Alumni Spotlight: Yodit Mesfin Johnson

Yodit Mesfin smiling
Yodit Mesfin smiling


Alumna Yodit Mesifin Johnson is blazing trails in the world of business, non-profit, and social justice. An activist and advocate for various causes, she has solidified her position as a trusted leader whose passion, dedication and commitment has made a difference in the community. Yodit's journey toward obtaining a college degree isn't much different than many EMU students. After attending a local community college, Yodit transferred to EMU, lived off campus and worked full time eventually earning a degree in Communications and Gender Studies.

Early on in her college career she was offered a position in a multinational corporation that not only allowed her to support herself when her mother (CaSandra Johnson, former EMU adjunct professor) became ill. It catalyzed her career and entrepreneurial pursuits. The position set Yodit up for several growth and leadership development opportunities including a national role in the company and leadership of a large team of people. She was on a trajectory to 'climb the corporate ladder.' Although the opportunity was a fruitful experience, the demands of the job also meant stints where she didn't take classes towards earning her degree. Working also got in the way of her passion for entrepreneurship. Ultimately, the decision to leave the company (and other values-aligned decisions she would make over the years) led her to one of the most important lessons of her life: do what you love and believe in and the resources and impact will follow

Mesfin Johnson actualized her dream of becoming President and CEO of Nonprofit Enterprise at Work (NEW) on January 1, 2020. She stewards the organization's bold vision, strategic direction and overall operations in partnership with the NEW's board of directors and staff. She is focused on delivering NEW's promise to inspire and equip mission-focused people, organizations and communities to realize their visions of a just and thriving society.

With a deep commitment to serving her community, prior to joining NEW Yodit led a statewide initiative for women entrepreneurs that focused on strengthening the entrepreneurial ecosystem by providing access to trusted guidance and capital in under-resourced communities throughout Michigan. She also started and grew several businesses and organizations and is passionate about economic opportunity as a tool of social justice.

The daughter of activists, human rights is in her DNA. Yodit has been working at the intersections of racial justice and liberatory practices for women and black, indigenous and other people of color most of her life. As a champion for social change, she believes there is no greater antidote for hate than love and liberation. She loves to and often leads dialog with individuals, organizations and communities of people who wish to explore anti-racist practices, racial justice and dismantling white supremacy within themselves, their organizations and communities. Her unique approach to this work has earned her trust and respect throughout the nation and globe. A former guest host on MSNBC affiliate WDIV-Detroit, she is frequently called upon as a trusted community voice.

Yodit is a proud alumnus of the prestigious Marshall Memorial Fellowship, and recent recipient of the Peace and Justice Honoree award given by the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice. She is recent past chair of the United Way of Washtenaw County board of directors and serves as a close advisor to We The People Opportunity Farm, an organization that provides training and development for those returning home from jail or prison.

For her son, Yodit founded Black Men Read, a community literacy initiative that centers around African American men and stories of the African diaspora as teaching and learning opportunities for the beloved children of her community. In her spare time she is actively trying to decolonize her mind through poetry, dance and a love of food and cooking; including drawing upon the ancestral practices and recipes of her Ethiopian elders.