Edison Neighborhood

Empowering Women in Edison: Two women who help others find their own strengths

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Edison series.

Who better to empower women than women themselves? Two women directors of Edison-based nonprofits aim to do exactly that through means as varied as assistance with veterans' services and expunging misdemeanor or felony convictions to birthing support and teaching African drumming and dancing.

Pamela Jenkins, Intrepid Professional Women’s Network, Inc.

Pamela Jenkins, an Edison resident is Executive Director and Founder of Intrepid Professional Women Network, Inc., which has served over 100 women in its short three years. With offices in the Forest Street Professional Building, 417 Forest Street, Suite 230,  Intrepid’s mission is to mentor underserved and underrepresented women through free, relevant, accessible, and engaging programs. They cover issues such as holistic health, financial literacy, employment, women’s health and empowerment. 

Jenkins, who earned her bachelors and masters of Social Work from Western Michigan University, credits over 49 community partners for supporting Intrepid, including the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, WMU’s School of Social Work, and the City of Kalamazoo. Currently, Jenkins is studying for her Law School Admission Test (LSAT) so she can further her mission by providing free legal services to her clients, as well, as the educational, employment and paperwork assistance she provides.

Pamela Jenkins called her nonprofit Intrepid because it means fearless and daring. Photo by Fran DwightIn her own words:

“Twenty-seven years ago, I was left for dead. I was beaten and robbed at an ATM, spent three months in a coma and a year as a paraplegic. Afterward, I was diagnosed to be on a second-grade reading level. With the help of my three children and ex-husband and with the blessings of God, I’ve survived. But I had to start my life all over again.

“Six years ago I relocated to the Edison neighborhood. When I first moved to Kalamazoo, I lived in the Edison for a total of twelve years as a single mom to raise kids. I was able to purchase a home. And due to community partners and Western Michigan University Disability Services, I earned my master degree. 

“While I was in graduate school, I started having conversations with veteran women. I’m a military brat. My sister and brothers served. I didn’t serve, but I realized how hard it was when they came back to civilian life from military life. They didn’t have much help.

“Most programs are specifically for men. They’re lacking services to empower women. When I saw that, I knew I needed to do something. So I started my nonprofit. 

“I work with women ages 17 up to 72. My oldest lady was a nurse who ended up with a DUI about 30 years ago. She retired and wanted to come back out of retirement, but because that DUI was on her record, she had a felony. She didn’t even realize it until she tried to get a job. Women like her don’t know that if you have one misdemeanor or felony, you can have those expunged after 10 years. 

“When we imagine Kalamazoo, we still have to imagine veteran women and women who have convictions and want to re-enter the workforce and the community. We always talk about family and children. But we are not taking into consideration that there are women out here who are struggling when their children age out. They are not empowered, for whatever reason, and it is not in our place to judge.

“I called my nonprofit Intrepid because it means fearless and daring and that’s what we are as women. We’re not shrinking. We’re undaunted. I’m making a difference in my community, even if it’s baby steps. You don’t have to be in a sorority or part of a clique to understand what a sisterhood means.”

For more information about Intrepid and its programs, check the website here.

Kama Tai Mitchell, Executive Director, Rootead:

“It’s all good, even when it’s not.”  -- Kama Tai Mitchell’s motto, as posted on the Rootead website

Kama Tai Mitchell is the founder and executive director of Rootead (pronounced ROOT-ed), a nonprofit organization located in Jericho Town, 1501 Fulford. Rootead, whose mission is birthing justice and body awareness, offers doula services, birth education, workshops and classes on  African drum and diasporic dance, a youth dance company, yoga, movement classes, events and listening room concerts to Kalamazoo and its surrounding communities. 

Mitchell is certified as a doula (“a woman who serves” in Greek), a professional who provides emotional, physical and educational support to mothers and their partners before, during and after labor. In addition to running Rootead, Mitchell is also closely involved in Cradle Kalamazoo, a multi-agency community initiative led by YWCA Kalamazoo, dedicated to ending infant mortality in the county. Kalamazoo’s rate of deaths of babies of color is four-times higher than that of white babies. Mitchell seeks, through her work and organization, to empower women, especially of color, through movement, drumming, birth assistance,
 and body awareness.

