Michigan Nonprofit Soulardarity Names New Government Director

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The future looks bright for the environmental justice community of Highland Park:
Soulardarity names Shimekia Nichols as new executive director effective July 2021

For Immediate Release

April 22, 2021

Media contact: Carina Daniels

carina@storyandreach.com

510-847-1617

The future looks bright for the environmental justice community of Highland Park:

Soulardarity names Shimekia Nichols as new executive director effective July 2021

Nichols will build on the organization’s legacy

of community development & energy democracy

HIGHLAND PARK, Mich. – The community organization Soulardarity continues to light the way to a brighter future for Highland Park, a predominantly Black city inside of Detroit whose electric utility repossessed the city’s streetlights in 2011. Soulardarity, which is re-lighting the streets with solar-powered technology, has named Shimekia Nichols, a fierce advocate for the people, as its incoming executive director, effective July 2021.

Nichols will replace Founding Executive Director Jackson Koeppel, who started Soulardarity to spark a local movement for energy justice after DTE Energy repossessed the city’s streetlights in 2011. Nichols has worked side by side with Koeppel ever since she joined the Soulardarity as a lead organizer in 2017. She currently serves as deputy director.

“I am thankful to Jackson for the work and dedication he provided as a community organizer. He’s helped empower a self-determined collective of people working not only to replace our streetlights, but also to change the systems that deprived our community of these lights in the first place,” said Nichols.

“I am committed to growing Soulardarity’s legacy of putting people first in all aspects of our work, from being community-led at all levels to pushing for community-owned energy.”

Soulardarity is nationally known for its ongoing campaign to bring solar-powered streetlights to Highland Park to replace the ones that DTE took away. Now the organization is increasingly called upon to shape state energy policies and programs, including community solar policy in Michigan. Additionally, the visionary concept for a Community Ownership of Power Administration (COPA) – co-created by Soulardarity, The Next System Project, and We Own It – is gaining national attention.

“Shimekia will be an outstanding executive director,” said Koeppel. “Throughout the years, it’s been an honor to work alongside such a brilliant campaign strategist, community leader, and champion of energy democracy. The success Soulardarity has seen to date would not have been possible without her. Going forward, I know she has what it takes to usher in a new era of community solidarity and energy justice in Highland Park.”

Nichols will take the reins of the organization at an exciting time. Later this spring, Soulardarity will install 10 more solar-powered streetlights and put solar panels on more than 30 homes. Soulardarity purchased these panels at a discounted price for the community. The streetlights will also provide public wi-fi.

“The timing worked out beautifully,” Koeppel said. “I get to conclude my tenure with a big smile on my face and a tremendous sense of pride, and Shimekia gets to take over with a significant amount of momentum behind her after we’ve scored these two big wins. On the heels of her lead organizing, it’s only fitting that she take the helm at this moment.”

Nichols’ appointment to executive director received strong support from the passionate and committed community members who make up Soulardarity’s board of directors.

“I enthusiastically voted for Shimekia to become the executive director. She has an amazing track record and is deeply respected in the community,” said Soulardarity Board Chair Christine Cowan. “And I love that we have a woman executive director – women get the job done!”

“I’m excited to work with Shimekia both in my capacity as a Soulardarity board member and as Executive Director of EcoWorks,” said Bryan Lewis. “We need more of the visionary, people-focused approach Shimekia brings to keep developing Black leadership in the environmental space.”

Prior to joining Soulardarity, Nichols worked at We The People Detroit, where she managed the hotline for households experiencing water shut-offs and coordinated water delivery and pickup. During that time, she took classes with Soulardarity to learn more about national and local energy systems. She also reached out to Koeppel for support dealing with DTE as a first-time mom and a first-time homebuyer.

Today, Nichols is the mother of two children and a resident of Highland Park.

“I do this work for my children and for my community,” Nichols said. “One day, I see Highland Park serving as a national model for overcoming adversity to become a healthy, growing, and thriving community powered by locally owned energy.”

By the end of this spring, Soulardarity will have installed 18 solar-powered streetlights on 10 blocks in Highland Park. The organization aims to raise $10 million through individual donations and grants to replace the rest of the over 1,000 streetlights that DTE repossessed as soon as possible.

“I’m confident we will make it happen. We have the drive and the track record to do it. The future of Highland Park is bright. Just you watch! Or even better, get involved,” Nichols said.

Koeppel plans to take some time off, but will remain in Highland Park and continue to be involved in Soulardarity in a big way.

“I’m here for the long haul. Highland Park isn’t just the place I work – it’s the place I’ve made my home. I’m excited to keep fighting and building alongside Shimekia and the rest of the Soulardarity team for energy democracy, in Highland Park and everywhere else.”

Soulardarity is a grantee of The Solutions Project, a national nonprofit organization that promotes climate justice through grantmaking and amplifying the stories of frontline leaders in the media. The organization has a particular focus on funding organizations led by women of color, such as Soulardarity.

“We recently increased our grant to Soulardarity because of the organization’s incredible impact and Shimekia’s success working for and with her community on locally-owned clean energy solutions. I hope other funders will join us in doubling down on their commitments and support Shimekia and the Highland Park community in raising $10 million for solar-powered streetlights,” said The Solutions Project President & CEO Gloria Walton.

Soulardarity is looking to hire a new deputy director to take Shimekia’s place, as well as a narrative director, who can both start by June 1.

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