Right relationship right now
Susan Reed | March 17, 2017
Many are seeking to help and walk alongside immigrants and refugees right now, but lots of folks don’t exactly know what to do. There are lots of great ideas for work that communities can do to be in solidarity with immigrants! The Michigan Immigrant Rights Center and our Welcoming Michigan initiative have published lists, and lists are great. There are models for schools, churches, Welcoming Cities and Counties (like our own!), and more.
But every big idea isn’t the right fit for every community or institution and every action has to be authentic to the community that’s planning to take it. Actions become meaningful only in the context of relationship.
For communities that have immigrant, refugee, and undocumented members, externally-driven models are no substitute for internal attention to one another’s needs. Here’s an example: recently I was asked by a church that I know well has a high percentage of immigrant members, including many undocumented members. They wanted our legal and practical advice about whether or not to call themselves a “sanctuary church.” Their understanding was that being a sanctuary church meant they that would be available to shelter people facing deportation if an attorney or advocacy group made a referral of a family that wanted that kind of protection at some point in the future. They were worried about the legalities and worried that the conversation about whether to take on the title of sanctuary might be divisive.
First of all, being silent as a faith community when so many of your own members are in crisis is already incredibly divisive; it’s just that the division created by silence is invisible to those who are not affected. Having acknowledged that, maybe it’s the case that this particular community isn’t ready to do this kind of sanctuary as a community if they have these concerns. And, maybe physical sanctuary in the future at the church isn’t what the immigrant members of the faith community want or need right now. There are almost certainly people in this particular community who have court hearings and immigration check-ins in Detroit who are struggling to get there.
Maybe the church could organize a ride-sharing program –– maybe folks with reluctance about the politics but willingness to help a neighbor in need would even be transformed (don’t all of the best conversations happen on road trips?). Maybe this church needs to commit itself to more bilingual services and activities to be more integrated. Maybe they need to do those things before they can make a real commitment to sanctuary and they had better get started! Or maybe at the end of their internal conversation and process, they want to call themselves a sanctuary AND carry out a ministry of accompaniment to those struggling with the immigration process. The point is, it’s about who they are now and who they might become together, not what list they’re going to be on or what they’re going to call themselves.
There are many other ideas that might be relevant and meaningful for any given community, but the answers don’t begin online or in a training when you’re talking about what most affects your own (and I say this as the leader of an organization that proudly provides useful content and training about immigrant rights and integration). Don’t default to a toolkit and ignore the very people who are in the best position to articulate what’s most helpful. It’s awkward to ask what folks need when maybe you feel like you shouldn’t have to. Let it be awkward. If you don’t have anyone to ask, then forming genuine personal and institutional relationships is clearly the first step, no matter how slow it feels. And, be intentional about how those relationships will be mutually beneficial or you end up objectifying and making more work for those most affected. Learn from each other and then look for the resources that best help you implement the most relevant plan for your community.
Relationship is so much more difficult than downloading the solidarity manual, but it’s also so much more meaningful. We’re always here at MIRC and Welcoming Michigan to support affected community leaders struggling with these dynamics and support institutions and communities who are ready to take risks and move forward. We look forward to getting to know you or deepening our relationship.
Susan is Managing Attorney at Michigan Immigrant Rights Center.
Judy Sivak | March 28, 2017
It's well known that our community, state, nation and world is aging. Baby Boomers are turning 65 at the rate of 8,000 each day, for the next 20 years. Here in Kalamazoo County, nearly 20 percent of the population is already over age 60 and we have identified 67 people who are 100 years old or older! It's time to bring more attention to aging issues and whether or not we are ready to meet the realities of elderhood in our community.
The Celebrate Elderhood initiative is challenging ageist attitudes, myths and stereotypes, and showcasing how this stage of the lifecycle enriches individuals, families and the community. The Area Agency on Aging IIIA and the Kalamazoo County Older Adults Services Advisory Council along with many volunteers and community partners, are coordinating efforts to set a community standard where elders and the people and organizations that make up the network of service providers are valued, respected and supported. We want to change the perceptions, discourse and actions that relate to aging so that Kalamazoo County is known as a great place to grow up in and grow old in.
But first, we must educate ourselves about those aging issues, and there are many. Let's get rid of the quest to be youthful and all that anti-aging advertising and products and accept that our bodies are aging. Anyway, how can you be "anti-aging?" Younger generations need to learn to respect elders, as many other societies do, as they will find great wisdom and kindness. We must do all we can to assure elders they can stay in their home of choice for as long as they want with quality care and services. Unfortunately, this is not possible for hundreds of frail elders who are on waiting lists.
The Celebrate Elderhood initiative will be honoring centenarians, senior Olympians, World War II veterans, businesses who have elder-friendly policies, service providers, faith communities and individuals who are exhibiting excellence and innovative services at a community event on May 18. We will also be announcing winners of scholarships that will help individuals become certified dementia practitioners and will have the fifth grade winners of a writing contest read their essays along with a video of the wisdom of centenarians. A buzz is starting in Kalamazoo County and I hope that you will become part of what's going on as we Celebrate Elderhood together.
Learn more about the Celebrate Elderhood initiative
Judy is director of Kalamazoo County Older Adult Services/Area Agency on Aging IIIA.
Trek to a better tomorrow
Rick Chambers | March 3, 2017
When Nichelle Nichols told a man she’d just met that she had quit her job, he scolded her.
“You can’t!” he insisted in a deep, resonant tone. “You’re part of history. For the first time, we are being seen the world over as we should be seen.”
A stunned Nichols paid heed. When she returned to work, she shared the encounter with her boss, who wept over the man's words.
Nichols is best known as Lieutenant Uhura, communications officer aboard the starship Enterprise in the 1960s television series Star Trek. The boss who cried? Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. And the man who told Nichols to stay the course? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
In an era of social upheaval and racial strife, little did Nichols know that portraying a senior Starfleet officer — one who happened to be black and female — would inspire countless thousands of individuals of all races and genders to strive for greatness. Among them were a young, aspiring writer in Kalamazoo and a bright, wishful girl in Chicago.
Star Trek leaped beyond space-monster clichés to tackle social issues — war, prejudice, greed, the environment, cultism, even sex. (This was the 1960s, after all.) After its initial three-year run, Star Trek went on to great popularity in syndication, spawning movies, spinoffs, books, collectibles and even independent, fan-produced series.
Star Trek promised a future of peace, compassion and equity. People of every race and culture worked together for the good of all. Gender, ethnicity, even species of origin presented no barriers. That future has resonated and inspired people for more than 50 years.
