As a 12-year-old girl, JoAnna LeFlore-Ejike recalls taking part in an African dance workshop at the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation. Little did she know, one day she would become the Foundation’s first executive director.
LeFlore-Ejike was no stranger to the Foundation; she volunteered as an undergraduate at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO). After earning her degree in communication in 2014, she joined the all-volunteer Board of Directors and worked on event planning and public relations. She also earned a master’s degree in Managerial Communications from Bellevue University.
“My personal goals deeply align with the organization, and I decided to continue the mission of being a steward of my community,” LeFlore-Ejike says.
LeFlore-Ejike was always volunteering or taking on internships within her interests.
“Whether it was in community development or public relations, all experiences helped shape and prepare me for this important leadership role,” LeFlore-Ejike says.
It is always rewarding to see individuals grow through their volunteerism, she explains, as they often find out truly what they are passionate about in the process and develop their own sense of leadership.
“That is the feeling that I had when I used to volunteer as well,” she says.
Created in 1971 by Rowena Moore, who served as the Foundation’s operational director, the Foundation aims to educate and inspire visitors on the legacy of the civil rights visionary Malcolm X, whose birthplace resides in the heart of North Omaha.
“It is a full-circle moment,” LeFlore-Ejike says. “I feel gratified knowing that my effort has been valued all this time, and I can still see the impact of my effort years later.”
LeFlore-Ejike says she feels a sense of responsibility to provide a stronger structure for the organization. Another major responsibility is preserving the 17-acre grounds around the historic landmark.
“Currently, there is just so much to do administratively that it is hard to sometimes accept the pace of how things are moving,” LeFlore-Ejike says. “I often have to reprioritize my day to connect with local residents, visitors, board members and facilities issues.”
LeFlore-Ejike says she looks forward to meeting the challenges brought on by this position.
“My energy is transparent,” LeFlore-Ejike says. “I’m still a student, I still get excited when I have the opportunity to learn from others.”
So far, what she likes most about her new position is being able to dig into the past and revive efforts that once may have been ignored. She loves being able to incorporate new ideas into the mix, while ensuring everyone’s contributions are valued along the way.
“This kind of work truly takes a village, and I am gratified by daily opportunities and reminders of how to do so,” LeFlore-Ejike says.
She also juggles her career with motherhood. She and her husband Errik welcomed their baby girl, Erykah, on Nov. 18, 2021. Her journey to motherhood was a bit unexpected.
“I was originally thinking that I needed a little more time before I became a parent,” LeFlore-Ejike says. “But that’s not true, you can’t always decide when you’re called to do something.”
LeFlore-Ejike says speaking up when needed and allowing for self-care gives her grace when she needs it the most. She also looks to her family and childhood friends for support.
“I’m thankful that I have the opportunity to create a culture that supports motherhood,” she says.
As LeFlore-Ejike navigates her role as executive director, she says it is important to plan for a long-term vision. Her goal is for all staff and volunteers to feel connected and involved for the longevity and success of the organization.
The Malcolm X Memorial Foundation has numerous opportunities for the community to get involved and support the continuation of Malcolm X’s legacy.
“Anyone who gets involved with our organization has the opportunity to impact our larger vision,” LeFlore-Ejike says.
Anyone can get involved in their programs, special events or contribute in any way they can to help achieve their goals, which are as follows:
- Preserve the historical landmark and birth site
- Educate about the Malcolm X legacy
- Activate leadership within the community
- Celebrate Black Heritage
- Empower through Equity
Most recently, the organization celebrated a long-overdue achievement of Malcolm X being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“I am most grateful for the community involvement to make this happen,” LeFlore-Ejike says. “We could not have done it without the public testimonies and letters sent in from people across the entire state. It is truly a moment to celebrate for all of us!”
Currently, the Foundation has plans to increase the staffing to build its programming and facilities. Through strategic planning, the Foundation has determined its fundraising goals. These goals include a major operational goal of $100,000 to help double the existing budget and a $20 million capital campaign, part of the original vision of founder Rowena Moore.
“I am following in those footsteps and I’m grateful to be part of this journey to help the organization grow,” LeFlore-Ejike says.