Kentwood’s New Champion
Leonica Riley Erwin is a 44-year-old, Black American woman from Battle Creek, Michigan. She has been a determined and resilient community activist since she was a teenager. Her interest in social justice issues developed while observing hardships faced by her classmates. She noticed impoverished students with holes in their shoes. She empathized with peers who were teased for talking with an accent. She watched in horror as her male classmates started joining gangs, committing crimes, and dying violent deaths if they did not go to prison. Leonica and her female classmates became teenage mothers, balancing high school with adult responsibilities. All of these situations inspired her to research the causes of and solutions to the issues that were so common among her classmates, as well as young people across the county. She became a mother at 15 and that experience sparked her determination to make the world a better place for her child.
Leonica took her son with her to Albion College where she earned a BA in Psychology with a Concentration in Human Services. She had a hard time balancing college with the welfare-to-work requirements of 1996. She got a full-time job at a facility for juvenile delinquents in order to take care of her son during her last two years of college. She transferred to a position providing home-based services to families whose children were at risk of going into the foster care system. She earned an MSW from Grand Valley State University a few years later.
Leonica Riley Erwin has worked in child welfare for almost 25 years. She has spent the last 18 years providing family preservation services to families in Kent County while working for Wellspring Lutheran Services in Kentwood the entire time. Over the years, Leonica has been a champion for issues related to equity and inclusion, mental health, substance use, and domestic violence, collaborating with various human service organizations, community coalitions, businesses, and individuals to increase compassion and tolerance toward our neighbors.
Leonica and her husband, Deon, became friends when she was in junior high school. They started dating when Leonica returned home from Albion College. This power couple has been married for 16 years, a couple for 21. The duo has strong family values and works hard to live the American dream. They have a blended family of seven children: Dre’Quan (28), Deonte (25), Dre’Shawn (22), Kimari (17), Serenity (11), Jazmine (7), and Kingston (2). With the oldest three boys living on their own, Deon, Leonica, and Kimari moved to Kentwood in 2013 because of the city’s diversity, school system, and beautiful neighborhoods. Serenity, Jazmine, and Kingston joined the family two years ago and were adopted after their father, Leonica’s uncle, died. Deon and Leonica have been relative caregivers on two other occasions to keep children in her family from going into the foster care system. This is because they believe in taking care of family, giving back to the community, and being accountable for what happens there. Deon and Leonica are known for being the “goto” for family, friends, and neighbors in need of support. The Erwins recently purchased a house to make Kentwood their forever home. They even added a puppy named Ziva to make their household complete. The family enjoys watching movies, playing board games, taking selfies, throwing barbeques, and walking around on all the beautiful trails found in Kentwood.