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April 1, 2020

Report Back: Amaha, Lela, Kenya, Up & Coming Conference in Madison, WI part 2

In early March 2020, a group of Gem City Market Member-Owners attended the Up & Coming Food Co-op Conference, in Madison Wisconsin. Up & Coming attracts start-up organizing groups, board members, and co-op staff from around the country to learn and grow together. This year the conference was in Madison, WI on Mar 6-7, 2020.

Programming was 2 days with over 55 workshops presented by 50+ speakers, both consultants and peers. Our own Amaha Sellassie, Kenya Baker, and Lela Klein presented, attending their 3rd Up & Coming to-date. With their costs covered by the conference organizers for presenting, CO-OP Dayton was able to also send: elder Mama Nozipo Glenn (who some may know as Mama Paparazzi), Rachel DB our Membership Committee Co-Chair and Interim Marketing Coordinator, and two of our GCM community-elected board members – David K. Greer and Shavelta Harding.

Our next reports come from the Up&Coming veterans of the group:

Amaha Sellassie – A peace builder, social healer, freedom fighter and lover of humanity. He’s an instructor in Sociology and director of Center for Applied Social Issues at Sinclair Community College in Dayton Ohio. Amaha serves as President of the Gem City Market Board of Directors, and Co-Executive Director of CO-OP Dayton.


Kenya Baker – Kenya moved to Dayton during her childhood. In 2017, after fifteen years as a public school teacher, she was inspired by the Gem City Market project to join the cooperative movement. She believes in the power of community and worker ownership to transform Dayton’s neighborhoods and residents’ lives. Kenya received her Master’s of Education from the University of Dayton and her BS from Wilberforce University. Kenya serves as Community Outreach Director for CO-OP Dayton.



Lela Klein – A native Daytonian, Lela’s career has been dedicated to fighting for economic justice for working people. After witnessing the devastating impacts of the global recession on blue collar communities like Dayton, Lela returned in 2012 to use her legal and organizing training to support community economic development and worker empowerment in her hometown. Lela received her JD from Harvard Law School and her BA from Cornell University. Lela serves as Co-Executive Director for CO-OP Dayton, and board member at Gem City Market.



Greetings, recently I was blessed to attend my 3rd Up and Coming conference.  I was struck at how far we have come together as the Gem City Market.

[Amaha Sellassie during his presentation at Up & Coming 2020 Photo Credit Troy Freund Photography]

At our first conference, we were primarily a vision, a little bit of resources and 800 members.  Now we are about 2,500 members strong and we have broken ground!! So this trip enabled me to reflect on our journey together while simultaneously humbling me with the thankfulness of being able to walk our collective vision out with the community!

There are still so many moving pieces and A LOT of work ahead of , so I haven’t been able to fully process everything yet and all I can say is glory to the Most High.

[ Half of the attendees at Up  & Coming 2020. Co-op enthusiasts gathered from around the country to talk food co-ops. Photo Credit Troy Freund Photography]

My biggest take away this year is the strength of the co-op community, how we have a large, intersectional network of support to draw upon and utilize to help bring the Gem City Market to fruition!  My belief in the power of cooperation, collaboration, and asset based community development towards emerging a community born from a vision of collective hope has never been greater.

[Dayton and Cleveland reps connected throughout the weekend, sharing information and fellowshipping. Photo credit Troy Freund Photography]

We are soooo much greater together than we could ever be by ourselves. During these tumultuous may we continue to reset our focus on what matters most.

One love



I echo what Amaha said. It was great to be at Up & Coming for a third year, and I especially loved seeing my fellow Board members and engaged co-op members experience their first time at the conference. I attended a number of workshops that were right on point for where we are as a Board, including one on transitioning from a working Board to a governing Board. I look forward to sending other Board members next year.

[Lela Klein and other panelists during their session about financing startup food co-ops. Photo credit Troy Freund Photography]


It was a pleasure as usual to represent our very own Gem City Market at this year’s Up & Coming 2020 Conference. The best part was having such a large contingency to build camaraderie and education amongst our peers. I had the opportunity to expand my knowledge through a number of modalities.

[Kenya Baker taking questions at the conclusion of her presentation during Up & Coming 2020. Photo Credit Troy Freund Photography]

The highlight of the trip was visiting the incubator kitchen. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about how the people of Madison were sharing a workspace to build capacity and increase earnings. Cooperative is alive and well in Madison, Wisconsin.

[Photos from the tour of FEED Kitchens in Madison, WI. Photo Credit Troy Freund Photography]

Each year a group of Black cooperators carve out time to fellowship and strategize. This year was no different. The National Black Food and Justice Alliance facilitated an excellent breakout session. We brainstormed and built stronger relationships.
[ Photo Credit Troy Freund Photography]

In addition, I learned some creative and innovative approaches to volunteer recruitment and retention in a session about building a broad volunteer base. My key take-away from this session was to ensure that I have a reward program that celebrates the contribution of our volunteers.

A few sessions were designed to teach us how important it is to not fail. I attended a session called, “A Tale of Three Co-ops”. During this informational session, I learned some of the critical dos and don’ts of the cooperative world. It was refreshing to hear that our coop has properly adjusted to prevent some of the common pitfalls of cooperatives.

[Panelists during “A Tale of Three Co-ops” photo credit: Troy Freund Photography]

I kicked off the conference with a high level session on plotting a roadmap for opening success. We learned about how to ensure that our General Manager selection was non-discriminatory and most importantly, non-dividing. The organizers/ presenters of this session were adamant that we should ensure our GM selection reflects the demographics of those being served, but still present both strong soft and technical skills.

Overall, the conference was refreshing and affirming. It is always a relief to know the work we have all committed to so diligently is on track for success.

Have you seen our first Report Back from David K. Greer?

Stay tuned for Report Backs from our remaining GCM delegates. 

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