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Meet Mona Jenkins

Today we’d like to introduce you to Mona Jenkins. 

Hi Mona, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
I’ve always been active in the community since I was a child. My grandfather was one of the founding leaders of the Matthews-Dickey Boys and Girls Club in St. Louis, Missouri which meant we all volunteered in some capacity, whether at the Club or in the neighborhood. On Sundays, my job was to drop off meals that my grandmother prepared to some of the elders on their street. Knowing that many of their neighbors didn’t have families to regularly check on them, my role included doing a wellness check. I had no idea at the time that the conversations I was to have and report back were just that. I was too young to recognize this concept but when you grow up in communities that take care of one another, there is a mutual understanding. It’s the natural thing to do. 

The other six days of the week, I watched my mother work as a social worker for a school district during the day and serve as the go-to person on nights and weekends when people in the community needed support. My father owned his own real estate broker and appraisal company. When I reflect back on their roles in the community, providing mental health services and other assistance, and ensuring Black people were treated fairly in the housing market, I can honestly say I am their child! 

About 10 years ago, I decided to go back to school and completed my associates in Early Childhood Education and my bachelor’s in Psychology. I learned about a research technique called community-based participatory research where community members have an equal role in the process of addressing issues they experience. As a result, I decided to pursue my master’s in Education Studies for Social Change. 

During my time in graduate school, I became more active in the community. I served as one of the leaders of Black Lives Matter Cincinnati and began working as the Director of Development and Operations at the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition. Simultaneously, the neighborhood I was living in, Walnut Hills, lost their only grocery store which resulted in many residents struggling to access food. Many of my neighbors were already aware of the work I was doing throughout the city, so I was asked to help in addressing the reality that our community was now suffering from food apartheid. 

After holding many community engagement sessions to understand how my neighbors wanted to move forward and in learning that no other grocer wanted to come to Walnut Hills, we decided to start our own cooperative grocery store. While we proceed with establishing a brick-and-mortar store, we are actively ensuring residents have access to food either through a buyer’s club, where we purchase in bulk and pass the savings on to individuals and families, or we distribute free items that come directly from the network of Black farmers and growers in the city. We have expanded over the last year to not only serve Walnut Hills but other neighborhoods in the city that also suffer from food apartheid. 

Food and housing are basic necessities to simply exist. My goal is to work alongside with those who struggle to access these basic necessities to ensure they can eat and sleep in an affordable and save place. It’s not simply about providing band-aid solutions but to also work towards changing the policies and laws that have created these circumstances. Whether it’s marching in the streets or speaking in front of elected officials, I work every day to be a part of the change that needs to happen so that everyone can thrive and not just survive. 

We all face challenges, but looking back, would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
There is always pushback when you are trying to change how things have worked for decades, centuries. Developers are accustomed to coming into communities and building their projects without including the voices of the residents in the development process. The residents are the ones who are affected on a daily basis. They are the ones who have to look at the building; they are the ones who have to deal with the rising costs of rent or property taxes. They are the ones who are often displaced out of the neighborhood because of the project. It’s not right that individuals and families, many who have lived in the community for generations, are pushed out of the neighborhood because someone from the outside simply wants to make a profit. There are ways for both sides to benefit, but it requires communication and intention. Neither of which are difficult to do. 

I never expected the amount of pushback we are receiving for simply trying to establish a grocery store in the neighborhood. No one wanted to come 5 years ago, no matter how much we begged. Now that Walnut Hills is experiencing gentrification, outsiders are trying to move in with their concepts, ones that only serve a select group of residents in the neighborhood. Now there’s additional paperwork that needs to be completed, or prices have suddenly gone up. The beautiful part of this is that the residents see what’s happening and are now more determined than ever to make their store a reality. 

Anytime you are trying to eliminate racism, classism, ageism, or any other form of discrimination, there is always pushback from those who benefit from it. 

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
Most people consider me to be an activist, but I refer to myself as an engaged community member. I believe what I do is something that anyone can do; I simply have more time to do it. I am honored that people in the community trust me enough to call on me if they have a question or need anything. I may not always have the answers, but I’m willing to support them through their process and to connect them with others in the community who can assist. I see the work that I am doing as an ongoing journey of building relationships. I believe the more opportunities we have or even create to do so, the better understanding we have of one another. We learn to empathize and give grace; we learn that everyone has different experiences and therefore show up in spaces at various stages and at their own capacities. We learn to take care of one another. I am most proud of the fact that I am simply living in a way that my grandparents and parents raised me to be, naturally. I hope that I am continuing their legacy by passing on the many lessons they have taught me. 

Contact Info:

  • Website: www.cincihomeless.org
  • Facebook: Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition and Queen Mother’s Market Cooperative

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