Westerville community forming WeRISE nonprofit focused on racial equity, inclusion, social justice

Marla K. Kuhlman
ThisWeek group

Several people in the Westerville community, encompassing the Westerville City School District, are uniting to launch a new nonprofit organization later this year called WeRISE: Westerville for Racial Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice Engagement.

Colleen Moidu, executive director of the Westerville Education Foundation, said the organization is in the process of being established and hopes to hire an executive director in April.  

Several people in the Westerville community organized a peaceful protest in the name of #BlackLivesMatter in front of the Westerville municipal building in June 2020.

“The unfortunate events of police brutality in 2020 have led to a historic coming together of key stakeholders in the greater Westerville area who are committed to doing the important work to defeat racism in the community,” Moidu said in a Jan. 12 newsrelease.

The challenges the community faces to eliminate racial inequities aren’t unique to Westerville, according to Kenneth L. Wright, Westerville City Council member and vice president for the Westerville Education Foundation. 

“The way in which we come together and respond as a community to eradicate racism and racial inequities is up to us,” he said.

WeRISE is being created with the purpose “to advance an antiracism agenda,” said Vashitta Johnson, who co-chairs the Westerville Black Parents Association.

Over the past two decades, numerous initiatives, programs and resources in the community have focused on this work originating from the Westerville Public Library, Westerville Area Chamber, Westerville City Schools, city of Westerville, Otterbein University and the MLK Legacy Project, Moidu said.

"Work for racial equity cannot happen in silos,” said John Comerford, Otterbein University president. “There are lots of organizations like Otterbein doing important work, but we will be able to accomplish so much more together." 

Moidu said funding would be held at the Columbus Foundation until WeRISE's nonprofit status is established.  

She said funding would come from sponsorships, grants and individual contributions.   

Anyone interested in becoming a founding supporter or sponsor of the organization should email Moidu at executivedirector@westervilleeducationfoundation.com or donate via bit.ly/RacialEquityWesterville.

Thirty community members have been selected to serve as a launch team, with strategic goals to establish the organization and to hire an executive director.  

Launch team members are meeting weekly to secure funding, select a board of directors and establish the process to hire an executive director, Moidu said.

Joining the launch team is Glennon Sweeney, senior research associate at the Ohio State University Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity.

“Without systemic changes in our suburban spaces, we will remain a deeply segregated society,” Sweeney said. “Suburbs play a special role in the creation of metropolitan inequality, and we will not achieve metropolitan equity without suburbs making changes. If you are not part of the change, you are part of the problem.”

Tiyi Morris, Westerville resident and associate professor of Ohio State's Department of African American and African Studies, said WeRISE will work with other community organizations to increase and support their racial-equity work; create connections among various organizations and institutions; push organizations and institutions to implement anti-racist practices and policies; and generate resources to advance this work.

Moidu said a major supporter and community fundraising-campaign announcement is expected in mid-February, and the announcement of an executive director likely will occur in the spring.

Those interested in supporting the effort are encouraged to submit their contact information at bit.ly/connectREOGW.

Business Inclusion and Opportunities Council

The Westerville Area Chamber announced the creation of a Business Inclusion and Opportunities Council on Jan. 21.

“Our chamber wants to help increase what D,E& I (diversity, equity and inclusion) looks like in our community,” Janet Tressler-Davis, chamber president and CEO, said in a news release. “We believe we can start within our organization through the engagement of the greater Westerville business community. We invited business owners and professionals of diverse cultures to join us for our first meeting to understand their interests and identify (how) a group like this could be of most value.” 

The mission for the council is to advance and foster an environment for diverse business owners and professionals to grow and foster productive business relationships, according to the release. 

The focus is through promoting inclusiveness among all businesses and to grow and foster relationships among businesses of multi-diverse cultures and government. 

Dr. Adedoyin Adetoro with Intervalmed Primary Care will serve as the committee chair. 

“It is a first-of-its-kind initiative that brings together Black entrepreneurs and professionals in and around Westerville by helping to build business relationships and an environment that will foster creativity, innovation and growth,” he said. “Our hope is that this initiative will create a positive and sustainable effect on the economy of Westerville and the Columbus metropolis. The council also believes that the inclusiveness that's been nurtured sends a message to aspiring minority businesses that Westerville is a great place to do business.” 

Some of the council’s focus will include recruiting and retaining business owners, developers, investors and professionals of diverse cultures to the greater Westerville area and the chamber. 

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla