The Cultural Roots of Empowerment Leadership

Rev. Donald L. Perryman, D.Min.

By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor

   You are responsible for your life. If you’re sitting around waiting for someone to save you, to fix you, to help you…you’re wasting your time. Only you have the power to take responsibility to move forward. The sooner you get that, the sooner your life gets into gear…
Oprah Winfrey


Councilwoman Brittany Jones

Brittany Jones’ ascent from Toledo’s inner core neighborhoods to her status as a pivotal academic voice and now a dedicated public servant showcases a distinct model of “Empowerment Leadership.” With a life deeply rooted in the communal soil of her upbringing, Jones has woven together her scholarly and practical engagements in food systems and urban planning to create a unique perspective.

Her leadership style, enriched by her cultural roots and aimed at empowering her community offers a fresh approach to public service on Toledo’s City Council.

In The Truth’s conversation with Brittany Jones, Ph.D, we delve into the essence of her paradigm of Empowerment Leadership – the motivations, hurdles and challenges she’s surmounted, and the future she envisions.

Our enlightening dialogue reveals how Jones, with her profound connection to Toledo and unwavering commitment to its upliftment, harnesses her diverse experiences and represents a bright promise of impactful transformation for our city.

Perryman: Please reflect for a moment on your journey’s beginnings.

Jones: I was born on Milburn Street, raised in Junction and on King Street and now I live in the Hill Avenue and Reynolds Road area. That’s really where my journey has taken me. I went to a Catholic school my whole life, beginning at St. Martin de Porres and then Central Catholic for high school. I went to Ohio State for a couple of years just trying to get a foothold on adulthood. I graduated in ’09 with a journalism degree and returned to Toledo in 2010-2011.

Perryman: Please familiarize our readers with your professional career.

Jones:  When I returned to Toledo, I worked as an intern with the Department of Neighborhoods and in a statewide capacity with the Children’s Hunger Alliance. At that point, I was getting my master’s in urban planning at Wayne State and I fell in love with food systems and how they affect all facets of life, not just culturally but also politically. That intrigued me, especially regarding the Black community.

From there, I worked in housing at United North until they closed. Then, I transferred to Central State Extension, which is similar to the Ohio State Extension. I was the first educator in northwest Ohio for that.

Perryman: One of the ways that I am familiar with you is through the University of Toledo.

Jones: I got into the Ph.D. program at UT, focusing on the intersection of food systems and Black urban agrarianism. I’m examining the role of land banks in supporting the Black food system and its cultural and health implications. I’m still doing that.

I earned my Ph.D. in 2021 in spatially integrated social sciences with a focus on food systems and policy advocacy. That’s when I landed at United Way’s data department, leveraging my expertise in food policy as the chair of the Ohio Food Policy Network and of the Urban Ag Alliance of Lucas County. I currently consult for various organizations on sustainability in food systems.

In addition to those roles, I continue my scholarly work, including a forthcoming book chapter on food geographies and the development of Black urban agrarianism in Toledo and Dayton. I also founded Earthworks Research and Consulting, focusing on environmental food policy. My latest milestone in my ongoing commitment to food system advocacy and community service has been my appointment to Toledo City Council, which I began serving two weeks ago.

Perryman: Talk a bit about your upbringing.

Jones: I was raised in a community-oriented family with union roots in the UAW and General Motors. Thanks to my parents and my sister, a supervisor at General Motors, my upbringing was embedded in labor activism.

I call myself a community baby. Ever since I can remember, community and activism have run through my blood, and I plan to keep holding onto them as part of my values and focus, especially in my new position on Toledo City Council.

Perryman: What do you bring to the city council, from your perspective?

Jones: I bring not just the urban planning and geography aspect but also long-term planning and creative brainstorming, where we try to generate all possibilities when it comes to specific issues. I also bring the connection to people. I’m very easy to relate to, mainly because of my travels, studies, and encounters with many people.

Also, I’m about data. Working for United Way and doing program and methodology evaluation helped emphasize my Ph.D. training in organizing studies and identifying gaps. However, it also made me consider how data can be translated and visualized to convey your desired message.

So, I look more into how to use data to inform our decisions better, and I’ve noticed that with Toledo, we haven’t been doing that.

Perryman: How can we engage younger voters?

Jones: The one avenue that’s been tried and true is social media. Also, the community events, if the weather permits, just having those block parties again, emphasizing what your vote does on the local level.

The message has not been conveyed that you can literally make a difference on your local level, and that will go a long, long way, and just making politics fun, that’s the biggest thing.

Perryman: Let’s shift a little bit to talk about your cultural interests, what are some of them?

Jones: I am always for the upliftment of my people. I also love art; I love what it does to people, especially how art and music tell a story in our culture. You can see that evolution and how it affects many of our daily movements and pop culture, fashions, and inspirations. I feel that the contributions of Black people have definitely made a difference. It just keeps getting better and better because people have access to a lot more resources.