As a youth growing up in Kalamazoo, I was one of those inspired. Star Trek spurred my love of writing. I went on to pursue a career in journalism and communications, became an author and, to my amazement, a screenwriter for the acclaimed web series Star Trek New Voyages. My two episodes released to date, “Mind-Sifter” (from the famed short story by Shirley Maiewski) and “The Holiest Thing,” have entertained hundreds of thousands of viewers worldwide.
And that young girl from Chicago? Stirred by Star Trek and Lieutenant Uhura, Mae Jemison became a scientist and an astronaut, recruited by Nichols herself for NASA. In 1992, Dr. Jemison became the first African American woman to fly in space, serving as mission specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour flight STS-47. A year later, she realized another dream: a speaking role in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, becoming the first real-life astronaut to appear on the show.
Today, Dr. Jemison encourages women and minorities to pursue science careers, or wherever their dreams take them — a message she will bring to Kalamazoo at the Community Foundation's 2017 Community Meeting on March 23. (The event is free and open to the public.) Like Nichols, she has become part of history, showing the world what the future can be. I admire her commitment. Like her, I aspire to advance the future that inspired us both: a future of compassion and equity, where the dreams of little girls like Mae and little boys like Rick can boldly go — anywhere.
Rick is a public relations consultant for Rick Chambers & Associates and author of the novel Radiance.
Truth, racial healing and transformation
Lanna Lewis | February 8, 2017
In recent months, and arguably years, the illusion that we live in a post-racial society has been all but shattered in the public discourse. Events ranging from shootings of unarmed Black men on camera by police officers to the violent rhetoric of the recent presidential election that inspired at least 700 hate crimes within the first week – as well as the denial of entry to legal U.S. residents based on nationality and many more – have gotten a great deal of media attention and inspired many people and communities to action.
While many across the U.S. and the world are in shock and uncertain as to how we arrived at this point, others who have been working tirelessly for years or even decades are both recovering from the loss of ground in the movement toward civil rights and social justice and gearing up for new and increased efforts. Yet there are others in our country who still do not see, still do not understand, or even yet believe in the motivation behind it all – the idea that some people deserve the treatment they get because of inherent differences or that some cultures are ‘better’ than others. This is far from being unique to the U.S. – similar sentiments towards nationalism, Islamophobia, anti-LBGTQ, and other exclusionary views are fueling policy changes and a loss of human rights around the world.
This is what W.K. Kellogg Foundation is calling a belief in the hierarchy of human value. This believe in a hierarchy, particularly when it comes to race, has persisted and influences not only policy and institutions, but also culture and individual values. The Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT) enterprise is a new initiative in which WKKF has called together more than130 leading national organizations to begin to craft solutions to this embedded problem that will be implemented community-by-community, starting with 10 areas across the country. These solutions focus on racial healing on the personal and community level, changing the way that narratives about people and communities that are presented in the media, ways to address segregation and colonization, as well as economic and legal transformation.
Racial equity has been a central focus of WKKF for years, as well as of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation. As a result KZCF, along with partners from across our community and the state as a whole, were invited to attend a summit in December of 2016 designed to be an introduction to the TRHT. Over 500 people from the chosen regions across the country attended, all equipped with experience, expertise and energy for the work of addressing the deep divides in our communities and in our country. And it couldn’t have come at a better time. Early on in the summit, participants recognized the urgency of the moment, as we were staring down the presidential inauguration, and called for a National Day of Racial Healing on Jan. 17.
That day became a launching point to both begin discussions on TRHT and build on work that is already happening in our communities, in order to engage in truth telling, build bridges, and foster genuine conversations nationally. The event in Kalamazoo was titled Stories That Unite Us, and it quickly sold out with 120 attending. Participants learned about the TRHT enterprise, saw clips from the film America Divided, participated in reflection and discussion, and were connected to ongoing work happening in our community.
Kalamazoo partners who answered the call to host this event included ISAAC, SHARE, Fair Housing Center of Southwest Michigan, Black Arts & Cultural Center, ERACCE, Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College, Michigan Immigrant Rights Center/Welcoming Michigan and Kalamazoo Community Foundation.
Many times, as people become aware of the injustices in our society, they don’t know how or where to begin to address it. We say, it starts at home, it starts with us, it starts with building relationships and seeking the truth. The TRHT enterprise hopes to provide a collective commitment and long-term determination to embrace a new narrative for the nation, a belief in common humanity, and to bring about transformational and sustainable change locally and nationally.
Lanna is a member of the Community Foundation's Community Investment team.
Students of history
Donna Odom | January 18, 2017
If you’re a student of history or have had conversations with activists from the 1960s – like Lewis Walker, Lisa Brock, or the late Charles Warfield – you may, like me, be struggling to understand how we could still be so divided racially.
We seemed to have taken so many steps forward, but here we are still locked in a cycle of fear and lack of understanding. Now more than ever we need to face our issues of race and invest ourselves in personal transformation. This comes through facing and acknowledging our history, making connections across racial and ethnic divides, and healing and reconciliation.
Although we did not legally change our name to the Society for History and Racial Equity until 2015, SHARE was really born when we established the Racial Healing Initiative in 2010 as a result of our participation in the Race Exhibit Initiative. Inspired by Tom DeWolf, author of Inheriting the Trade, Sharon Morgan, co-author with Tom of Gather at the Table, and the work of Coming to the Table, we based our initiative on the philosophy of Transforming Historical Harms, developed and articulated by Amy Potter Czajkowski and David Anderson Hooker of the Center for Justice and Peace-building at Eastern Mennonite University.
From the beginning our goals have been to increase awareness of racial disparities, facilitate interaction between people of different races and ethnicities, increase awareness of the historical harms of racism and discrimination, and inspire individual and community transformation.
As students of history we also know that events move in cycles and as we move into this challenging period, we must pay heed to the message of the Sankofa – the symbol of which is a mythical bird with its feet planted forward and its head turned backwards – the past serves as a guide for planning the future. The dark periods of history are always followed by periods of enlightenment. It’s for us to remain steadfast in our message of hope, healing, and reconciliation, so this year we will continue to work with our community partners to provide the core programs of the Racial Healing Initiative:
- Oral histories where our goal is to uncover and enliven the previously undervalued histories of people of color in ways that restore or increase levels of individual and group power, enabling participants to define their own lives and control their own narratives.
- Healing Retreats and Workshops where people can share their stories, find meaning and significance in what they have lived through, and acknowledge and honor the stories and experiences of others.
- Community Discussions and Book Club sessions that provide opportunities for individuals and groups to recognize the shared humanity of other people and other groups and appreciate the different journeys of others.
- Provide Resources for Action by providing small-group trainings on topics such as becoming and working with white allies and implicit bias; programs like the Youth Summit that increase awareness and develop leadership skills; the annual Summit on Racism that provides an opportunity for community members to gather and discuss issues of race and to network and form collaborations.
