A Q&A with LaKiya Thompson Jenkins, executive director of LINC UP
LaKiya Thompson Jenkins was appointed executive director of Grand Rapids-based LINC UP earlier this month after serving in various capacities at the nonprofit for the past 11 years, most recently as director of operations. Thompson Jenkins is a lifelong Grand Rapids resident, bringing a deep knowledge of the needs of its most disadvantaged communities. Those needs include an ongoing demand for equitable housing and employment opportunities, which are at the core of LINC UP’s mission. Thompson Jenkins recently discussed her priorities as the nonprofit launches its 2021-2013 strategic plan.
After being with LINC UP for more than a decade, how have the organization’s strategies changed over that time?
Our values have remained the same and our mission has remained the same. However, the strategies that we have utilized to create equitable communities have kind of shifted. Historically, we have taken a holistic approach, which is why you see us doing both affordable housing development and working on social issues like advocacy, community organizing, workforce development and wealth building. As we grow and figure out ways to really tap in with individuals with the greatest needs, we’ve just gotten more innovative.
The main goal is moving equity into action, and really ensuring policies at the local level as well as policies on employment are perpetuating positive things and not negative ones as they’ve historically done.
What are the biggest barriers to creating those equitable communities?
Even if you put good people with positive and good intentions into bad systems, the system will always override folks’ intentions. A system has been created and perpetuated over the years that has gotten the results we’ve gotten. It is sometimes very difficult and takes a lot of time to dismantle those systems.
It’s about making (representatives) sure that they’re being intentional about the community’s needs. It’s not just providing resources, but diving deeper and finding out what brought us here and how we can change the outcomes we’re getting through the day-to-day decisions that the system is creating and making for us.
Can you provide details about LINC UP’s 2021-2023 strategic plan?
We’re really focusing on increasing our affordable housing and rental portfolio, increasing the number of affordable housing units for residents, and creating as many home ownership opportunities that we can so we understand homeownership as a wealth-building strategy. A lot of times, that’s the difference between the haves and the have-nots. We’re also looking to influence housing policy at both the city and state level.
When it comes to equity, it’s creating homeownership, reducing racial wealth gaps and working with employers on really gainful employment. It’s making sure residents understand they have power in numbers, their voice matters, and city and state officials represent them.
Where do you see needs from the business community and how it can help achieve broader equity goals?
The business community can be very intentional about supporting up-and-coming minority-owned businesses or minority entrepreneurs. One thing we see is that a lot of minority-owned businesses lack access to capital, getting to the market and really being able to build wealth in ways that can have a snowball effect to make change in their communities. Supporting those businesses is going to be crucial, and sharing best practices with those businesses is important.
It’s about really being advocates at those tables when it comes to financial institutions and understanding the business community is a great wealth-building community. It historically has not heavily included businesses of color to the extent we’d like to see here locally. If the business community can really be an advocate and supporter and just really share their capacity with up-and-coming entrepreneurs of color, it would make a huge difference in how we create access and spread wealth in this community.
Interview conducted and condensed by Andy Balaskovitz.
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