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Social justice advocacy the topic of the next Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan Speaker Series

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January 29, 2021
BENTON HARBOR, MI – The Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan Speaker Series, hosted by The Mendel Center at Lake Michigan College, presents its next online speaker series event on Thursday, February 25, at 7 pm. The evening’s topic is Social Justice Advocacy – Moving from Words to Results
Talking about change is good. Taking the steps to turn those words into meaningful action is what transforms lives and communities. The next Speaker Series virtual event will take a local look at people and organizations doing the challenging work of driving individual, institutional, and cultural change in southwest Michigan.
Three local leaders will discuss their own proven methods for achieving results and share stories of success and lessons along the way. Scheduled panelists are:
·         Danny Jennings – Teacher and Coach, Benton Harbor Area Schools; Author of NOYA (Nobody Owes You Anything)
·         Charmae Sanders – Director, Start to Finish Program, Lake Michigan College; and ALPACT (Advocates and Leaders for Police and Community Trust) representation for the Race Relations Council of Southwest Michigan, 2018-2020
·         Mary Jo Schnell – Executive Director, OutCenter of Southwest Michigan
About the Panelists
Danny Jennings
, who was born and raised in Benton Harbor, has kept his talents close to home by serving his community as Teacher and Coach at Benton Harbor High School. Influenced by his grandfather Sylvester and his uncle Rod who were huge sports fans, Danny’s love of sports became the catalyst for his passion for education, helping others, and social justice and diversity. Having played baseball at Kalamazoo Valley Community College and LeMoyne-Owen College, his desire to be an athlete inspired his will to attend college. Danny went on to earn his Bachelor of Science in Physical Education and Masters of Arts in Education Leadership degrees from Western Michigan University. He has spent the past two decades as a youth development professional and owns NOYA Inspired LLC, providing motivational speaking and life coaching. He serves as the Executive Director of NeighborHOOD Community Connections (with H.O.O.D. serving as an acronym for “Helping Our Own Develop). Danny is in his fourth year as the Black History Committee Chairperson at Benton Harbor High School. His goal is to continue being a servant for the underserved and being a pillar of influence that contributes to their potential and opportunities being maximized so that their futures are of high quality.
Charmae Sanders is the Director of the Start to Finish Program at Lake Michigan College, which is an academic support program that serves students from the Benton Harbor Promise Zone and students who spent time in foster care. Previously, Charmae spent 15 years working for the State of Michigan Department of Human Services foster care system. Charmae served as the community co-chair for ALPACT (Advocates and Leaders for Police and Community Trust) from 2018-2020. She is on the board of the Race Relations Council and the League of Women Voters of Berrien and Cass Counties. Charmae is the current president of the Benton Harbor/St. Joseph graduate chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. She holds a BS in Family Community Services from Michigan State University and an MA in Family Studies from Spring Arbor University.

As executive director of the OutCenter in Benton Harbor, Mary Jo Schnell leverages 30 years of experience in the nonprofit sector, primarily in Chicago organizations. She is a devotee to the health of this sector and advocates for preserving the public’s trust in the sector and its ability to create positive change in society. She prizes diversity, equity, and a commitment to high ethical standards, and understands and appreciates the need for a plurality of organizational cultures. Since 2012, she has helped grow and diversify the OutCenter’s revenue by 41% (pre-COVID-19), and relaunched initiatives with a focus on systemic change in the area’s mostly rural area. The LGBTQ+ Safe Schools Collaborative, funded in 2017, in part, by the United Way of Southwest Michigan, and the Big Idea grant within the Frederick S. Upton Foundation, has already resulted in more than 300 policy recommendations and/or enactments in 18 Berrien, Cass, and Van Buren schools, has helped to save lives and family relationships, and reached over 11,000 students.
Online passes are free with registration. A pay-what-you-can option to defray the cost of the event is also available. Passes are available now at, or by calling 269-927-8700, option 1. Temporary box office hours are Mondays and Wednesdays, 10 am to 6 pm. Registration in advance is required in order to receive online access code.
About The Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan Speaker Series
Established in 1943, the Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan has brought more than 430 world leaders, policy makers, experts, and other newsmakers to the region. Its goal is to provide unique opportunities for personal and community growth. By presenting national and international speakers from a wide range of fields and expertise, this non-partisan series is dedicated to the discussion of social, economic, and public policy questions important in today’s complex society.
About The Mendel Center at Lake Michigan College
The Mendel Center raised the curtain on its first Mainstage season performance in the fall of 1992. Since that time, it has presented Mainstage season performances to more than half a million patrons in the 1,559-seat Mendel Center Mainstage Theatre. Newly renovated Grand Upton Hall, first opened in 1979, is a 13,700-square-foot venue serving the community as the host site for meetings, banquets, trade shows, weddings, and other celebrations. The 229-seat Hanson Theatre is home to the Lake Michigan College Visual & Performing Arts Departments as well as a variety of Mendel Center and community events.
The Mendel Center is 30 minutes from Niles and 40 minutes from the Kalamazoo and South Bend areas. It is located on the Lake Michigan College campus at 2755 E. Napier Avenue, Benton Harbor, Michigan, one mile east of I-94 (Exit 30) and one mile west of the US 31 Bypass (exit 24). Its GPS mapping address is 1100 Yore Avenue, Benton Harbor, MI.
Find #TheMendelCenter online at:
      Facebook @TheEconClub & @MendelCenter
      Instagram @TheMendelCenter
      Twitter @TheMendelCenter
Mendel Center Season Sponsors
Stage Side: The Boulevard Inn & Bistro, Honor Credit Union, The Inn at Harbor Shores, Kruggel Lawton CPAs, Meijer, Southwestern Michigan Tourist Council, Spectrum Health Lakeland, TCF Bank, TPC Technologies.
Platinum: B&L Information Systems, Berrien Community Foundation, Citadel Dance and Music Center, Hungerford Nichols CPAs + Advisors, Insurance Management Services, Pier 33, Siena Heights University
Gold: Beaudoin Electrical Construction, Inc., Hanson Group, Holt Bosse, Horizon Bank, Metzger Insurance Agency, Silver Beach Pizza, Southshore Concert Band, Studio 807.