These goals of healing, reconciliation, and transformation can best be accomplished by a collaborative effort of individuals and organizations in the community and we look forward to maintaining and expanding existing partnerships and developing new ones.
Donna is SHARE's executive director.
2016 Edition: Top 10 reasons why we love where we live
Gretchen Johnson for Kzoo Connect | December 22, 2016
We can't reflect on 2016 without recalling the tragedies that struck our community in February and June. But we can't recall those tragedies without also remembering the singular expression of love and compassion that residents poured forth in the aftermath. This, after all, is a community that turned swampland into the celery producing capital of the world! It's that make-lemonade, can't-hold-us-back, Kalamazoo Strong attitude we celebrate today as we look at 10 More Reasons Why We Love Where We Live!
10. Kalamazoo is all about family
Our moms and dads series highlighted young professionals who are juggling the responsibilities of caring for youngsters while carving out careers. We love these stories. Their experiences will be the childhood memories of a future generation. We also met a young woman working on the other end of the family spectrum, with our aging parents and grandparents. It's comforting to know that there are caring and compassionate people out there to help.
9. Young professionals are shaping tomorrow
We met so many young professionals with first-time jobs in the region that it's impossible to name them all. Some are fresh out of college and thrilled to discover that our robust economy has great jobs right here. Others came for opportunities that brought them home. Some were drawn here for the first time. We celebrate their talent, ideas and enthusiasm.
8. It's a great place to run a business
This year, we discovered stories of several entrepreneurs running big companies and small, some new and some established. Each story of business success is as unique as Kalamazoo itself: From a bakery that caters to people with food sensitivities to a coffee rescue van, and from an improvisational group that teaches people to think on their feet, to a company that's connecting the state for success.
7. Food sustains us in more ways than one
The business of food has been a way of life for our region since the pioneers settled here. From the swampy celery once sold on street corners to the herbs and spices used in pharmaceuticals and food additives, today those traditions continue. Walther Farms sells the local potatoes it grows for potato chips. Green Door Distilling uses local produce to make its signature spirits. And for the startup Season for a Reason, its unique seasonings sells throughout the region to honor the founders' father.
6. Ours is a community that turned beer into an art form, then made it a thriving industry
Perhaps there is nothing more characteristic of Kalamazoo than our craft beer industry. Artisan in nature, entrepreneurial brewers express their personalities through the innovative use of locally grown ingredients with each signature product different from the next. Launched right here in Kalamazoo just a few decades ago, craft beer is now a $1.85 billion industry for Michigan and boasts more than 7,000 direct and indirect jobs and 200 breweries. This year we met two that call our region home.
5. We prepare tomorrow's leaders
It’s been said, "We're in this together beats you're on your own every time." In Kalamazoo, students know their community takes those words to heart. From cradle to career, you'll find lots of people and organizations helping shape our next gen leaders. This year we were introduced to a new member of The Learning Network of Greater Kalamazoo. We heard from Palanca Leadership Executive Director Lisa Palanca about the power of GRIT, and we learned about a program that’s introducing middle school students to career possibilities.
4. It's a place where dreams come true
We spoke with two professionals this year who say they're living the life they once only dreamed of. Chase Mielke is an award-winning educator, a published writer, and a spit-up cleaning father who blends family and career. Lori Moore is the host of The Lori Moore Showon the CW7. Both share their passion for the region and enthusiasm for their work with everyone they encounter.
3. Our neighborhoods are awesome
Like most metro areas, Kalamazoo region is made up of small neighborhoods, townships, and villages - the sum total of which is much greater than its parts. Each eclectic place offers its own amenities and personality. This year we discovered Festive West Bed and Breakfest, the latest edition to a string of unique B&B Inn's in Kalamazoo’s downtown Stuart Neighborhood.
We were introduced to all that the Oakland Drive-Winchell neighborhood offers, and we heard about a hip, contemporary restaurant with Vietnamese cuisine that will soon grace Edison Neighborhood's Washington Square.
2. You'll find lots of fun and interesting things to do here
Our region is rich with high culture, from theatre to music to art hops and art classes. But you'll also find trails to bike or hike and lakes and rivers for water fun. And if you're looking for something more out of the ordinary, you'll find that too! Check out these more unusual activities.
1. Growing up here often seeds a desire to give back
We met two young professionals this year who were born and raised in Kalamazoo and stayed to pay forward the generosity they received as kids. Kevin Hess is a Kalamazoo Promise scholarship recipient who is now in real estate. Eric Wimbley says his experience as a Pretty Lake camper helped prepare him for life. Now the camp's Executive Director, he's helping the 100-year-old camp for underprivileged youth map out a course for our next generation.
Making a community where everyone loves to live
Carrie Pickett-Erway | November 16, 2016
This week we are celebrating Community Foundation Week: a chance for us to share and reflect on the work we and more than 780 community foundations across the country do and the impact we make.
We all bring people together to support efforts that make communities places where everyone loves to live.
Yet as I write this, I'm mindful of incidents of harassment and intimidation that have taken place here in recent days. Incidents like these don't make our community one where EVERYONE loves to live. This isn't acceptable. Equity is one of the Community Foundation's priorities and we are committed to doing everything we can to support people who have been targets of harassment and intimidation or fear they may be in the future.
As we enter the giving season, millions of people from every background will look to support the communities they love and call home. They'll also look to ensure their gifts will make the most impact possible. That's why so many will choose to give to a community foundation.
A gift to one of our Love Where You Live Funds is an investment in the well being and future of Kalamazoo County. Your gift will go to work immediately addressing the community's most pressing needs – including helping all of our residents feel safe – and also will provide sustained support for years to come. And there are many ways to give. You can:
Our vision is a community where every person can reach full potential. Together, with you and our many nonprofit partners, we can make this vision a reality. Thank you for your support. Love where you live.
Carrie Pickett-Erway is the Kalamazoo Community Foundation's president/CEO.
What if I have to eat lunch by myself?
Adrienne Neubert | November 2, 2016
My stomach felt tight, and even though I had showered just 30 minutes ago I felt hot and uncomfortable. I looked at myself in the mirror, when did this outfit become so ridiculous looking? Did I need to be there at 8 a.m. or 9? Oh my gosh, what if I am late for my FIRST DAY? I’ll never live it down. What if everyone hates me and I have to eat lunch by myself?
“You are a grown woman Adrienne, and you will do great,” I said confidently to my reflection.
I immediately frowned, not believing my mirrored counterpart. It was my first day starting my new job and the anxiety I felt reminded me of one thing in particular: that very first day of college. Whether you went to college five states or five minutes away from home, I think most students felt this way. The uncertainty of what is to come, the decisions and of course the possibilities are overwhelming.
