In honor of Women’s History Month, we wanted to feature a young woman who is literally making history with her amazing trailblazing, unstoppable energy, enthusiasm and incredible grit & grace.
Marsha Flowers Akindona…. honestly is hard to describe in any other way than simply remarkable! She is truly an inspiration to us! We have absolutely loved getting to know her and cannot wait for you to read her story and be reminded of all the possibilities when we live with open hearts and open hands. She is strong, driven, kind, compassionate, the epitome– of both a dreamer and a doer!
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I am a person who loves the life that God has given me, and in embracing that love I do my best to make the most of every opportunity, big or small; whether in feast or famine, I am all about finding a way to show gratitude. Now, I have not always been this way, in fact my journey to becoming God’s best version of me started with me learning to be intentional about giving. I came across a quote by Denzel Washington from his book, A Hand to Guide Me that said, “At the end of the day, it’s not about what you have or even what you’ve accomplished. It’s about what you’ve done with those accomplishments. It’s about who you’ve lifted up , who you’ve made better. It’s about what you have given back.” The quote was so inspirational to me because it made me take a look at my life in a different way and ask the question, “What change have I made in the world and who am I here to give to?”
Those questions began my journey to who I am and am becoming, which is first and foremost a follower of Christ, a wife to my best friend and outstanding man named Ayo, the founder of a non-profit organization called the African Athletic Association that sponsors and encourages Rwandan children to go to school by engaging them in sports, and the founder of Byizi Coffee Collective which encourages entrepreneurship in the coffee industry by teaching the people of Rwanda how to farm and sell their coffee at market value through partnerships with European and American coffee roasters and shops; giving them the opportunity to build wealth for themselves and their families. I am also a student of life – always pursuing as much knowledge as I can as a means to make someone else’s life better.
LO- Seriously, could you be more incredible?! And what a great quote by Denzel Washington, yes please. Let us all live that way.
What about your family?
I am the grateful daughter of a two-parent home with three other siblings where my parents really encouraged us to pursue purpose with passion. A few of the things that I remember being constantly on my brain in my early years were the questions of why I was placed on the earth and what talents had God given me to pursue that purpose. My mom being the amazing woman that she is really inspired creativity in our foundational years through homeschooling. Having a gift for teaching, she taught us in her own way – it was structured but very exploratory. We had opportunities to learn experimentally using our five senses as much as possible with things like sewing, cooking, science experiments, engineering and building masterpieces, painting, drawing, taking apart things to learn how they worked and putting them back together; you name it-we probably tried it. My mom was and is a renaissance woman, and so she really inspired us to be that way. My dad is an intellectual visionary and is very goal oriented; he was more structured in his parenting style, but super funny and cuddly; he taught us geography, history and theology, etc, which taught us the discipline of taking notes, and not just committing things to memory but applying knowledge to our everyday lives- he always challenged us to strive for excellence in academics and character. Both of my parents were in the military- in fact that is how they met. They eventually transitioned into full-time ministry, so most of my life I pretty much grew up as a PK (preacher’s kid); another reason why I view my place in the world differently than a lot of people. You kinda build a tough skin because of scrutiny from others, but at the same time you develop an empathy and desire to help others. As I mentioned before, I have three siblings who are just amazing in their own rights. My oldest brother Jarrell is a music genius, my sister Kimberly is a tech genius, and my younger brother Ricky is a construction guru – he can build just about anything at this point. I can’t even tell you how much fun we had growing up together; I am who I am in large part because of them. My family is a bunch of loving, cuddly, funny, creative, goal driven people who I love so very much. Living far away from them can get really difficult at times.
LO- Family is such a gift…. Wow, and reading about yours is amazing. It is no wonder you miss them! What a great foundation they gave you. You are surely standing on the shoulders of giants.
Where have you put down roots?
So I’ve put down roots in a few places in my adulthood, in places like San Antonio, TX where I am from, in Austin, TX where I lived for about 5 years, in Atlanta where I lived for 6 years, and now Midland, MI where I have lived for about 2 years. Saying it out loud really sounds crazy because it reminds me of how old I am, but then again I really enjoyed building a community and a network in those places which are still with me today. Growing roots in Midland has, by far, been my most challenging mov– primarily for the change of pace and the weather (lol) but I am learning to adjust by finding joy and excitement in discovering as much as I can here.
LO- Ha! Yes, Midland does take some getting used to when you move from a larger city. So glad you are finding all of the hidden treasures of our beloved city.
How many years have you lived in Midland?
In what ways are you involved in our community?
