Humanity in Action is pleased to announce the 2021 recipients of its Detroit Grant Competition: Asha Shajahan, Adam Echelman, Hannah Wagner, and Ronald Norwood. Through the generous support of the RNR Foundation and Citizens Charitable Foundation, four projects which demonstrate our fellows unwavering commitment to equitable and accessible growth in the city of Detroit have been selected.
This year’s projects range in context and sector yet work to address health disparities through vaccine information, combat the digital divide through equitable internet access initiatives in Southwest Detroit, center bus riders in regional transit dialogue and create sustainable workforce development programs for those with barriers to traditional employment. The Detroit Grantees will work to complete their projects over the next 10 months and receive support from practitioners on the ground.
Asha Shajahan, MD, MHSA is a primary care physician, the Graduate Medical Education Director of Health Equity and Health Disparities at Beaumont Health and the Medical Director of Community Health at Beaumont Hospital, Grosse Pointe in the U.S. She serves as an associate professor at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine in the U.S. Asha completed a media and medicine program at Harvard University and a faculty fellowship in underserved populations at the University of California, San Diego. Her interest in health policy led her to intern for Carl Levin, a former United States Senator in Washington D.C. and Jennifer Granholm, a former Governor, for whom she worked to augment healthcare access for the uninsured.
Asha volunteers at several underserved and homeless clinics and non-profits in the Detroit area. She is an advisor on Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Implicit Bias Taskforce. As a podcaster, she believes in empowering people through the use of media. She co-hosts the award-winning healthcare podcast Beaumont HouseCall. She has written for several national news outlets, including the Huffington Post and USA Today. Asha has also been featured in the Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic and The Washington Post. She is a regular contributor to Michigan Bridge, Psychology Today, and American Kahani.
Her project focuses on dispelling medical misinformation by providing access to accurate vaccine information from educated professionals to those who need it most. In collaboration with local health systems and local health departments, Harvard Global Health, #ThisIsOurShot campaign, community leaders and members, Asha started to dispel misinformation, educate providers about disparities that exist in medicine, and continues to utilize media as a tool to meet people where they are by having compassionate vaccine conversations. This way, Asha helps to build trust back between healthcare providers and patients.
This project works to fight medical misinformation by supporting public health legislation and empowering the public on how to recognize misinformation and to provide healthcare workers with an educational guided toolkit called MisinfoRx on how to dispel misinformation and to address it with patients in a compassionate and non-judgmental manner. Asha is also part of the inaugural cohort of Landecker Democracy Fellows. You can learn more about her Landecker Action Project here.
Adam Echelman is the Executive Director of Libraries Without Borders USA, where he advocates for dynamic programs that increase access to information by meeting people where they are—whether through digital literacy classes in laundromats or health workshops in churches. In 2017, he launched the Legal Literacy Initiative at Libraries Without Borders to help public libraries deliver legal information to underserved communities across the United States. He has served as a Visiting Professor of Practice at John Jay College, where he co-taught a program on access to justice and legal information. Prior to Libraries Without Borders, Adam worked with asylum seekers and refugees at the Karnes Detention Center in Texas and in New Haven, Connecticut. He is a graduate of Yale University and a recipient of the Gordon Grand Fellowship. He loves studying languages, is fluent in French and Spanish, and speaks (rusty) Chinese. Adam is an avid hiker, an amateur but determined artist, and a lover of Hearts, Spades, and Euchre.
His project “(Re)telling the Story of Internet in Southwest Detroit ” works to further expand the narrative of the Equitable Internet Initiative through audiovisual interviews that reimagine the story of the digital divide. For this project, Adam has partnered with digital steward and trainer Nyasia Valdez. She is responsible for educating residents about internet technology and training community leaders to become “Digital Stewards,” taking ownership of their digital infrastructure. Undergirding her work is the notion that Detroit cannot and should not trust large telecommunications companies with the construction and maintenance of internet infrastructure. Most recent data shows that almost half of Detroit residents lack high-speed internet at home, and these figures are considerably higher in predominantly Black and Latinx neighborhoods. Instead, Valdez believes that residents should look to local connectivity solutions that avoid telecommunications companies altogether.
The goal of their collaborative project is to create a storytelling platform that chronicles the experiences of residents in southwest Detroit who have struggled with internet access and technology. This project will draw on a recent effort from Inside Southwest Detroit, which created a series of audio and photo interviews to describe the neighborhood’s struggle with clean air.
Adam is also a Landecker Democracy Fellow; you can learn about his Landecker Action Project, which also addresses the digital divide, here.
Hannah Wagner is an attorney and Humanity in Action Senior Fellow based in Detroit, Michigan. Her project, “Leveraging Rider Power: Rider Advocates of Detroit,” focuses on resource sharing and distribution, coalition building and is an ongoing collaborative effort. Public transit in metro-Detroit faces the deepest underinvestment and the greatest degree of regional fragmentation of any major metro area in the country.
In response, Motor City Freedom Riders is creating an advocacy corps of bus riders through a series of workshops focused on relational organizing and strategic campaigns. By working together to amplify the voices of everyday bus riders, this program aims to direct attention to the shortcomings of Detroit’s public transportation system and push for greater investments in service. The Motor City Freedom Riders believe that “transportation is freedom” and a robust public transit system helps to answer the challenges of climate change, economic mobility, racial segregation, disability justice, and the freedom to move. For more information please visit Motor City Freedom Riders. You can also donate online.
Ronald Norwood is a workforce development professional with demonstrated experience in the non-profit, municipal, community development, youth capacity building and social planning sectors. He participated in the 2019 Humanity in Action Detroit Fellowship and is affiliated with a number of organizations and community development initiatives. Further, he is a 2020 HIA Detroit Community Development Fellow. Through this Fellowship, Ronald worked with Zachary and Associates on a planning study and engagement effort for the “Bellevue Block,” an industrial site on Detroit’s East side. He is excited to now be a 2021 Detroit Grant recipient and will be working on the JumpStart Detroit project.
This project is a collaborative effort set towards eventually developing Detroit’s deteriorated single family housing stock and providing job opportunities and skill trades training to populations who experience typical barriers to employment. The team will be working on a feasibility study that understands the efficacy of the program and determines which neighborhoods are ripe for a pilot program as early as 2022. The goal is to create a multi-tiered strategy that provides financial lending services, connections to resources and the skilled trades and jump start development careers for women, Black, and Hispanic city builders.
Congratulations to Asha, Adam, Hannah, and Ronald! We look forward to updating you on the impact of their work over the next year!