Alumni Accomplishments

Champion for Change

Michelle Davidson applies social work principles to activism and advocacy

Champion of Change

Photo Credit: Rob Hall

icon of a calendarSeptember 19, 2022

icon of a pencilBy Patrick Dunn

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Since 2019, Michelle Davidson, CAS ’18, has helped one nonprofit get off the ground and co-founded two others — and, she says, she’s “just getting started.”

The 41-year-old Eastpointe resident’s recent flurry of professional activity in the world of nonprofit policy and advocacy is the second major pivot in her career journey. She began as a medical assistant, but realized it wasn’t right for her. She found her true calling in social work. She graduated from OU with her Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) in 2018, and worked in social services at Macomb Community Action after she graduated. But politics had long been an interest of hers. She found an ideal professional role as operations coordinator for We the People Michigan (WTPMI), a social justice nonprofit organization that builds multi-racial coalitions to support working-class democracy.

“My values align with the organization’s values — believing in human dignity and that everyone has the same right to equality as well as recognizing our shared interests, challenges and destinies,” Davidson says.

She faced a major challenge when she started the job. WTPMI was in the process of spinning off from its fiduciary sponsor, Progress Michigan, to become an independent 501(c)(3). That meant Davidson had to build the organization’s policies, standards and structures from scratch. She says it’s been important to her to ensure that WTPMI staffers are uncommonly well supported in their work. For instance, when the COVID-19 pandemic began shortly after Davidson joined WTPMI, she and her colleagues established special stipends for employees who had children or needed new technology to work from home.

“That makes it much easier for you to go out in the community and fight for the same kind of equality that you’re receiving,” she says.

In addition to getting WTPMI up and running, Davidson also co-founded the nonprofit Metro Equity Collaborative (MEC) in 2019 and the Black Business Association of Macomb (BBAOM) in 2021. MEC has spearheaded equity initiatives including supporting an expungement fair and hosting an annual Macomb Celebration of Black Excellence Awards Dinner and Gala. That event includes a Black business vendor expo, the success of which prompted the formation of BBAOM to uplift, connect and enrich the county’s Black business owners.

The mother of two says, “It’s time for us to make sure we uplift the communities of color in Macomb County — giving them a voice to influence decisions and policy.”

Rhonda Powell has worked closely with Davidson on all these projects, first supervising her at Macomb Community Action; then recruiting Davidson to WTPMI (where Powell is now statewide operations director), and then co-founding MEC and BBAOM with Davidson. Powell describes Davidson as her “right arm.”

“She’s amazing,” Powell says. “She’s just thoroughly hands-on and always willing to do what needs to be done.”

Her OU BSW as well as her Master of Social Work from Wayne State University have been valuable in all of Davidson’s recent work. She says her social work background gives her an important understanding of the systems she’s working to change, and of her role as someone who works at the “macro” policy level to facilitate “micro” interpersonal work.

“There are so many avenues you have to use your social work degree in,” Davidson says. “And they’re so vast that you won’t be disappointed.”

Davidson says she identifies as an emerging leader and considers herself “far from being in the middle or at the top” of her professional journey. She’s open-minded about what the top of that journey could look like.

“I know the endgame I want to achieve — equality, empowerment for the community and a unified society where we don’t worry about skin pigmentation,” she says. “Wherever I am, it’s going to be in a place I can make those changes happen. I feel like I won’t be done until I see actual change take place on a grander level.”

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