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Unsung Heroes: Yolonda Lavender; a true campus celebrity

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at WMU chapter.


I recently had the pleasure of getting to know Yolonda Lavender. She is a real WMU campus celebrity and in my opinion, a great community leader. Her musical talents, as well as her passion for the community make her a great Western Michigan representative in the streets of Kalamazoo.

Yolonda Lavender is studying social work at WMU and has big plans to attend either U of M or the University of Texas-Austin to attain her Masters in Social Work degree. Though academics are very important to Lavender she still makes time to volunteer in the community and really step out and be a great community leader.

I was privileged to ask Yolonda some questions, diving into what makes her tick, and what keeps her motivated.



Q: What do you do?

A: I’m a vocalist (I sing a mix of everything, jazz, blues, R&B, soul, gospel and pop) my record label in an independent label based in Kalamazoo called Truth Tone Records. I’m a community advocate; I’ve worked for and volunteered with several nonprofit organizations in Kalamazoo that focus on youth development and youth advocacy. I’m a strong proponent of God, culture, diversity, heritage, the arts, natural hair, fashion and music. These are all things I’m passionate about and that’s what I do!


Q: When did you start singing?

A: I started singing in the choir at my church when I was 5 years old and I’ve been singing professionally since 2006.


Q: Where does you passion for seeing community change stem?

A: My passion for the Kalamazoo community stems from being a native of this community. I believe strongly in the village concepts that are highlighted through the Kwanzaa celebration. One, Ujima which means Collective Work and Responsibility, suggests that we aim “to build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems, and to solve them together.” And two, Kuumba, which means creativity and suggests we strive “to do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.” These two principles sum up my passion for my community and why I posses that passion.


Q: Why do you give back to the community?

A: I think it’s important for anyone who is apart of a community to put back into that community what they take out. I believe that college students have a great opportunity to execute this because they are on the ground level learning skills in the classroom that they can go and put into action right away in their communities. For example, if I’ve just learned the logistics of grant writing, I can go to a nonprofit organization in my community that may need assistance in this area and cant afford to pay a grant writers salary, and put into practice what I’ve learned and  help the organization at the same time. To me, it’s simple…everyone wins!


Q: Do you have any words of wisdom for everyone?

A: My words of wisdom just come from experience. I’m obviously not a traditional student. I came to WMU right after I graduated from Loy Norrix High School but I didn’t last long because I didn’t have the necessary drive to take ownership of my education, I lacked very important skills that I needed in college like time management and proper study habits. But here I am years later facing less than a year left before graduation with those skills and so many more that God has blessed me with throughout my journey. So my words of wisdom are DON’T EVER GIVE UP and it’s NEVER TOO LATE!


Q: You are so motivated! What keeps you going?

A: My motivation to keep doing what I’m doing is the fact that I know I have a responsibility to utilize the skills and exercise the gifts that God has trusted me with. Knowing that I have a responsibility to God, to myself, to my family, to my community,  all motivates me to keep pressing forward. When I get tired and don’t feel like facing a day full of classes, meetings, church, work and everything else, I do it anyway because my thought process is this, one, many of my ancestors were not given the opportunity to receive an education or work freely of their own will and two, there may be a young lady in my community who will one day face the decision of following the crowd and skipping school or getting on the bus and going to school and I may be the person she looks at to help her make that decision.


Yolonda Lavender is what a college celebrity should be; someone who knows the importance of school, community, faith, and motivation. I couldn’t be more honored to know such a powerful person. Her passion and drive is not just honorable but desirable. If more people realize their impact on others, as Yolonda does, I know the world would be a better place.

I always find self-written bios to be kind of awkward, but throwing modesty out the window, here goes nothing: Hi, my birth name is Sara but I feel as though most of Kalamazoo knows me as Hollywood, which has been my nickname for several years now. The nickname was given to me when I played rugby for WMU, and it just stuck. This is a chance to set aside my ultra ego, and dive into the opinions and thoughts of Sara rather than the outrageous, unbelievable adventures of Hollywood. A little about me: I am studying Communication Studies and Nonprofit Leadership at Western Michigan. I think I'm almost done, but with college, who actually knows. My ultimate goal would be to have my own column in a women's health magazine that talks about nutrition, exercise, and maintaining a positive outlook on life as a woman. But if that doesn't pan out, I figure I would own my own hotdog stand, so I got options. Unlike most people, I love running and exercising. A few years back I had something devastating happen to me, and the way that I found happiness again was through a healthy diet, learning about nutrition, and working out. I completed two triathlons this summer, and in one of them I placed in the top 10 for the 29 and below age group. Now that I have conquered the triathlon, I don't know what's next off my bucket list that I want to conquer. (May be Brazil??) I am not a 'down-to-earth' person, rather, I like a busy life and I like being involved whether it be getting involved in volunteering or just trolling around Kalamazoo with my friends. I'm always on the go and I like it that way. But as of now, I'm just a twenty-something girl with a zest for adventure with an empty wallet who is making due with exploring all what Kalamazoo has to offer. If you see me out, I'll be the girl with red shoes and a mustache tattooed on her finger. I usually refer to myself as not the girl next door, but the girl two doors down; I have a little more life lessons under my belt and a different outlook on life. http://theblacksheeponline.com/author/sara-czarnecki twitter: @sarasuzieczar