Ujima Interviews: Mea Johnson
STANDARDS. COMMUNITIES. VALUES. This quarter for our Spring 2023 Investor Update, we sat down with members of our Community Standards Committee.
There is one crucial body without which Ujima’s mission would be impossible: our Community Standards Committee (CSC). The CSC is an elected group that ensures our investments align with our values and that plays a key role in developing Ujima’s Good Business Alliance (UGBA). As a steward of Ujima’s 36 Good Business Standards, the CSC partners directly with businesses throughout the UGBA application process. They hold businesses accountable and offer support where needed, ensuring that our investments continue to meet our communities’ needs. We invite you to celebrate the contributions of our CSC members, who bring diverse backgrounds in social impact and community power, embodying different dimensions of our ecosystem.
Mea Johnson is a community organizer and member-owner at the Dorchester Food Coop. Mea has devoted the last 17 years of her life as a community organizer and an activist, working in Greater Boston and across the country. She has worked on a wide range of issues, from childcare to transit, and currently works with communities that are fighting environmental injustices and pollutant issues.
Paige Curtis, Culture & Communications Manager at Ujima, spoke with Mea Johnson, a member of Ujima’s Community Standards Committee to discuss why the Good Business Standards are so essential to Ujima’s mission.
Paige Curtis: What made you want to get involved with the Community Standards Committee?
Mea Johnson: I was a founding member of Ujima so had witnessed that founding process, so joining the CSC felt like a natural fit. In a way I inherited it because I was already sitting at the community standards table.
What is the most fulfilling part of the CSC’s work for you?
The process of creating the standards and then figuring out how to roll them out was really fulfilling. It was rewarding to see the different businesses that applied to the Good Business Alliance, because it was a big process that took time. I’m really proud of the standards and I think figuring out how to apply them, and hold people and businesses accountable is challenging. I don’t know if we’ve gotten as far as pushing businesses to make systemic changes in a deeper way yet, because that’s hard to do.
What is your dream for the future of the Good Business Alliance?
We definitely need to start training new people to like, understand what these committee processes are that we’ve been stewarding and maintain the vision. We’ve learned so much about how to grow and standardize our practices. It takes a certain level of skill and dexterity to do what we do: working with businesses across different industries, knowing when to hold the line and uphold the standards. But overall, we’re very curious and always seek first to understand business owners and their challenges. None of what we do is transactional, but more about transformation of how we think about good business and serving community needs.
So I think the committee is entering a new phase of transition. As far as the Good Business Alliance, we need to make sure that once businesses are admitted into the alliance, we keep holding them accountable to the community standards. And, it’s not about being antagonistic, but more about helping them follow through on the commitments they made.
When you think about the new year, what are you most looking forward to when it comes to working with Ujima or in your own life?
I do miss coming together for in-person meetings. I’m glad the committee was able to continue its work through the pandemic, lockdown, and figure out how to take care of each other. But there is a certain energy of the space from this group that is just really beautiful. I’m also in the process of launching my own small business, so I’m really excited about that.