Regarding religion, I’m a spiritual person. I grew up Baptist, and I’m still spiritual and believe in a higher power, but I’m fashioning it in a relatable way and not mindlessly following.

I love nature; I love creation, how everybody and everything interacts, the relationship between man and nature, and our responsibility as humans when it comes to the environment. In the Bible, we’re given the power to be the Earth’s stewards, and I wholly believe in that. Mother Nature can survive without us, but we can’t survive without her. We have to realize that and take it very seriously.

Especially now with my daughter, I have to think about what her future looks like, how I am leaving it for her, and how I can influence people to leave Earth in a better place even if they don’t have children or anybody to pass it down to, but how can you leave this place in a better state than it was before?

Perryman: Who are some of your favorite music or entertainers?

Jones: I like genres such as R&B, of course, and I like jazz more. I’m getting into this Lo-Fi genre that is more or less embraces imperfections in the recording process by messing with the frequencies to create ambient noise, distortion, or hiss. So, you can focus on your work if you want to work. You’re working out, but it’s supposed to be very calming.

I also like neo-soul artists like Jill Scott or Erykah Badu, and contemporary R&B like Usher. I like Beyoncé. I’ll probably get hung cause that’s a hot topic, but I like her a little bit. I like where she’s going, her new direction.

As far as other entertainment, I like Sci-Fi and futuristic movies, thrillers, and documentaries. I spend a lot of time on YouTube. I also watch a lot of cooking shows and international stuff because I’m trying to see what’s happening out in the world and what people are eating. I love to cook and try new recipes.

Perryman: What kinds of food?

Jones: I love all sorts of Asian food.

I have a wok. I make traditional ramen noodles. I love Korean food, and I’ve made kimchi. Of course, I’ve made homemade egg rolls, Crab Rangoon as well as fried rice. It tastes good because it indulges the “sixth sense.” It’s healthier and lighter, tantalizes the palate, and you can taste everything. That’s what I love about that.

Following that, I like Mediterranean food. So, I know how to make falafel. I know how to make shawarmas. I also like Indian food, so I’ve made Gobi Manchurian before. I’ve also tried paella and South American dishes; Not to mention, I’ve been to Africa to study abroad and tried some of their food, and I’m just like, “Oh my God, Southern African food is so, so good!”

Perryman: Someone wrote, “Mentors don’t necessarily provide us with the answers, but they create the right climate of support for us to be successful and to perform at our highest level.” Do you agree?

Jones: I agree with that statement because mentors are here to help you decipher what is good for you, what that looks like in the long-term, and what is on the right path you’re trying to go, and then you can make your own decision from that. They are there for support in case you fall. It’s okay because you’re going to occasionally fall, but you should not feel judged, and you should not feel shame when you’re talking to your mentor; they should be there to support you in becoming your own person.

Perryman: Talk about your mentors who helped make you the person you are.

Jones: Truthfully, there is a lot to list. Of course, my mom and my family. I’ve also had mentors who were my parents’ friends once they found out what I was interested in or just wanted to support me in whatever way. They offered themselves as a resource and networking connection. That’s anybody from Tiffany McNair, former housing commissioner; Fletcher Word, when I wrote for The Truth a while back; and Coleena Ali, currently in housing.

My dissertation chair, Dr. Sujata Shetty, is the only woman of color in that department at UT and has taught me how to navigate academic spaces. At BGSU, in the geography department, Dr. Karen Webb also mentors me in that space. Growing up, Ray Wood, Mike Alexander, and Ms. WillieAnn Moore offered a lifetime of support.

So, I was blessed to have had those mentors. Luckily, they were open enough for me to learn from them for that connection because, at that time, I was still trying to figure out what career path I wanted to go down.

It’s usually always with the organizations they were with, too, just connecting with that and looking for my space and my place. It took me some time, and I’m not saying that I know where I’m going, but I feel more comfortable. I owe it all to them because they let me know the ins and outs, kept it real, and were transparent. If it was going in the wrong direction, they corrected me and said, “No, you don’t need to do that; how about this?” They weren’t afraid to talk to me, and that’s what I needed, what I wanted, and how I talk to other people, even the younger people I contact.

Perryman: Finally, what advice do you have to inspire younger people coming behind you who now will be looking at you and watching your every move?

Jones: Two things. First, you are the CEO of your life, so don’t be afraid to try new things and forge your own path. That is how I got to where I am. I was not afraid to join an organization, move to that next goal or opportunity, get into school, or go for my Ph.D. I wasn’t afraid of that, of leaving home, or of traveling internationally.

This life is full of opportunities, and you are the CEO of it. You can make your own way. There may be some obstacles, but if you really want it and it’s meant for you, it will clear its way. Do not be afraid, And, get out of your own way when necessary. That’ll be a third one.

Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, PhD, at