Member Spotlight on Yah-Hanna Jenkins Leys, HYP's 2016 Equity Matters Award Winner
Name: Yah-Hanna Jenkins Leys
Job Title: Director of Development at the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Aliiance
What brought you to the Holland/Zeeland area? My husband. He grew up in Zeeland. We got engaged in 2012 while I was attending grad school in New York. We thought about living in NYC, but decided on West Michigan for a number of reasons that included cost of living, opportunities for career advancement, and family. Of course having several beaches 10 to 15 minutes away didn’t hurt one bit! (I’m an island girl!) We found an apartment in Holland during the summer of 2013, and that’s where we’ve been ever since!
How did you discover HYP? After about one year in the community, we started searching online for professional groups. I came across HYP, signed up, but did not attend an event until last year. While I intended to get involved right away, I was still at grad school and working a couple jobs. The first event I attended was at Butch’s, and while I had a great time, it wasn’t until I met a HYP board member at a Chamber event that I felt inspired to become more involved.
How did you become involved with Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance? While at GVSU, I took a grant writing class. The professor connected me with LEDA. I wrote a grant and fell in love with the organization. I was offered an internship, and upon graduating, I was offered a full-time position as the Director of Development.
Did you find your transition from intern to staff member to be difficult? Not really. As an intern, I was treated like an employee in that I attended meetings, represented LEDA at events, provided input that the team considered and helped influence decisions. I think the hardest part was recognizing that I would no longer be in school and that I’d be working as a full-time staff member, something I hadn’t done in about 7 years. I was afraid of getting bored, but thought that I’d have all the time in the world to volunteer and become more active in my community. The shocker came when I realized I didn’t have all the time in the world. It took me few months to catch my footing and find a rhythm. Once I did, I was able to have a clearer perspective of my role and all that I could accomplish.
What is the best part about working for LEDA? All the amazing people I get to work with—LEDA staff, community members, business leaders, activists, etc— who are committed to this community and to racial equity. It’s amazing some of the stories I hear regarding the changes that have taken place over the years and LEDA’s role in helping advance those changes. I am so inspired by the Holland/Zeeland area’s commitment to seeing that everyone has an opportunity to thrive here!
As the HYP Equity Matters Award winner would you mind sharing what equity means to you? Equity, to me, means a society where my (future) children will not be forced to convince people who they are not before they have a chance to define who they are. I am a part of a beautiful multi-racial multi-cultural family—every day I discover new things about myself and others. Diversity is beautiful; inclusion is breathtaking. I love the Holland/Zeeland area, and this is where I intend to grow my family. This is my home, and I am passionate about seeing how much more vibrant we can become.
What advice can you give young professionals who would like to make their work environments more diverse and inclusive? The first thing I would say is, “What you do matters!” - I know inclusion can seem like this huge task and that nothing we do, as individuals, can advance change. But we all have the ability to influence change.
- Start by becoming aware of your biases (we all have them) and how they might play out in interpersonal communication—do you make assumptions about your colleague’s abilities, interests, and/or personality based on race? If you have, maybe it’s time to start thinking about where these notions came from and work through them intentionally. Seek out opportunities to learn more about implicit bias. And as you learn, be willing to share with others.
- Build meaningful relationships with peers who might not look like you, and be intentional—it’s easy to find excuses such as “there aren’t any Black people around where I work”.
- Speak up if there is an apparent injustice taking place. Whether it’s at your grocery store or on Facebook, your voice matters!
- And finally, if you are at a point in your career where you have hiring, firing and delegating power, try as hard as you can to widen your pool of candidates, use data, and have clear (and as objective as possible) guidelines for decision making.