Alum Leona Medley sees a greener future and with the Joe Louis Greenway Partnership

Source: Special to Michigan News

Leona Medley

Detroit native Leona Medley, executive director of the Joe Louis Greenway Partnership, has always been passionate about serving her community. With her experience in community engagement and strategic partnerships, she’s well-equipped to build the community along the greenway.

Medley graduated from the University of Michigan-Dearborn with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and earned her master’s degree in community development with a concentration in public policy from the University of Detroit Mercy.

Medley directed strategic community partnerships at Bedrock Detroit before taking on the greenway role last March.

The Joe Louis Greenway is a 29.7-mile recreational path that will connect parks and neighborhoods across Detroit, Dearborn, Highland Park, and Hamtramck allowing residents and visitors to travel safely from McNichols to the riverfront—all without a car—through a combination of new trails, on-street protected bike lanes and links to existing trails like the Dequindre Cut and the Riverwalk.  The project is expected to be completed by 2027.

Medley has held leadership roles with Home Depot, Habitat for Humanity Detroit, Streetwise Partners of Michigan, Neighborhood Legal Services of Michigan, along with advisory roles with Detroit Means Business. She has received multiple awards including Volunteer of the Year for Habitat for Humanity Detroit, a Globe Street Women of Influence Award, and a 2022 Michigan Chronicle Woman of Excellence award for her outstanding social impact work.

How has your transition into the executive director role at greeway partnership been?

My transition has been incredibly positive. I have had the privilege of collaborating with outstanding partners who share our vision. Much of my time has been dedicated to engaging with colleagues from the city of Detroit, Dearborn, Highland Park, and Hamtramck gaining deep insights into the community from residents, and actively listening to the voices within it. Our focus extends far into the future, with a strategic outlook spanning decades to come.

Currently, our efforts revolve around strategic planning with our board, crafting a comprehensive fundraising strategy, and establishing a sharp vision for the evolving landscape of the JLG as construction progresses. We are committed to ensuring that our work aligns seamlessly with the long-term goals of economic mobility and improved quality of life for residents. 

The newly completed Warren Gateway trailhead of the Joe Louis Greenway. Photo courtesy of the city of Detroit.

Talk about your educational journey at U-M, from majoring in psychology to community development. 

Obtaining a psychology degree has been beneficial in terms of not just a professional career; even though I did not pursue a career in psychology, it has been helpful throughout my leadership roles to understand not only myself, but others on my team along with how to communicate and with others in the workplace. 

What has made your community involvement so impactful? Talk about some of the community positions you have held.

In my youth, I was naturally outspoken and fearless. I vividly recall running my first political campaign for senior class president during my high school days, a moment that ignited my awareness of the significance of serving others.

My commitment to making a difference continued into college, where I dedicated substantial time to volunteering, including active involvement in various campaigns. It was during my tenure at Home Depot that my journey in community development truly began to flourish. That pivotal moment marked the beginning of my enthusiastic pursuit of meaningful impact within communities.

Warren Gateway Trailhead on the Joe Louis Greenway.

What are you most looking forward to in your role this year? 

I am eagerly anticipating continuing to collaborate with our residents to shape the programming and activation of the Joe Louis Greenway. This project represents a monumental transformation, and my foremost commitment is to prioritize residents’ inclusion and equity in every facet of our work. Another aspect that excites me immensely is the opportunity to envision the future of the neighborhoods where more vibrant green spaces encourage creativity, innovation, and imagination for years to come.

I look forward to supporting these endeavors, bringing the residents’ aspirations to fruition, and ensuring our focus extends not only to today but also spans the next 10, 15, and 20 years and beyond. This is a thrilling moment for strategic planning, as we strive to grasp the profound impact of the future. It is a realm where innovation, leadership, and strategic thinking converge. Lastly, our efforts are concentrated on uniting communities, stakeholders, and fostering alignment toward a shared and unified greenway.

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