It didn’t take long for others to begin recognizing her leadership potential. Soon after volunteering with Skillman, she was recruited to serve on the board of the community-based organization, the Brightmoor Alliance. Later, she began working as a lead organizer and researcher for the grassroots education group, 482Forward.
There, she learned of the Community Leadership Program at Henry Ford College from the group’s Executive Director. “I’d been doing a lot of community work by the time I enrolled in the program,” she said. “But I didn’t have a degree, and wanted to get some more training.”
Dawn, who is currently in her third semester, said she didn’t know what studying “community change” meant at first. “I’d been doing this work already so it seemed to me like community change is something you do, not go to school for.”
She quickly learned, however, that CLP-affiliated programs are not typical of many other areas of study. “Each day is different,” she said. “The classes introduce new concepts, and new ways of looking at things.”
In her first semester, she enrolled in Professor Robert Yarhmatter’s “Introduction to Community Leadership” course. Though she had already been working as an organizer, she said the course “opened her eyes” to new skills — like different ways to move different types of people to take action. “I have three teams of people I work with in my jobs,” she explained. “They’re all so different, but I’d been approaching them all in the same way — you need to recognize what is going to move one person to do something isn’t going to work on someone else.”
She also took a field trip as part of her coursework to hear Ruby Bridges speak, who at the age of six became the first African American student to integrate an elementary school in the South. “Having the opportunity to listen to her was so incredible,” Dawn said. “I realized it could have been one of my aunties up there talking, who went through the same stuff. What she went through wasn’t all that long ago.”