I am involved in the community as a mentor for the Great Lakes Bay Big Brother Big Sister Organization, as a volunteer cook for Midland Open Door’s food kitchen, and as a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity in the Detroit area through Delta Airlines. I also volunteer with my husband for different DOW community projects on occasion and finally I am a Life Lessons teacher at my church – Christian Celebration Center. My husband and I are also business owners in the area. We own Native Axe Throwing Co and Byizi Coffee Collective both based out of Midland, MI.
LO- You surely do not waste any time. Like for real, you are superhuman! Do you sleep? lol
How do you want to change or improve Midland?
I really have a desire to put Midland on the map for something other than being Dow’s headquarters. I love Dow.. don’t get me wrong, but I would love to see Midland’s socioeconomic status thrive beyond Dow, as in, if Dow were to move their headquarters elsewhere, people would still have a desire to be in Midland because because they would see it as a thriving city; still trying figure out how to sell people on the weather though lol. Both my husband and I have big plans for Midland that will build a sense of community in a different way than it has been built in the past. We want to help foster a community that champions small business owners and does an even better job at loving on people like they are family – the kind of family that we all like. The idea of not always having to run to Detroit, Saginaw, Flint, or Bay City for fun or opportunity is a big inspiration for our endeavors. We want Midland to be the go to in the Tri-cities area and that begins with building a community that loves and encourages everyone to be their best selves no matter their socioeconomic class, race, or gender.
LO-yes, yes and yes. So much yes. We want to be a part of this WITH you.
What are your dreams?
My dreams, in general, are to be a person that others look to for inspiration and for help in becoming the best versions of themselves. I do feel like I have been equipped with a gift to inspire people to greatness in different areas and I believe that is what I am here for. I have had a ton of different life experiences in my short time on this earth and because of my exposure to different cultures, backgrounds, careers, statuses, and pandemic situations, (lol) I have a lot to pour back into people. More specifically, my dreams are to become a global leader in the coffee industry allowing people to build wealth for themselves and their families, to encourage organized sports and academic education in places that lack opportunity, while inspiring those student-athletes to be both dreamers and doers, and to facilitate a place of healing for body, soul and mind.
LO-That las sentence is our big why. We are kindred spirits for sure.
What are you passionate about?
As you can tell, by a lot of my previous responses, I am passionate about helping people no matter where they are in life. I do realize, however, that I can’t help everyone and because of that I am intent on using my gifts and talents in the areas of education, sports, coffee, health, and inspiration. My educational background beyond being homeschooled in elementary and middle school and having attended a college preparatory high school are: 4 bachelor’s degrees in Banking, Finance, Accounting, and Exercise Science, 2 Masters Degrees in Sports Management and Athletic Coaching, and I am currently enrolled in a Doctor of Physical Therapy program. These degrees have helped me to start my non-profit, run a coffee farm in Rwanda while building a sales network in the states, and to encourage healing and wholeness to people. I guess I would say that my education and talents reflect my passions and overall that is helping to advocate the successful well-being of others based on how I have been equipped.
LO-We love your passion and cannot wait to see how all of these experiences help you achieve your dreams and help you to serve others.
What breaks your heart?
What breaks my heart is the opposite of my passion. It is seeing people underperform as themselves. When I was younger it used to make me upset to see what I categorized as “lazy people” but maturity and growth helped me to see that not everyone has direction and even if they do have direction, they may not have the knowledge or opportunity to achieve what they want to achieve; and I really hope to be able to fill in those gaps as much as possible.
LO-You certainly have a gift. And your encouragement for others and ability to help to empower and equip is key!
How have the winds of life made you stronger?
Wow! What a great question to ask! I would say that the winds of my life have served as teaching moments for me. Whether the winds I faced were consequences of my own actions or were just environmentally circumstantial I have always left those situations with a life lesson. The lesson may have been to lean more heavily into my faith (that’s always the real lesson lol) or to change my actions going forward. Whatever it may be, I commit to learning something new about myself and about God. I actually committed to the process of approaching life’s challenges in this way when I went through the same storm twice in two different years. The second time around I asked myself what I learned from the first time. When I realized that I never stopped to take inventory of my emotions, actions and how to handle them, I also realized that I had done myself a disservice because I had not given myself the opportunity to grow and move forward; I was simply existing and reacting as life happened to me. That was a turning point in my life, a game-changer and an eye-opener that postured me in a direction of immense growth.
LO-Storms make us stronger for sure… growth is messy, uncomfortable, and painful… but so good. I love how you have learned to take inventory of your emotions! That is so important for moving forward.
Will you share more of your faith story with us?