To assist with some of those decisions the Kalamazoo Community Foundation is hosting a Financial Aid Night on November 14 at Kalamazoo RESA’s Wile Auditorium at 1819 E. Milham Avenue.
The Community Foundation scholarship team and an area college financial aid counselor will have information for high school graduating seniors. Why is this information important? The presentation will touch on the different ways to help pay for school. It will also detail how to fill out the FAFSA, which can play an integral part in applying for scholarships, and qualifying for available aid from the government and many colleges. We'll also outline the different types of scholarships that are available and highlight some of the 53 different scholarship funds. Awards can range from $250 to $7,500 and students can apply online starting at the end of December.
There is one application open right now: The Clarence L. Remynse Scholarship. The application due date is December 1. You must be a graduating senior who is a permanent resident of Kalamazoo County or be graduating from a Kalamazoo County high school, and be planning on pursuing a four-year degree from an accredited college in business, science (including mathematics and engineering), law, education, psychology or medicine. This award is pretty special too, as the largest award is $7,500 and it is renewable for up to three years after your freshman year. The Remynse Scholarship does take financial need into consideration, so filing that FAFSA is an important part of the process.
The Financial Aid Night is completely free and open to the public, so come join us. I think we can help with some of that uncertainty and maybe even provide some opportunities to make college possible. I can’t say that first day of school will be any less nerve-wracking, but I know it will be the first day of unlimited potential for many.
That first day of my new job (when I started at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation) I saw all the names of student scholarship recipients, read their stories and realized how many of them would do great things. Just another reason to love where I live.
Adrienne is the Community Foundation's scholarship coordinator. She joined our team in September and only eats lunch alone when she wants to.
Happy Birthday, YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo!
Steve Springsdorf | October 18, 2016
I recently had the opportunity to speak to a large group of YMCA friends and supporters who were gathered to help celebrate the 150th anniversary of the YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo. It was a humbling and inspiring experience to stand and represent an organization that has, for 150 years, been such a major community asset.
For 150 years, the YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo has served the area through a rich history of programs, with dedicated leadership, impacting tens of thousands of individuals. As the second oldest nonprofit organization in the region, this Y’s 150th anniversary is an opportunity to demonstrate its evolving, long-standing presence, broad impact and progressive compassion. The Y – the people – the community that has supported it and nurtured it, has much to celebrate and for which to be proud.
Celebrating and recognizing the sesquicentennial of anything is a pretty big deal. And attempting to capture an organization’s accomplishments within that timeframe is daunting. How do we credit and lift every person, every event, and every effort that has led the Y to this point in its history? The Y has come such a long way from that first facility led by volunteers that housed men in need. Today, it stands strong with over 13,000 members benefitting from a myriad of classes, programs and activities; a staff of over 220 part-time and 40 full-time employees; and hundreds of donors who make scholarships available to those who are underserved.
Where the societal gaps seem to grow wider and wider, the Y provides opportunities to narrow and fill them with meaningful, and enriching experiences to help people reach their potential. The Y looks to the future to continue providing active learning programs for our community’s very youngest, a nurturing place for youth and teens, and a supportive environment for families. We look toward the future with hearts that invite everyone to participate and engage. The Y, is, after all, FOR ALL.
Reflecting on the past – on its progresses and milestones – is the easy part. The YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo marks 2016 on its historic timeline not only to look back, summarize and assess, but to force the community’s attentions toward the future, and to ask the important question: How will we anticipate, support, address, and respond to the fast paced changes that the next 50 years will present and demand?
And the bigger question is: What are we doing as individuals, as groups, as a community, to develop programs and initiatives that promote a healthy lifestyle for all?
Yes, the Y is much, much more than a gym. It’s a community center built up through a membership that lifts our neighbors and each other. It is an instrument of the community’s commitment to healthy living. Thank you to all – past and present – who have lived and lifted the Y!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo! Here’s to the next 150 years!
Steve Springsdorf is YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo's president and CEO.
Learning about philanthropy, making a difference
Mary Lou Boughton | September 14, 2016
Imagine high school age youth as grantmakers. It’s a great idea, started by Council of Michigan Foundations in the late 1980s, now in all 86 counties.
In Kalamazoo the group is Youth United Way, a partnership program of the United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region and Kalamazoo Community Foundation offering area youth the opportunity to learn community philanthropy and make a difference through their energy and their opinions.
Recently members of YUW learned how alumni felt the program impacted their lives:
- Skyler Kerr Comstock High School, 2015
"YUW taught me how to be a young leader in my community, a good example for other kids. YUW has strengthened my team working, communication, and leadership skills and helped shape me into the strong person I am today.”
- David Mann Kalamazoo Central High School, 2013
“Youth United Way helped me gain valuable leadership skills and was a great resume builder. I learned about nonprofits and gained valuable communication skills among peers by learning how to express my opinion as well as kindly expressing any disagreements I may have.”
- Ahmed ElMouelhi Portage Northern High School, 1996
“I was part of YUW 20 years ago and it’s one of the experiences still vivid in my mind, as other memories fade. YUW was one of the earliest activities that taught me how to have a greater impact, how to disagree but not disrespect, and how to responsibly make difficult decisions.”
- Anna Clements Kalamazoo Central High School, 2008
“I work in a nonprofit and I haven't been in another group since, that has reached decisions through consensus with the same strength that YUW did. The process showed me that it is possible to value progress and consensus at once, and that one does not have to be sacrificed for the other.”
- Joe Cialdella Hackett Catholic Prep, 2004
“YUW provided me with a way to better understand the community while taking on leadership roles that helped me develop a greater sense of my own ability to work with others to make positive change. More than a volunteer opportunity, it really helped me become more outward looking and community oriented.”
- Alicia Verhage Petersen Galesburg-Augusta High School, 1998
“Youth United Way shaped my life in ways I couldn't have anticipated as a teenager. At the time I knew it was fun and meaningful to participate actively in the community through acts of service and giving grants to local nonprofits. What I didn’t realize was how many life skills I was learning that would help me in my career in conflict resolution and curriculum development.”
How’s that for some testimonials? Youth United Way meets weekly and is open to interested high school age residents of Kalamazoo County. It’s a group that’s as fun as it is meaningful.
And we’re recruiting now! I’d love to share information about this life-changing program. Students who are interested can get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 269.250.9822.
Mary Lou Boughton is Youth United Way's program director.
A different drummer
Tom Vance | August 22, 2016
I first read A Different Drummer as a senior at John Adams High School in South Bend, Ind., for the literature class Establishment Minus One taught by Gerald Kline. In college, at Western Michigan University, I often gave away copies of the paperback as presents and have re-read it a few times – and again recently.
