Dayton, Ohio – Daj’za Demmings appreciates all her West Dayton community did to raise her, which is why she does so much to give back.
“I kind of do a little bit of everything,” said Demmings, 29, who started Dayton Young Black Professionals in 2018. “I’m what you call a servant leader. I kind of just see what the needs are and figure out a way to address those needs.”
During this challenging year, Daytonians have persevered and banded together. Throughout the month of December, the Dayton Daily News is telling the stories of individuals who have inspired others. Three people nominated Demmings for this Inspire Dayton series, one calling her “a true community servant.”
Dayton Young Black Professionals sprung into action in the wake of the 2019 tornadoes to deliver food, water and other supplies to hundreds of impacted Trotwood and Dayton residents.
In 2020, Demmings and her organization continue to identify and fill needs in the community. In March, Dayton Young Black Professionals solicited donations to help more than 40 students get home when Wilberforce University had to abruptly shut down campus due to COVID-19. Since the pandemic forced schools to go online, the group organized a laptop giveaway in August for West Dayton students.
The day before Thanksgiving, the group gave away hundreds of cooked holiday meals and winter preparation kits.
Castel Sweet, director of community engagement and diversity, equity and inclusion at the University of Dayton, said Demmings’ persistence is inspiring.
“I’ve just seen it over and over: Whenever there’s this opening, she’s one of the first to see that opening and immediately start plugging into that,” Sweet said. “And she doesn’t just do it on her own. She has a great way of bringing together different organizations to also collaboratively support that work.”
Asked how her group funds its outreach, Demmings said, “We just ask.” For example, for the #GIVETHANKS initiative on Nov. 25, Dayton Young Black Professionals accepted monetary and item donations so they could pass out meals and winter kits containing such items as hats, gloves, hand warmers and hygiene products like toothpaste. The group partnered with area nonprofits Dayton Cooks and Miami Valley Meals and solicited sponsorships from area businesses.
The goal was to pass out 300 meals and 600 winter kits. The initiative distributed 1,000 meals and 700 kits in under three hours.
Demmings finds time for her activism between working as a manufacturing engineer, boxing in her home gym and spending time with her family — fiance Natasha Tolentino, Tolentino’s 13-year-old daughter Adrielle, Cha$e the dog and Lemon the cat. She is a proud alumna of Central State University and Wilberforce University.
Sheda Obayanju of Dayton, a former classmate of Demmings’ at Central State, said she nominated Demmings because Demmings works for her community “nonstop everyday.”
“Her heart is pure,” Obayanju said. “It’s just pure intentions. Everything she does is intentional.”