Melvin Parson, Executive Director: Melvin (AKA Farmer Parson) has spent approximately 13 years of his life incarcerated, was homeless on 3 separate occasions and battled with substance abuse for many years. As such, he has experienced many of the challenges that come along with either being on parole or probation. While he was earning a BSW from Eastern Michigan University, in 2015 he co-founded a mentor program for men and women returning home from incarceration called A Brighter Way. That same year Melvin founded We The People Growers Association (WTPGA) and in 2018 founded a nonprofit organization, We The People Opportunity Farm (WTPOF). WTPOF’s vision centers around providing “soil changing” opportunities for both men and women returning home from incarceration. Melvin believes a main factor for people returning back to prison is a result of not being able to find meaningful employment or enrichment opportunities. One of Melvin’s goals is to provide a paid internship program for formerly incarcerated men and women, which will act as a springboard to future employment, continued education and meaningful strides towards caring about themselves, others and their community.
Paul Saginaw, Interim President: Paul co-founded Zingerman’s Delicatessen in 1982. It opened as 1300 square feet of combined restaurant and specialty food retail space, run solely by Paul, his partner Ari Weinzweig and two employees. The Zingerman’s Community of Businesses now has 23 partners, employs over 750 people and generates over $63 million in annual sales from 10 separate businesses. Paul believes that he is a living “proof of concept” that an average person can accomplish something pretty special if you create a vision of greatness and with your whole heart, give yourself over to it.
Mark Schrupp, Treasurer: Mark founded Schrupp Consulting, LLC, in 2015 to help public, private and non-profit entities achieve excellence in operations. Mark is a problem solver with a keen ability to find the root cause of inefficiency, poor performance and waste and develop innovative, sometimes radical, solutions to help organizations become high-performing and efficient. Mark is also a business and finance attorney, former high school teacher and served as Chief Operating Officer for Detroit Public Schools from 2010-2015.
Sharman Spieser, Secretary: Sharman is an independent consultant who is committed to using her experience as an adult education administrator and race dialogue facilitator to work for racial justice. A quote from Alice Walker expresses her intention: “To be active in the cause of the people and of the earth is to be alive.”
Yodit Mesfin-Johnson, Member: Yodit (she/her) has been working at the intersections of racial and gender justice with women and black, indigenous and other people of color for nearly two decades. She is President and CEO of Nonprofit Enterprise at Work and founder of Black Men Read; a reading program that uplifts Black men, all children and stories of the African Diaspora. Recently, she is facilitating dialogue with individuals, organizations and communities of people who wish to explore racial history to inform anti-racist practices and smashing dominant culture thinking. As a champion for equity and social change, she believes there is no greater antidote for hate than love and liberation. She resides in Ypsi with her family
Lisa Bartley, Member: Lisa is a licensed professional counselor with two decades of experience encouraging and guiding job seekers to overcome barriers to achieve and sustain career success. Currently, she is working for the State of Michigan as a Business Relations Consultant advocating for inclusive hiring and work cultures throughout her five-county region. Previously she served as a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor helping individuals with disabilities achieve career satisfaction.
Morghan Boydston, Member: Morghan has concentrated her academic and professional trajectory on creating, protecting, and guiding equitable spaces for those who identify with disenfranchised and oppressed populations. Her core topics of focus are: housing and homelessness, grant making and funding, senior support services, youth empowerment and self-efficacy, education training on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, as well as nonprofit strategic planning, marketing, community outreach, and networking. Via this body of work she places an emphasis on creating, maintaining, and facilitating processes for building equity.
Marly Spieser-Schneider, Farm Manager: Marly is a farmer, artist, teacher and hands-in-the dirt enthusiast. She grew up with parents who could make anything grow and absorbed basic knowledge as well as a deep and passionate appreciation for fresh food. Throughout the years she began to understand more fully the power of working communally and with the earth to build sustainable and socially conscious movements. She believes that food is medicine and that all should have control over their health. These firmly held beliefs lead her to a more intricate awareness of how much power and oppression is tied up in our food system. Reclaiming control over one's own food (and therefore health and self) is an act of liberation and empowerment and Marly considers this work foundational to moving beyond the systems of oppression in which we currently operate.