It has stood the test of time as one of my all-time favorite books.
It came out in 1962 and was the first novel by William Melvin Kelley, begun while he was a student at Harvard. Since then, his books include A Drop of Patience, dem, Dancers on the Shore and Dunfords Travels Everywheres.
He’s 79 now, lives in Harlem and teaches writing at Sarah Lawrence College, just north of New York City. He also writes for film, including the recent short film Excavating Harlem, which asks the question “What will our future say about our past?”
According to Kelley’s Facebook page, inter-racial conflict has been the focus of his writing with an “emphasis on the examination of characters, black and white, and the myths with which they delude themselves.”
That’s a nice description of A Different Drummer. The 200-page story takes place in a fictitious Southern state:
In June 1957, for reasons yet to be determined, all the state’s Negro inhabitants departed. Today, it is unique in being the only state in the Union that cannot count even one member of the Negro race among its citizens.
Kelley’s characters, both black and white, represent generations going back to slavery and how they interact with one another throughout this struggle in civil rights. A unique device Kelley uses is placing stream of consciousness of his characters in italics, providing another dimension to the story.
The book begins with this quote from Henry David Thoreau:
If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
It ends with you thinking about the individual roles we each play in the world.
Tom Vance is the Kalamazoo Community Foundation's marketing communication officer. He is the author of two self-published books, including Elliot Richardson: The Virtue of Politics and Napoleon in America: Essays in Biography and Popular Culture.
Passion, determination, dedication and belief
Demarra Gardner | August 8, 2016
I’ll be transitioning from executive director of Educating for Freedom in Schools to a board position at the end of the month, as we bring new leadership and a fresh perspective to this growing nonprofit organization.
My journey in this work began as the founder of Kalamazoo Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools program in 2008. There was great need for high-quality, culturally-relevant, out-of-school-time learning experiences for youth. Based on CDF’s national curriculum model, we could provide reading and cultural enrichment, youth leadership development, parent empowerment, civic engagement and social action.
The opportunity to serve youth in our community has truly been a calling. We didn’t have many resources at first, but the passion, determination, dedication and beliefs of hundreds of volunteers has made this work possible (recognized with a 2011 STAR Award). Early supporters were the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, Irving S. Gilmore Foundation, Kalamazoo Department of Health & Human Services, Kalamazoo Public Schools and Communities In Schools Kalamazoo.
EFIS became its own nonprofit in 2011, with continued community support continued coming from individuals and organizations, including AT&T, the Santreece Foundation, Harold & Grace Upjohn Foundation and Havermill Foundation. Our impact on area youth garnered the attention of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in 2014, supporting a two-year pilot to provide after-school programming at Spring Valley Elementary.
How exciting to see the results of that five-week summer program:
- Literacy results showed double digit increases in sentence and passage comprehension;
- Social and emotional skills such as self-awareness, goal-directed behavior, relationship skills, and decision making improved almost 20 percent.;
- 70 percent growth in each measurement category; and
- About 600 Kalamazoo youth have benefited from this program.
We’ve been blessed time and time again. I’m moved by the impact Educating for Freedom in Schools has had to provide opportunities for every child of every background to learn, engage and grow. It happened because of the tremendous support from the community and the dedication of staff, volunteers, parents and youth participants.
Our new executive director, Henry McCain, brings years of experience from the education and youth development field. You can meet him during EFIS’s two-part education series and reception featuring Dr. Marc Lamont Hill on August 12.
Demarra Gardner operates Change Agent Consultating, is a certified professional executive coach and recently joined the board of YWCA Kalamazoo.
Pokémon Go: Don't forget to look up
Alex Willis | July 19, 2016
Working in the technology industry at Omega Computer Services I am constantly keeping up on the latest tech trends and news. I had a little knowledge about the Pokémon Go app before it was released and was excited to play it. However, it is doing something I never would have expected.
Helping a city heal.
You may think I'm crazy, but if you take one trip to Bronson Park in the evening you will understand that the game is doing something special.
I took a trip to Bronson Park last week to catch some Pokémon with a few friends. It was a nice day so I decided, why not go out and get some fresh air. We pulled up to the park and as I stepped out of the car I was amazed at how many people were actually there. I have lived in Kalamazoo for three years now and have been to Bronson Park many times. The number of people I saw that day was easily triple what I have ever seen there before.
I was in awe for a few seconds, but then joined everyone in the hunt for Pokémon. It didn't hit me until about 20 minutes after arriving at the park and looking up to watch what was going on around me. I didn't even notice but my group of friends and I were talking to a mixed group of people that I just don't talk to on a regular basis. This was a group of all different races, ages and backgrounds, but that wasn't even what got to me the most.
What got to me was that these types of groups were everywhere. The conversations were so natural it was incredible. Everyone that was there could relate on one thing and that was Pokémon, but often it would lead to much more. It was the best ice breaker I had ever seen. I overheard so many conversations about the city, all the way from how long someone has been living here to what is the best place in town to grab a bite to eat.
It's cliché, but it truly is hard for me to put into words. In a time when our city has suffered so much pain in such a short time it is amazing to see what such a simple game can do.
I'll leave with this suggestion: download the app, get outside, catch some Pokémon and don't forget to look up.
Alex Willis is the marketing coordinator at Kalamazoo-based Omega Computer Services.
People are dying
Carrie Pickett-Erway | July 11, 2016
The headlines and social media over the past several days have been painful. I've experienced outrage, despair, fear and hope.
The killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were wrong. Period. And the killing of some people is met with accountability, while the killing of others is not. Why do we get such different responses depending on who the victim is, depending on the victim's race, legal status, class or neighborhood. If killing is wrong, why such difference?
Friends have posted messages to show up, speak up, demand justice and practice self-care. I agree. YES to all of this. There isn't much I can add to the commentary. And, like many, I need to take action within my sphere of influence.
I'm grateful to work with action-oriented advocates for community. Last Friday our leadership team spent the day in retreat, discussing our focus on equity. We challenged each other, confronted our limitations, and put together a handful of concrete action plans to move our work forward. We are looking at ourselves, internally, and asking how we can better prepare ourselves to live into our own stated values. We know it's a long journey and we cannot fail to deliver on our promises. This work is too important. It's really big. We do not have all the answers. We have not gotten it all right. We have to keep working at it.
There are many tools that can be instruments of pain OR protection. The police officer with the gun. The hospital with quality health care. Even the foundation with grants. Whether you see these tools as protection or pain is based largely on your identity – your race, class, gender identity, religion, legal status, sexual orientation.
I believe that people who hold positions of power and influence have a responsibility to examine our role in creating a just society, look deeply into the systems we lead, rebuild them – with our community – in ways that reverse the inequities.
