Mia Henry, executive director of the Arcus Center for Social Justice and Leadership, sat across from me surrounded by the dim lighting in the Book Club cafe. With a coffee in her hand, a smile on her face and a glow in her eyes, we chatted about her previous work experience and her hopes for the Arcus Center.
Henry has traveled throughout the United States during her personal and work life. She’s originally from Alabama, and she grew up in both Tennessee and Arkansas and she lived in Chicago for the past 15-years. “I was doing leadership development for community organizers in South LA, and Nashville, and Dayton, Ohio, and Albuquerque, New Mexico,” said Henry, “I loved all the places.”
Henry ran a nonprofit called the Chicago Freedom School. This school developed from the legacy of the Mississippi Freedom Schools—which originated from the 1964 Freedom Summer when civil rights organizations like SNCC and the NAACP were registering African Americans to vote. Henry worked heavily with the Chicago youth who were implementing social change, and she said Chicago Freedom School is “giving them the tools to address any issue they were most passionate about.”
The Freedom School required to operate from an anti-oppressive lens,” said Henry. “Social justice is about ensuring equality for all people regardless of their identities, period. You can’t pick and choose.” Henry plans to maintain this requirement during her role as Executive Director of the Arcus Center.
She came to Kalamazoo to fulfill the role of Executive Director, because the unique opportunity the Arcus center intrigued her. “There are centers on college campuses across the U.S. that address specific issues, but there aren’t any centers that address leadership specifically. Particularly, working with young people to help them find their voice,” said Henry.
Compared to Henry’s undergraduate education at Rutgers University, she believes social justice leadership at K will be more effective.
“Everything just felt like a drop in a large lake. The impact on the rest of the world can be more felt here. These huge universities become their own universe. Something special about K is that it’s intimate enough to have to depend on the community. We have no choice but to bring everyone in.”
With the Center opening and the Without Borders Conference coming to an end, Henry envisions the building to become a place for students, faculty, and community members alike to gather. “I want people to see the building and the work of the center to be a place where we all are intentionally trying to achieve, in design and action,” said Henry.
After the conference, her goal is to reach out to the campus and community. “I want to meet as many people on campus as possible.”