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 – Vice Chair
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 – Community Organizing Education
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.
Shana Bender – Community Organizing Education
I am second-generation American of Holocaust survivors and my moral compass has always been driven by the desire to give voice to the unheard and speak up against the unjust. This is what drove me to the field of Special Education. I moved to MHK via Chicago in 2014 and the 2016 election shook me to my core. I decided to start living my teaching philosophy,, “Your Words Matter”. I spoke out against gun violence during Manhattan’s March for Our Lives, organized a vigil for detained migrants at the border (Lights for Liberty), am an active member of the Kansas National Teacher Association and serve as a board member for Girls on the Run of the Flint Hills. MAPJ’s mission has the power to unite people and help them recognize their own power to bring about change. As a teacher, I see the generosity and kindness of the Manhattan community, but I also see the low-wage jobs, food insecurity and lack of mental health resources that walk through our school doors everyday. There is so much potential to harness all the good in this community and channel it towards better outcomes for all.
Kevin Bryant – At large
A native New Yorker and forever a Jets fan, I am also a retired Sr. Non–Commissioned Officer from the US Army. My army experiences provided me a wealth of opportunities to interact with other cultures, as well as build leadership capacity and relationships with people from all walks of life. After retiring from the army, I completed the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Academy and served as a member of the Riley County Police Department for eleven years, performing duties as a patrol officer and instructor. I am a graduate of Manhattan Christian College’s LEAD program and also earned a degree in Computer Security from National American University. I am Co-Chair of the Manhattan Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Committee and a volunteer at the Helping Hands Program at the Douglass Center in Manhattan, KS. I am a history buff who enjoys understanding the past, so we can learn and grow from it! As part of the MAPJ board, I plan to do just that: draw on learned experiences and the lessons of those who have come before to make a difference in our community today.
Jess Preston Kerr- Community Organizing Education
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.