of that effort that goes towards making a difference.”