This is a pivotal moment in our country. People are dying. Can we do what we must? I truly hope so. And with a humble and heavy heart, we move forward.
Love, integrity and justice
Carrie Pickett-Erway | June 21, 2016
We celebrated Friday.
We celebrated the life of one of our community leaders. Dr. Charles Warfield completed his life with us Sunday, June 5, and the community gathered to remember him and celebrate the many gifts he shared with all of us. This was a special gathering, with clergymen and women, academics, elected officials, social justice advocates, family, friends and many more. It was an evening of entertaining storytelling, prayer, sadness and joy, for Dr. Warfield invoked all those things.
I was struck by the range of diversity of the celebrants at Miller Auditorium that night. The diversity spanned the spectrum in age, race, faith, sexual orientation and economic background. Dr. Warfield's life stood for diversity and inclusion. Those who celebrated him were encouraged to have their own point of view and to hold that point of view without imposing moral judgement on others.
As I heard so many describe his life, you could see the evidence of his life in the auditorium. So many young professionals who are leaders in their field, because (in part) he helped to support them early on. So many veterans of social justice who have sustained the good fight, because (in part) Dr. Warfield demanded that we all "keep on." So many families held together, because they saw the role models of Dr. Martha and Dr. Charles Warfield. The evidence of a life well lived filled that auditorium.
I remember my own story with Dr. Warfield. He stopped by my office one day – of course unannounced – just to check in. I shared with him my excitement about a new leader involved in our education initiative. At one point in the discussion I said something that disappointed Doc. In fact, I disappointed myself. He laughed, then looked me in the eye and said, "Madam President, you're going to have to do better than that." With that statement he communicated respect and accountability. Two things I believe we need more of in this world.
I am reflecting on the loss of Dr. Warfield, along with so many other losses we have endured in Kalamazoo: Mrs. Anna Whitten, the shooting victims in February, the cyclist victims this month, and the many other members of the Kalamazoo community we've lost to violence. It's hard to hold the pain of these losses, especially when the time between them doesn't seem to allow for healing.
But I found hope on Friday. As we celebrated Dr. Warfield, the auditorium was filled with others who love this community, others who give their morning, noon and night, fighting to make this community a better place. Thanks in large measure to Dr. Warfield, there is a wave of leaders already taking action. We must continue the leadership that he stood for: love, integrity and justice.
More love. Less hate.
Carrie Pickett-Erway | June 14, 2016
A lot can change in one week.
A week ago this blog featured a post written by Jen Hsu, who is the director of Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgender Student Services, a unit of Western Michigan University's Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
The focus of Jen's post is the difficult, yet rewarding work of supporting the LGBTQ community on WMU's campus. Titled I'm Not Alone, she chronicles her personal journey and the difference she is making in the lives of the students she serves. It's an inspiring story we urge you to read.
And then Orlando.
This is a story of unspeakable violence; this is a story about a hate crime. This is an attack on the LGBTQ community, which is an attack on everyone. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their loved ones, the people of Orlando and members of the LGBTQ community nationwide.
The Kalamazoo Community Foundation envisions a community where every person can live as their full, authentic self without fear. There is no place for violence, no room for hatred, bigotry or discrimination.
Last weekend's Pride event in downtown Kalamazoo was a positive example of a community coming together and we were proud to be part of that celebration. It was a beautiful and powerful demonstration of compassion and acceptance.
Yet we live in a state with a history of public policy that is intended to formally marginalize LGBTQ people and their families. We live in a state and nation with irresponsible gun laws. There are mental health issues that must also be addressed.
There is no room for hate speech in the name of politics, religion or anything else. Hate speech fuels violence. For this reason we also will not use this horrible massacre to demonize our Muslim community members. This organization stands with Muslims.
Change is possible. Change begins with acceptance, accepting each other and loving each other for the people we are. Let's celebrate the inspiration we find in stories like Jen Hsu's and Pride as we work for a more inclusive society. Let's support each other in our collective efforts to declare this place, Kalamazoo, a place for all of us. A place where there is more love, less hate.
Jen, you are not alone. The Kalamazoo Community Foundation is not only your friend, but also your ally. We will do what we can to make our community one in which you feel affirmed, safe and loved. We stand not behind you, but with you and our entire LGBTQ community.
I'm not alone
Jen Hsu | June 6, 2016
A little over four years ago, I found myself on a new adventure as I joined the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at Western Michigan University. In the first moment I walked into my new office, I knew it was a special place. Within a minutes, students started dropping by the office just to say hi and welcome me to campus. I got a chance to hear them share their passion for LGBTQIA+ advocacy and how WMU was a place where they could truly be themselves. I knew that enthusiasm and passion well, because that was once me. To this day, I credit going to college and having the opportunity to be my full authentic self for the first time with saving my life.
Later that first week, my new colleagues and friends at the Kalamazoo Gay and Lesbian Resource Center generously hosted a welcome and community reception for me. Here, I had the opportunity to meet a number of community members, many of whom today I consider close friends and respected colleagues.
The work of LGBTQIA+ support, education, and advocacy is seldom easy and rarely quick. There are days when I am impatient because I see how desperately our students, staff and faculty need to see change now, or better yet yesterday, to feel safe, loved, and welcome just as they are. On the many occasions I’ve had a student sitting across my desk with tears in their eyes because they were fired from their hometown summer job for coming out as a lesbian or because they had been harassed simply for using a restroom between classes or because they weren’t sure if they would have a home to go back to after coming out as gay during the holiday break. On those days, I am reminded that we’ve still got work to do.
While it would be easy to become discouraged or to leave work feeling hopeless, the friends, peers, colleagues, and even strangers that I have met in Kalamazoo keep me going. Their kindness, resilience and support remind me that we are not alone in this work. I have come to find love, friends, adventures and community in this city that I never expected to find in my life. Everywhere I go, I meet allies and LGBTQIA+ people from every walk of life who are working tirelessly to shape our neighborhoods, faith spaces, schools, businesses and organizations to be more welcoming spaces for all of us.
This past April, I had the opportunity to celebrate the achievements of graduating students I met as first-year students four years ago. They are going on to become educators, artists, engineers, nonprofit leaders, and so much more. I have seen them grow into confident, wise and spirited individuals. They are changing our community every day by living as their full authentic selves. Whether they remain here in Kalamazoo or not, I know that their experience in Kalamazoo will never leave them. Like them, I have been transformed during my time in this city. It has shown me that I’m not alone in my work, my identity, or my hope for a more inclusive society. When I think about these new graduates who have transformed into brave adults right in front of my eyes, I can see the progress we’re making as a community and I can’t wait to experience what’s to come.
