Bevertone Anyonga has been CEDAM’s program coordinator for just over a year. His journey into the community economic development field, however, started around six years ago in Kenya. For our latest staff feature, CEDAM’s Emily Reyst sat down with Bevertone to discuss why he cares so much about this work, and why he chose to stay at CEDAM after his internship.
Emily: You started at CEDAM as a policy intern—what led you to CEDAM initially and what made you want to stay on full-time?
Bevertone: As I was going into my senior year [at MSU], I started thinking about what local opportunities I could have in the field of economic development. I was very passionate about economic development. Having had some previous experience in this field, I wanted to get involved locally in the place I called home for the last four years. That started my interest in CEDAM, and I was very drawn to issues of housing. I researched development-induced displacement in parts of East Asia, focusing on how different projects, like dams and large roads, actually impact communities and the places they live. I had to do an internship for graduation, and this was an excellent opportunity to knock out a course requirement and do something that I enjoyed. I remember my first day at CEDAM reading what was probably the most extended single-issue piece of literature I had read at one time.
Emily: Was that The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehasi Coates?
Bevertone: Yes, it was—shout out to Jessica!
I was now getting into why I stayed. As the year progressed, I felt like I wasn’t an intern but a regular staff member. I was super involved in defining how we were going to approach things and actively contributing. The pinnacle was being allowed to contribute heavily to the strategic plan for the following year. It was very different from some of my previous internship experiences. When the time came, I didn’t think I would invest in consumer protections and affordable housing in Michigan. CEDAM invests in their interns and is very hands-on. You get very invested in the organization—maybe that’s a subtle way to keep you—but I felt I was part of the team, so when I was considering CEDAM’s job offer, I felt like I had a better place to start working and saw the growth potential. So that’s why I stayed on—and the people are great!
Can you give me a brief overview of your professional background?
My first steps into community development were somewhere around 2014 or 2015. A really good friend of mine started a nonprofit, Shout Out World, in Kenya. It originally started as an environmental and wildlife preservation-focused nonprofit. When I came on board, we started talking about how we could expand. We were based out of Nairobi, but I was going to school on the other end of the country, so we started a branch where I went to school. The first thing I did was outline what meant the most to our community: youth engagement and addressing the high homelessness rate. I was the first division director and had to navigate going to school and what was essentially a full-time job. A big part of my job was forming relationships with the local government, which sometimes required “coincidentally” bumping into each other in public areas. The program and activities started off this included environmental cleanups. These sports tournaments were used as active town hall sessions involving local politicians, feeding and educational programs with local schools, and fundraising and resource gathering for our houseless communities.
After that, I came to Michigan State University. I worked as a student HR assistant for Residence and Dining services which I enjoyed. It was an excellent opportunity for me to grow and train in management, conflict resolution research, and training.
In 2018 I was back in Kenya working as a program intern working with clients to help their new businesses grow. This included filing for relevant licenses, setting up compensation and benefits for employees, and getting paperwork in order. There was a lot of bureaucracy to work through, and I think it taught me the value of persistence and patience.
You’ve been in your full-time position as program coordinator for nearly a year now. What are you enjoying most about this role?
The impact of the work that I do has got to be the most enjoyable thing I do. Being involved in so many projects directly focused on improving the community, whether through direct service with the AmeriCorps program or financial empowerment through Children’s Savings Accounts advocacy and Show Me the Money Day planning. I have not experienced a dull day at work. My colleagues are also as passionate about injustice and inequities, and as a result, our organization’s work culture is excellent.
In this time, I have also had the opportunity to engage in advocacy and planning for future programs that I hope will improve the capacity of nonprofits in Michigan to serve their communities and incorporate social justice, equity, and inclusion, as well as recognizing the role in which history has played in the community economic development field.
Lighting Round Questions
What’s the last book you read? Freshwater by Awaeke Emezi
What are you currently watching? The man in the high castle
If you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would you go? Kenya’s beaches, especially in the summertime. All year round :)
What was the last concert you attended before the pandemic? Post Malone