At the Garden of Gethsemane, Mikhaella Norwood had a revelation: “If Jesus didn’t make a decision within the Garden of Gethsemane to be fully submitted to the call that was on his life, the cross would never have happened.”
She continued, “It made me think about all the steps that were necessary in his decision. Before even making a physical act, he had to make a mental decision, and that just really hit me in a beautiful way.”
This truth and time of reflection during her first trip to Israel in 2018 with the African American Leadership program, sponsored by Philos Project, inspired Mikhaella to write poetry about the gospel and her experience. She later shared this poetry with her bus group as a Fellow on her second trip with Passages, and again as a Senior Fellow during her third and final trip to Israel.
“Every time I’ve gone to the Garden of Gethsemane, it’s been such a special moment,” she remembered.
Even outside of the Garden in Israel, Mikhaella is an artist and entrepreneur. “I’ve been doing poetry basically since I was in middle school,” she said. “I’ve been a writer all of my life; that was actually how I just played basically as a child. It was my form of play… writing songs and raps and lyrics. And then when I got to middle school it just shifted a little bit more into poetry.”
By the time Mikhaella arrived at Michigan State University for college, she was traveling to (and placing in) national spoken word competitions. “That definitely took me to a whole other stratosphere where I realized, ‘Hey, this can be more than a hobby, but something that I can actually do with my life,’” she said.
Today, Mikhaella owns her own business — Free Life Productions LLC — where she writes, speaks about, and performs spoken word poetry. She also owns Free Life Publishing, a business that helps people publish independently, with two partners, along with a poetry collective named the Guild.
Most recently, she began an entrepreneurial group called “As In Heaven” with several friends in the art world. Together, they won the first round of the Passages Leadership Incubator.
With the grant money from Passages, Mikhaella and her team organized “Juneteenth in the D,” a Detroit-located festival celebrating the day that the last U.S. slaves were finally freed two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. The goal, according to Mikhaella, is to make sure “everyone knows that Juneteenth is an American Holiday; it’s not just a black holiday.”
The motto of their celebration is, “None of us are free until we are all free.”
“We definitely want to celebrate the beauty of blackness within America, but we also want to learn about other people groups in America that may need help advocating for themselves in ways that we are advocating for ourselves,” Mikhaella explained.
With that goal in mind, they decided to partner with the Jewish community in Michigan this year to learn more about their experiences. Passages and Philos Project representatives also attended the festival.
And, of course, Mikahealla performed a spoken word. “Everyone on my team, we are artists in our own right, whether poet or singer or fashion stylist. We [all showed] a little bit of our stuff at some point throughout the day,” she said.
If she could give advice to other alumni, she would tell them, “continue to stay tuned and plugged into the network… You just honestly never know what could come from it, what dreams you personally have that… can be possible because you stayed in touch or found out new programs that are happening through Passages.”
This year at RISE Conference, Mikhaella was given the PLN Leader of the Year award for her incredible contributions both within and beyond the Passages community. Congratulations to our 2021 PLN Leader of the Year!