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  • Great Lakes Urban

Organizing for Change: Meet Jonna Johnson

Jonna Johnson is an organizer and connector focused on the West of Washington (WOW) initiative through Great Lakes Urban. WOW describes a geography in Holland, MI that is bounded by 32nd to 48th St. (north-south) and Ottawa to Washington Ave. (West-East). We recently caught up with Jonna to learn from her about the work of cultivating connection and change.

You've been empowering people for some time. How'd it start and what keeps you going?

I attended an independent elementary school where they prioritized participatory citizenship. Learning to be the change we want to see in the world was at least as important as learning math skills. Active citizenship was instilled early. Supporting a healthy planet through healthy communities is very important to me. My specific journey has been shaped by both what I find most healing and what I believe are the roots of thriving for all earthlings: mutual aid, healing, justice, cooperation, camaraderie, listening, compassion, and community nourish me personally, and hopefully my work encourages healthy systems beyond me.

What is your favorite story from the work?

I'll share a recent favorite. I arrived at the weekly food distribution program at Meadow Lanes Townhomes, a program that's been around for a number of years, coordinated by Henry Cherry of I Am Academy and the Meadow Lanes crew. Just recently, when I arrived, as I was greeting and being greeted by familiar faces, I felt a deep sense of calm and connectedness. I felt community. Centered in abundance and compassion we come together to be in relationship and share. My head and heart noted this moment, where community seemed to have coalesced within and around this program. Then, a couple weeks later, Brad Hieftje (of Resilience: Advocates for Ending Violence), new to the space, said to me, "this looks like a great program." I agreed. He continued, "I'm seeing a lot of greetings and smiles. Conversations, hugs, connectedness, camaraderie." My heart grew three sizes. Yes, that is the crux of what makes this a great program. Connection is the ultimate point. I am truly pleased with the community that has formed at the food program, and the cherry on top is that this sense of community is so clear and overflowing that it's visible to an outside observer (a soon-to-be co-community member).

What advice would you give to someone wanting to cultivate connection and change?

What has worked for me is to be the champion that people often ask for, for themselves. I hear people say, "I started a group but no one showed up" or "we can't keep volunteers." I've found that rather than me starting another group, and trying to convince people to show up, I can be most helpful by finding a group that fits my personality or goals or values and be their "someone who shows up." I can cultivate connection and shape change by connecting myself to them, supporting them. My best advice is to do the work that genuinely heals you, because a) you deserve healing, b) odds are you'll stick with the work if it nourishes you, c) it's quite likely you're helping others heal by helping yourself, and d) you deserve to do healing work. We all do. What if our communities, and economic systems, were founded in healing work? Sounds like thriving to me!

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