Wintana Melekin moved with her family from Eritrea to America in 1989 when she was three years old. Eritrea, which is located in the Horn of Africa, is bordered by Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti. Her family left their homeland in the midst of a 30-years-plus war with neighboring Yemen and Ethiopia, a few years before Eritrea’s independence in 1993 from Ethiopia.
After working for a local health company, Melekin got involved in community action by participating in a local protest march against the Trayvon Martin killing a couple of years ago. Soon thereafter, she joined Neighborhood Organizing for Change (NOC) after a local protest march against the state Voter ID proposal.
“I was inspired by that, and showed up at the NOC office and volunteered,” explains Melekin. “I just canvassed every single day [with] 100 people, knocking on doors morning to night. I had the most beautiful conversations with people, and it didn’t take a lot to move people once they got the facts.”
Melekin, as a result, joined the NOC staff full time in 2013, first as office manager, then in her current position as civil engagement director. Joining the group became her first “formalized activist” role, she states.
More importantly, being an activist comes naturally to her. “My blood is literally freedom fighter blood. I’m a daughter of freedom fighters. I had no choice but to be an activist,” says Melekin. Her father studied the writings of Malcolm X and others. “There was no way I couldn’t be an activist. It was part of my identity.”
“I’ve always been active” and volunteered in several local and national campaigns — Barack Obama’s presidential bid and the late Senator Paul Wellstone’s campaigns, for example, as well as injustice issues, says Melekin. “I always spoke up in high school” on various issues as well, she adds.
Now Melekin was elected May 2 as one of three at-large members of the Minneapolis NAACP Executive Committee.
“My favorite part of being on the NAACP [Executive Committee] is that it has so many different kinds of people,” admits Melekin. “You got Nekima [Levy-Pounds, the branch president], who is a law professor. We got Kerry Jo [Felder, the branch secretary], who does education… I think the diverse backgrounds of people — and we all are going to be organizing very straightforward around Black issues — helps me tie all of that with my work at NOC.”
Advocating for voting rights for everyone is among “her personal priorities,” says Melekin. “I’m really focused on expanding elections and education. I’ll work on education, housing, food justice, anything — it all comes back to politics.
“It all comes back to how much power you have. I want to build power — I want all of us to have power. I want all of us to be able to negotiate.”
Blacks “should bargain our [voting] power, and negotiate on what we want” and not be linked to one political party or the other, states Melekin. “We should be organizing around our power and our vote. That’s why I love civic engagement.”
In essence, Melekin surmises that she is putting her marketing degree she earned from Metro State to very good use: “I think marketing is really educating people on a product and selling them on it. And getting them to believe that your product is really a good product. I feel I have to explain to people what is injustice as it is happening and why people over profits make more sense.
“I based my organizing on bringing different kinds of people together all centered around Blackness. I want to create space for elders and youth, new immigrants, and people who have been in the States for a lifetime to organize together. We have a real opportunity to have conversations on why those divisions are happening and what we can do to close them and create a close-knit community.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.