Jen Hsu is director of Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgender Student Services at Western Michigan University. The Office of LBGT Student Services is a unit of WMU's Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
Because of Anna Whitten, I can
Dr. Turnera Croom | May 26, 2016
Company founders often become laser-focused on the needs of the business or start-up venture – not surprising at all. Sometimes the death of a powerful, historic civil rights figure, especially in your own town, shakes some sense back into your myopic view of what’s important.
This happened to me. My new veteran-owned small business, Vets In 3D, has been making strides in the 3D print industry, with a focus on veterinary medicine.
As I prepare for the Power Networking Conference in Maryland next week, I’m thinking of how trailblazers like Mrs. Whitten may have been proud of my efforts. Not just as a Black woman, but as a person centered on exposing young people to animal science and the creativity of 3D printing. In continuance of her legacy, I plan to promote my integrated workshops for elementary through high school students, as well as my participation in the upcoming Black Arts Festival, hosted by the Black Arts Cultural Center.
I tuned in to Speak On It on The Touch 1560 AM this past Saturday and really listened as the people of Kalamazoo honored and remembered their civil rights icon and "Kalamazoo County Treasure" Mrs. Anna Whitten, who passed away recently. Mrs. Whitten was instrumental in helping to integrate Kalamazoo businesses in the 1950s and 1960s, which is what enables me to set up my veterinary 3D print shop without fear of blatant business discrimination.
Mrs. Whitten is credited for being a major force in creating the Douglass Community Association in Kalamazoo, which for 97 years has been a community hub on Kalamazoo’s northside – housing numerous organizations like Boys & Girls Club, Mothers of Hope, and the NAACP.
For a young Black female like me to have a chance to own a business or for my daughter to attend KVCC this fall, it’s because of ANNA WHITTEN THAT I CAN!
For my daughter, she must be aware that Mrs. Whitten was a member of KVCC’s board since 1968, and was instrumental in their program FOCUS (with WMU) that helps transition students to four-year universities. She will understand the importance of Mrs. Whitten’s involvement with Brother 2 Brother, a program that helps African American males work toward graduation. And as she navigates through KVCC and on to another school, she will also know, BECAUSE OF ANNA WHITTEN, SHE CAN!
Dr. Turnera Croom, a retired Army veterinarian, is Founder and CEO of Vets In 3D out of Kalamazoo. Vets In 3D's mission is to provide STEM workshops for Kalamazoo students focusing on Veterinary Medicine and 3D Printing.
Achieving independence with WEC
Martha | May 3, 2015
My name is Martha. I was a blessed recipient of the Women's Education Coalition Scholarship for five or six years ending in 2009. I went back to school at 38 years old, looking to move from a paraprofessional to a special education teacher. I think of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation so often and have been remiss in not expressing my deep gratitude for its belief in me and support of my venture.
A rocky marriage of more than two decades was part of my motivation to return to school. I had finally realized I could not stay in my oppressive situation. I figured pursuing the teaching degree I'd dreamed of my entire life would either fix some issues with myself and my marriage or afford me a way to support myself should the marriage not survive. With the Community Foundation's support, I plowed forward while working and raising my four children.
The fact that the Community Foundation chose to invest in me helped drive me when fear and exhaustion would threaten to take its toll. It was a powerful motivator!
I graduated in April 2009. Within a month I was hired by an alternative school for teens in Grand Rapids. I knew it was where I wanted to be and stopped looking for positions closer to home. I went from working in my small, mostly-white hometown to a diverse, urban setting. Diversity had always been important to me even though my town had pathetically little.
By mid-year, I filed for divorce and moved closer to my job. This was the right choice. I'm a much better person now.
It turns out I am pretty good at teaching. From day one, my specialty has been motivating kids to believe in themselves. I meet them where they are and encourage them to reach higher and achieve more. A no-brainer approach that works nearly every time.
A year ago, my superintendent invited me to interview for a position as an academic interventionist at our sister school. Something told me to keep an open mind and attend the interview. I arrived thinking there was no way I'd leave my current middle school class. The interview revealed that I would be part of a team responsible for raising the scores of a failing charter school in danger of being shut down. Seventy percent of the students speak English as a second language. One hundred percent live in poverty. I left the interview convinced that I was the person for the job.
In my first year our team raised student proficiency from less than one percent to nearly 30 percent. This is my second year at my school and we have a new focus. Statistics say that turning around secondary schools is a challenge that doesn't gain impressive results. Mid-year scores tell an entirely different story here.
I share this not to toot my own horn, but because I want people to know that the Community Foundation helped send me into the field God intended for me. The results have amazed me. It's surprising how a small amount of caring and mentoring can encourage a student to embrace their inner genius.
I recently received a pay raise and bonus and learned that administration would like me to begin coaching my fellow teachers in addition to my other duties.
When the Community Foundation began supporting me, I was a meek person with low self-esteem. My education has helped me work at becoming the person I was meant to be. As a single woman, I am able to maintain a decent standard of living and do some traveling as well. I love my life!
Next year I plan to move out of state to be near my new granddaughter. I look forward to seeing where my next challenge lies. I'm halfway through my master's degree in Middle Grades Studies. Those are my people. I see nothing but possibilities in my future.
The Community Foundation's support has changed my life and I am grateful!
We are accepting applications for the Women's Education Coalition scholarship now through May 15. Click here for more information.
Celebrating 100 years of Pretty Lake
Coby Chalmers | April 14, 2016
Pretty Lake Camp is a magical place. It lets campers who would otherwise never “get out of town” in the summer swim, play, garden, read and enjoy the beauty of the lake and the great outdoors.
For years I stood on corners and in front of stores collecting donations on Tag Day. Oftentimes, those who gave the most were those who had enjoyed time as Pretty Lake campers. As volunteers we cleaned the camp in the spring, checked the campers in at "Old Central" and assisted with camper pick up upon their return. Campers don’t bring anything along as they leave for camp – everything is provided, from their swimsuits and sweatshirts, to their toothbrushes and soap. For many of the campers, this is an experience they take with them throughout their lives. It is pretty cool.
Amazingly, this is the 100th year kids will be able to immerse themselves in this special place. ONE HUNDRED YEARS. That’s a long history for any organization, but especially remarkable for a summer camp that provides everything absolutely free. The Pretty Lake Camp connection with the Kalamazoo Community Foundation also goes back decades. In the 1940s the Community Foundation provided our first grant to the camp, followed by much more support over the years.
In the late 1940s Pretty Lake established an endowment fund with us, and as you think about endowment, it’s amazing to think about the fact that donations made to the Pretty Lake Camp Endowment Fund in the 1940s, 1950s, and all the decades since are still at work supporting the camp. Those gifts have grown, and will continue to grow, providing ever more support for the great work taking place on the lake. Since those early days the camp has expanded dramatically, new cabins have replaced the old, there is an Adventure Center, conference facilities, a camp garden providing fresh produce and a dramatically improved “mess hall." But with all of the changes, the core of their mission remains the same: to provide an outstanding camper experience for hundreds of children each summer, children who otherwise would never paddle off in a canoe, watch a sunset across a lake or sing around a campfire.