Gosh so my faith story started when I was four years old at prayer time in 433 B Calgary in San Antonio, TX. It was a Sunday night and earlier that day I remember overhearing my older sister and my brother talking about heaven to my parents after Sunday school and how they were going to go there. I remember thinking that I wanted to be with my siblings, parents, and Jesus in heaven and so I needed to know how to get there. I asked my sister and she told me that I needed to be saved. Long story short, that night my parents explained everything to me and I received Jesus. Fast forward, I was always the kid who had a super sensitive spirit/conscience to the point that I would tell on myself despite knowing the consequences. I loved Jesus and did my best to please Him. I was pretty much like that until I graduated from high school and went to college. College was the moment that I met Jesus in a different way. I was on my own; the world was not what I thought it was, I was not who I thought I was, and I had some pretty big things happen to me that caused me to search for Jesus. Thankfully, He showed up for me in a big way, allowing me to connect with a community of some amazing people who held me accountable and showed me the love that I needed, one of whom became husband. After college I transitioned back to San Antonio and quickly realized how much I missed my faith community from college. I attended my parent’s church, and was very much involved, but I was missing a level of closeness with people my age. I found community with some girlfriends from other churches and unfortunately, I really got burned in those relationships and so for a time I drew back when it came to trusting Christian people. It was kind of a “me and God against the world” mentality, which was not wise because God created us as interdependent beings; we need each other. I grew a lot spiritually in those moments, because I approached my relationship with God through the perspective of friendship. We became great friends: I vented to Him, I laughed with Him, I asked Him for advice, I cried in His lap – I mean we became super close. During that time was when my non-profit was birthed. Eventually I moved to Atlanta, and the closeness that was developed between us held me, and finally I met a community of people who were so very welcoming and full of love. I grew in faith and community which was so encouraging to my soul and that’s when God gave me the vision for Byizi Coffee. Then I moved to Midland… and I found myself in that place again where I was missing my faith community – once again I found myself with the opportunity to further deepen my relationship with Jesus in a place where it was just Him and I. Moving here has definitely caused my faith to grow, Initially I only wanted to be here for a year at most because I really did not enjoy Midland. I have since developed some relationships with some beautifully created people and have developed an attraction to Midland. I honestly never saw that happening, so I know it is a God thing – He gave my husband and I vision.
LO-such a powerful testimony and beautiful reminder of how sometimes our darkest seasons give birth to the best dreams.
Where do you get your grounding?
I get my grounding from my relationships and my environment, which is why my big transitions have been difficult. Change in proximity to the people I vibe with and love, as well as change to an environment that has become home to me, is always hard but, I think it may be a thing for me that God is using in my life to stretch me. My relationship with God holds me down wherever I am at, my relationship with my husband is my favorite thing on the planet, my relationships with my family and friends are also lifelines for me – without those relationships I know that I would be completely lost. I’ve really been missing my sister Kimberly a lot lately; I definitely shed some tears the other day wishing she lived closer to me – this means I need to take a trip to San Antonio asap lol. In reference to my environment, what I am surrounded by is a big part of my grounding. I have to be inspired by my environment because at least ⅓ of me is a creative lol. It is hard for me to be productive when I am not in a space that helps me to think creatively, which is one of the reasons why I love coming to Live Oak! When I need a break from my own creative space, Live Oak never disappoints! I have had so many good ideas just by walking into your shop and what you have done to the Makers Room is everything! Places like that are an oasis for my brain; I need overwhelmingly life-giving environments. Another component of my environment is my exposure to different people, cultures, and ideas. I love to travel, and in doing so, it really gives me the opportunity to understand people in a deeper way beyond the stereotypes and beyond what I have been told – I am able to learn through my own experiences. My relationships and my environment have always been my starting place; I feel like if I have those things then I can really be my best self for the rest of the world.
LO- We LOVE that you have found an oasis in Live Oak. That is the desire of our hearts. Understanding others in a deeper way beyond stereotypes is our goal. We love the quote by Shauna Niequist that says, “The heart of hospitality is about creating space for someone to feel seen and heard and loved. It’s about declaring your table a safe zone, a place of warmth and nourishment.”
Finally, do you have a favorite quote you could leave us with?
My favorite quote is by Marianne Willamson:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
LO-YES! We love this quote too! So good.
My favorite scriptures are:
Eph 3;20-21 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
I Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
LO-Ephesians 3:20, 21 is a life verse for us too. Such an incredible source of hope.
Marsha, you are an absolute treasure. A true inspiration to us all. We are so incredibly grateful to know you, learn from you, and cheer you on as you live out your remarkable story! We cannot wait to see you bravely step into this next season!
Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for taking the time to share part of your story with us. Your contribution to our community is vital. You are a HISTORY MAKER and we honor you.