In her own words:

“When I was pregnant with my youngest son, one of my cousins who owns a salon on West Main, asked me to come to her daughter’s birth. I did and that was a powerful experience, being in that space and helping to calm people. But I just kind of tucked it away because I was pregnant at the time.  I was already involved in the healing arts, such as massage therapy, yoga, reflexology.

“The summer my son turned 13, I began mentoring with a home birth midwife. Within three months, I went to seven births. I was like, yep, this I what I’m going to do. About the same time, my cousin (Heather Mitchell) and I were also part of an African dance and drum group called Dunuya, which performed around the Kalamazoo area. 

“In 2015, a group of us had a roundtable when someone came up with the idea of putting all of our interests together. We thought, if we’re going to be coming together for whatever reason, let’s just come together for all the reasons. In Africa, they don’t separate things. Everybody dances, everybody sings, everybody eats together.

“A lot of what we do springs from being rooted. So we thought, let’s call our nonprofit Rooted, but when we did a Google search, so many organizations popped up. We are huge tea lovers over here. So we added the ‘a’ and jumped high in the Google search. No one can compete with that, and it makes for a really cool looking logo. We formed Rootead and settled on our mission: birthing justice and body awareness. 

“Women before the beginning of time have been birthing babies. Birth is natural. The more in tune with nature you are, the more socially just you are. Whether that’s birth or whether you’re working with the environment, or the school to prison pipeline, if you go back to nature, you’re working with social justice.

“The community organizing I do is mostly around racial healing and desegregation and empowerment of women of color because 67 percent are at or below the poverty line in Kalamazoo. The health of our infants and children says a lot about the health of our community. So if I can’t get through to them through dance and arts, I will get through to them with birthing.

“There’s this way of being in American culture that everything is go, go go, hurry, hurry, hurry. When I’m at a birth, time stands still. It’s a surreal universe. The focus is just welcoming this new life to the earth side. I don’t think about food. I don’t think about what I have to do tomorrow. I’m so present in the moment. I like how that feels. 

“Our doulas undergo cultural competency training that covers English as a second language, as well as refugee needs, undocumented, and LGBTQ plus needs or wants in the birthing process in the hospital. It also trains to advocate for women of color because most of the hospitals are run by white people. Micro-aggressions can arise, and we want to prepare people for that.

“Most of what we do at Rootead arises organically. People hear about us by word of mouth. This summer we will be in collaboration with the Boys and Girls Club, and we are participating in June’s Washington Square Art Hop.

Rootead offers workshops and classes on African drum and diasporic dance. “Our plan in creating a nonprofit was to have sacred space for training, empowerments, workshops, and classes. A lot of the organizations that we want to collaborate with want us to come to them. Our roots are growing deeper into the community so we can have a further reach in terms of the evolution of the business and who we are.

“The original idea for Rootead was to bring back the village. We’re trying to create a space for connection and empowerment of women, especially women of color. Learning our roots takes place through a lot of our music. Rhythm is life, and having babies is part of the rhythm of life.”

For more information about Rootead or to see its available list of classes and services, check their website here.

Theresa Coty O'Neil is a Kalamazoo area freelance writer and English instructor at the Academically Talented Youth Program. Her articles have appeared in many local publications and her short stories have been published in Alaska Quarterly Review and West Branch, among others. She is the Project Editor for On the Ground Edison.

Southwest Michigan Second Wave’s “On the Ground Edison” series amplifies the voices of Edison Neighborhood residents. Over three months, Second Wave journalists will be embedded in the Edison Neighborhood to explore topics of importance to residents, business owners, and other members of the community. To reach the editor of this series, Theresa Coty-O’Neil, please email her here or contact Second Wave managing editor Kathy Jennings here

The On the Ground program is made possible by funding from the City of Kalamazoo, LISC, the Fetzer Institute, the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation, United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region, Michigan WORKS!, the Kalamazoo Community Foundation and the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo.

For more Edison coverage, please follow these links.
From a single scooter company to three buildings, Jericho Town grows in Edison
Let your voice be heard in Edison: IK2025
Liga Azteca de Futbol offers convenient sports option for Edison parents
Fire: Where teens find a safe place to learn about themselves and others with poetry
Edison: Where helping your neighbor is what people do and diversity is a matter of pride
Edison Voices: Geno Hinton in his own words
On the Ground Kalamazoo launches in the Edison Neighborhood
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