Jonalu Johnstone — Chair
I’ve been an activist throughout my adult life, working with unions, political parties (Democratic and Green), and Unitarian Universalist, LGBTQ and feminist organizations. As an ordained minister, my role has often been prophetic, and sometimes, isolated. Discovering community organizing in VOICE (Voices Organized in Civic Engagement) in Oklahoma City a few years ago changed the way I approach this work. The relational nature of the work builds connections and helps me feel less alone, while building power and strategizing to create real change on the ground helps me feel effective. I’m excited by MAPJ’s commitment to focus on community organizing. The issues of living wage, racism in policing, and housing speak to both local and national priorities. I hope to see our members engaged and creating change in countless ways in our city in years to come.
Brandon Irwin – Operations, Grant Writer
I’m originally from upstate New York and moved to Manhattan, KS in 2012. Manhattan has treated me very well, but the longer that I’ve lived here the more I’ve learned that this community isn’t built for everyone. I routinely talk to people who face significant challenges in many domains of life – housing, healthcare, education, childcare, racism, discrimination, and wages . I believe everyone deserves equal opportunity to succeed and be healthy, but some people are systematically cut out of that opportunity. I joined MAPJ to change that. MAPJ’s new focus on local issues and community organizing gives me great hope for the future. There is no shortage of political and social battles to be fought right now, but I think taking care of business here at home is the best way to use our resources and make progress on issues that impact us and our families, friends, and neighbors as well as lasting social change.
Anne Cowan – Membership
I am a long time resident of Manhattan, originally from Western NY. I am a retired Physical Therapist who did not become a social activist until I was forty years old. In 1984 I discovered The Manhattan Alliance for Central America (MACA) which gave me opportunities to learn about and be active on the justice issues in Nicaragua and the connection to US foreign policy. I have been active ever since, seeing many changes in the needs and opportunities to work for justice. I am now active in the GI Rights Hotline and the MAPJ sister city in El Salvador. Activism in MAPJ has changed as conditions changed and I have seen MACA become MAPJ and have seen that it has had the ability to change with the needs. I am anxious to see what MAPJ can accomplish with our new focus on local issues. I have confidence that MAPJ will continue to be an important voice in Manhattan and that our membership has the power to make change a reality.
Larry Weaver – Treasurer
How can any of us justify living in such a privileged position in the world in general and in our society in particular? We can’t, as far as I can see. In order to live with myself I think I’ve got to be doing SOMETHING toward solving problems in our society. A big problem in Manhattan is the large number (around 300) of kids in our schools who do not have a settled place to live because their parents can’t afford suitable housing. MAPJ is working on improving the housing situation in Manhattan, and the more folks we have supporting MAPJ on this issue the more likely is a solution, or at least an amelioration, of this social ill. This project and others that MAPJ is addressing make me happy to be “doing something” as MAPJ treasurer. We can’t create this change without our membership. All hands on deck.
Cathy Bitikofer – Secretary
As the middle child of a Mennonite pastor’s family, I lived in four different states and 6 different municipalities before settling in Kansas after my college graduation. I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Art, and a Master’s Degree in Art Therapy, from Bethel College (N. Newton, KS) and Emporia (KS) State University. I’ve been a short order cook, camp cook, nurse’s aide, activities director, home based daycare provider, paraeducator, art teacher, and am now employed as an emergency substitute in three local districts. I learned a lot about minimum wage jobs and the challenges of being parents in the workplace through these jobs.
I felt called to MAPJ literally by being “called” (asked). Jesus says that whatever is done to “the least of these” is as to him. Following that “call” is a central aspect of my life. I see MAPJ’s mission as a whole and holy endeavor in not only calling out unjust systems, but working with those affected to empower us all to work together for a more just and healthy world. I believe any community can be involved in the process of organizing and building, and I believe our community is no different. We just need the encouragement, tools, and training.
Alex Van Dyke – At Large
I moved to Manhattan in 2008 but wasn’t heavily involved in the community until 2017. That’s when I started doing shows at the Manhattan Arts Center. I found an amazing community and a passion I never knew I had: acting. Another one of my biggest passions is what draws me to MAPJ’s mission of community organizing: building a better future for my children their generation. Between organizing March for Our Lives, Moms Demand Action, and running for office, I have been finding different avenues in which to channel my frustrations with the world around me. MAPJ’s mission unites many of these fronts and shifts this action from mobilizing to organizing. I see a strong potential in Manhattan’s growth from this movement and I look forward to taking these ideals with me in any future endeavors.
Jess Preston Kerr- Community Organizing Leadership Development
I came to MHK by way of Chicago where I worked in community change and public education advocacy. I was extremely fortunate to work alongside incredible organizers throughout my time in the city, both with the Campaign to End the Death Penalty in IL and the Chicago Teachers Union, who taught me that another world is possible. Once you have been a part of a transformational change moment, you get a sense of the power of ordinary people to alter the structures, institutions, and policies of their community in service of the many rather than the few. I am called to work with MAPJ to cultivate a community organizing vision for MHK because I believe there is nothing permanent or natural about the pervasive issues we face in our community. We can make this space differently. The historical moment we are living in necessitates that we build both the imagination and possibility to move from the world as it is, to a world as it ought to be. Our job in the coming months is to develop the leadership and capacity to carry out a vision for more equitable community. This project starts with you- our MAPJ membership. As we grow together in this work, so does our ability to take on more issue campaigns- from safe/affordable housing and quality wages/working conditions to community solutions to racial bias in policing and protection of immigrants from ICE. The answer is us. We are stronger together.
Jonathan Cole – Community Organizer
I am from Wichita, Kansas, and currently studying mechanical engineering at Kansas State University. I am known on-campus as a vocal and outspoken advocate for inclusion, to the LGBTQ+ community, and to eliminating poverty. I am apart of the RESULTS REAL Change Fellowship Class of 2018-2019, where I learned how to engage decision makers in Washington as well as back home in Kansas through advocacy and direct action. I am thankful to have come from a privileged family, but since coming to K-State, my worldview has shifted dramatically. As a student, I constantly feel like I am living paycheck to paycheck, struggling to get by. The longer I lived in Manhattan, the more I learned that my situation and many like it are not isolated exclusively to students. I am excited to work with MAPJ on housing issues; so many people face injustices every day, and housing is one of the big areas where we can win the fight for a better tomorrow. One of my favorite quotes is from Hillel the Elder, that states: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?”