In order to combat social injustice, it must be attacked at every angle in which it exists. It's not an “either-or” proposition, but more of a "this and that". It starts with education; it starts with awareness. Jendayi Nkenge is on her way to fighting a fight that is on our radar, from a perspective that maybe not be.
“I come from a very revolutionary family,” says Nkenge. Her smile is easy and her eyes are bright, but there’s a fiery passion that is apparent when the conversation transitions to her plans for the future. "Water is the most important aspect of our lives. I want to help our most vulnerable communities; communities like Flint and Detroit."
Nkenge graduated from Michigan State University (MSU) in May of 2020 receiving her degree in environmental studies and sustainability. Environmental science is among the least diverse fields of scientific study with less than 3% of the degrees across the nation coming from African American students. After changing her major from mechanical engineering to biomedical laboratory science, Nkenge was stuck. Not sure of which direction to go next, she called her aunt to help her figure out a strategy. The environmental studies degree kept her on a path to graduating in four years, but just as important, it was clear how she could help the people in her community.
During Nkenge’s junior year of college, she learned about We The People of Detroit (WPD) and fell in love with their mission and message of water being a human right. Nkenge was WPD’s first collegiate intern and was able to get the younger people excited about recycling. “Jendayi is intelligent and inviting. She made it cool to be Black and pro-green,” said Monica Lewis-Patrick, CEO, WPD. Additionally, Debra Taylor, CFO, WPD also an MSU alumnus, took pride in having a fellow Spartan participating in the We The Youth of Detroit program. Nkenge immediately took a leadership role and lead a group of students to show how pollution from the incinerators harm the city of Detroit, specifically the water. Interns at WPD experience Detroit from a historical perspective as well as grassroots organizing. They also were able to host two presidential candidates and had the opportunity to come up with questions for them.
"I used to think that fighting social injustice was marching and protesting only; it's much more than that. There’s more than one way to help the people,” Nkenge goes on to talk about the young people she has tried to lead towards a similar field of study. Many people want to help but are not sure where to begin. There needs to be marching and protests as well as a concerted effort to educate the community. Others should be working to get legislation passed. Jendayi Nkenge represents the present and the future. With the heart of an activist, coupled with an ever-broadening view of the world through an environmental science lens, Nkenge will be able to continue fighting injustices in a variety of ways. And the world is better because of it.