By Ferlanda Fox Nixon
Morristown Alumnae member, Ayo Sanderson Wilson, stands at the forefront of thwarting the spread of the coronavirus in Greater Morristown, New Jersey. Through Empower The Village (ETV), a data-driven 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization she founded in 2018, Wilson made free COVID-19 testing more available and now endeavors to make COVID-19 vaccines more accessible to members of Black and Brown communities, the individuals most disproportionately affected by COVID-19. At its “Stop the Spread” event in early April 2021, ETV helped to facilitate the administration of more than 100 doses of COVID-19 vaccine.
“We are proud to be moving from hope to action. We have always known that access to the COVID-19 vaccines is the bigger challenge, not hesitancy, when it comes to vaccinating the Black community. Despite chatter focused on the minority of individuals of all races who are hesitant to receive the vaccines, we have observed a sustained interest, and even a surge in interest, in getting vaccinated. ETV is here to answer the call with our [v]illage partners,” explained Wilson.
Inspired by a well-known African proverb that states “it takes a village” or collective effort to achieve positive, sustainable results, the organization’s village partners include strategic allies such as faith- and community-based organizations; businesses; educational institutions; individual and corporate philanthropists; and local, state, and national government officials. To ensure the success of the “Stop the Spread” event, ETV collaborated with a local health center, church, fraternity, and elected official – U.S. Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill.
According to Wilson, “Village members and organizations, generally working in silos, often lack the strategic roadmap, data, financial or human resources, expertise, and/or trust of its intended beneficiaries, to accomplish their overlapping missions effectively and efficiently. These challenges stymie the impact of their great work and intentions. ETV mobilizes [t]he [v]illage in 25 states that encompass 90 percent of the Black U.S. population to strategically accelerate collective action and foster perpetual prosperity.”
In addition to the “Stop the Spread” initiative, which falls under health and wellness - one of four ETV strategic pillars, ETV focuses on supporting Black-owned businesses with its “Make Every Friday, Black Friday” movement and “Village Black Pages” business directories. To establish ETV and develop its strategic thrusts, Wilson leveraged her 30 years of service to Black and other undervalued communities; her experience as an executive and attorney with some of the world’s largest corporations; and her role as an advisor, board member, leader, and volunteer supporting well-known nonprofits pursuing transformational change. Wilson furthers ETV’s mission through a team of consultants and an executive director.
Wilson earned her bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins University and holds a law degree from Columbia University School of Law. She was initiated into Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, at Mu Psi Chapter.
“It’s important to use our gifts to empower others so we all can experience the peace and joy we desire for ourselves and our loved ones. There is power in giving,” shared Wilson.