Kea Mathis l EJAM 2017 Fellow
Agitating for change

As a 2017 fellow, Kea Mathis had just moved to Michigan and wanted to be a civically engaged citizen. When she started the program, she thought about equity as a race issue because, as a Black woman, she had personally known and lived discrimination in that realm.

“I didn’t realize until EJAM that I was forgetting others’ equity.” Her eyes were open to the plight of different individuals who had experienced inequities: people who are minors or older citizens, or who are disabled or transgender. Within EJAM’s Michigan Economic Justice Fellowship, she was able to talk about everything and everyone as a whole, without eliminating anyone.

From that understanding, she bridged long-lasting relationships with other fellows, those she still reaches out to for advice, guidance, or just another perspective. To this day, they share resources and ideas – and genuinely care for each other, despite the different paths they’ve taken. Kea remains especially close with a former fellow working on environmental justice and another working with individuals with disabilities.

Through her job as an organizer at Detroit People’s Platform, where she also completed her fellowship practicum, Kea works with women and children. Sometimes she helps parents organize around quality early education or affordable housing. Other times, it might be around the use of public money and making sure it supports all members of the community.

The fellowship with EJAM gave Kea a better understanding of the depth of layers that encompass justice work and policy change, be it knowing laws behind why people can’t access services or resources or identifying legislation that needs to be created to instill real change. “The fellowship helps you to think about how you make change at that policy level – change that will outlast you, transcend you.”

Kea’s experience with the fellowship has, in many ways, come full circle. She is in her second year of managing the EJAM fellows who are doing their practicum at Detroit People’s Platform. In this role, she is responsible for making sure they get a good experience from the EJAM Fellowship and from their practicum hours at DPP. She meets monthly with the fellows and monthly with other practicum managers. Kea is also a member of the Fellowship Curriculum Design Team.

Having experienced the fellowship herself, she offers a unique perspective for current fellows. “The training I received through EJAM has allowed me to be more specific, strategic, and empathetic to what the participants need to be successful. I really like that.”

While her leadership role with the fellows has been fulfilling, she leads in all aspects of her professional life. And the key to being an effective leader for Kea is knowing how to agitate people toward change. Her current work focuses on helping women and children organize.

For example, she has helped parents organize around early childhood education and housing concerns and assisted community groups in having a voice in how public money is expended in Detroit.

“I know in the city, we’re used to looking at a problem and trying to resolve it as we see it. As a leader, I have to be able to agitate people and their sense of reality by getting them to think of why is that injustice is there and what’s causing it.”