Congratulations to the thousands of volunteers, staff and donors who have made this a reality. Isn’t it wild to think about campers 100 years from now. The world will be dramatically different in 2116, but for the campers the joy of attending camp, learning to swim and watching the stars at night will remain.
A community with heart
Angela Brown | March 30, 2016
Just over a year ago on Valentine's weekend 2015 I moved to Kalamazoo to begin my new position as CEO at Community Promise Federal Credit Union.
It was exciting to be joining an organization whose mission is to help people in the community build their credit and learn budgeting skills. We offer fair pricing on products and services as an alternative to predatory lending. Ultimately, helping pave the way to a brighter financial future. The board, staff and volunteers are all wonderful people working together to help people and it is extremely gratifying. There also are numerous organizations collaborating with us in a multitude of ways and more keep coming forward.
After moving in, I took a drive and toured the area of Kalamazoo. I was thrilled to drive the hilly landscape, see beautiful farmland, and the fun and lively downtown area. I passed wonderful historical homes, Henderson Castle, The Civic, The Park Club, the Ladies' Library Association and Bronson Park. Instantly my mind travelled back to a bygone era, and I could sense what it must have been like to live here in the 1800s.
As time has gone by, what has taken me by surprise and brought me the purest happiness is the PEOPLE within the community! Every single person I've met has reached out to me with welcome and in friendship, and made moving away from my family and friends so much easier. I've begun to realize these people are the most incredible, caring people I have ever met! Everywhere I go I meet more like-minded individuals involved in philanthropic endeavors.
I have become inspired by the people of Kalamazoo, and motivated to work harder. It has turned out to be one of the happiest years of my life here in Kalamazoo, and I owe a debt of gratitude to the PEOPLE living here.
These people truly have HEART. I love Kalamazoo!
Angela Brown is CEO of Community Promise Federal Credit Union.
We are stronger together
Brenda Hunt, Mike Larson and Carrie Pickett-Erway | March 10, 2016
Since the Feb. 20 tragic shootings that claimed six innocent lives and critically wounded two, we’ve witnessed the power of resiliency and compassion throughout our region. People gathering to light candles, say prayers and hold one another. Outpourings of sympathy, united in a single phrase: Let us help.
Our regional community is unique in its resolve to rise above the negative. We don’t allow heartbreak to shape us. We don’t give in to circumstances. In the face of evil deeds, we refuse to succumb.
Instead, we as a region choose to define ourselves by love. We will turn to one another and provide support for victims and their families. We will be strong together. And we will be sure that the pain and suffering of these victims — and the victims from prior community violence — will be the catalyst for community conversations that create a better future.
Within hours of the recent shootings, Kellogg Co. stepped forward with a significant financial contribution to help the healing process begin.
The Battle Creek Community Foundation, the Kalamazoo Community Foundation and the United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region came together to form the Help Now! Fund to support victims and families, strengthen our ties as a region and move us forward as a community that stands firm against violence.
We extend our deepest sympathies to all of the people affected by the recent tragic events. We’re humbled to be part of a generous, caring region that is determined to rise from the pain and heartache, show the world how to become something better, something stronger.
The tragedy is still fresh, the road ahead difficult. Many answers remain elusive. Many tears yet to be shed. But once again, our region refuses to be labeled by the malevolence of others.
We choose to change the story. We choose a better path, a journey taken together, hand in hand.
We are stronger together.
Brenda Hunt is President & CEO of the Battle Creek Community Foundation. Mike Larson is the President & CEO of the United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region. Carrie Pickett-Erway is President/CEO of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation.
This post was originally published by the Battle Creek Enquirer on March 2, 2016.
Love and basketball
Carrie Pickett-Erway | March 1, 2016
The acts of violence that took place in our community on February 20 have left our community reeling. While you’ll hear more from us in the near future, I wanted to share a message I received from Chris McGuigan, my counterpart at the Community Foundation for Muskegon County. You’ll recall the community of Muskegon Heights also experienced a terrible, unexpected act of violence (at a high school basketball game) in February.
I have great respect for Chris and her message is a powerful example of how we can be a part of a larger response to building community. Sometimes the most powerful thing we can do to build safe and equitable communities for all is to simply love one another and love where we live.
We are so sad for Kalamazoo as a community and especially the families of the victims of that man’s rampage. Yours is a GREAT and loving community — know that you are surrounded with our, and so many others’, thoughts and prayers.
Last night I received a copy of a letter written by our City Prosecutor asking everyone to go to the Muskegon Heights basketball game on Wednesday to show unity with our M.H. Tigers. You will see, or maybe heard already, that the school originally scheduled to play decided they were too afraid to come to the Heights to play Wednesday. I love that a team from Kalamazoo — Kalamazoo Lakeside Charter — said they would be happy to fill the slot left empty. At a time of grief and loss in their own community, their willingness to meet a need here sends such a message of friendship and love! I believe the gym will be filled to overflowing on Wednesday. Muskegon will take care of the team from Kalamazoo and send them back safely. And the Kalamazoo team is allowing us to take care of each other in a way that will make a long lasting difference. So grateful for that. I LOVE Kalamazoo!
What happened after Ta-Nehisi Coates visited our city?
Sue Ellen Christian | January 27, 2016
Everything and nothing, as you would expect. But also, for me, old ideas from the American psychologist Gordon Allport and the journalist Robert Maynard got a new hold on my imagination.
The auditorium was packed with 2,500 people and could have held more but word circulated that it would be standing-room only, so many people stayed away, though they didn’t need to, as the upper balconies still had seats. Still, the joint was pleasantly full that evening, November 4, 2015. It was the most ethnically diverse crowd I’ve ever seen in the Western Michigan University auditorium. People were talking about it as the cultural event of the fall. That is, until Gloria Steinem came two days later; then she was the cultural event of the fall. Interestingly, she was joining Coates in New York City the evening after her visit to Kalamazoo. In her Kalamazoo speech, she naturally married their two platforms: “You cannot be a racist and a feminist,” she told the audience.
Coates’s 30-minute talk, primarily about the disproportionately large number of incarcerated black men in America, was characteristically straightforward, frank, and steeped in historical references. One comment that drew a lot of applause: White supremacy is the longest-running and most lethal act of domestic terrorism in our country. His talk wasn’t covered by the city’s main news outlet because its small reporting staff was already stretched to cover the local elections also taking place that day.
Within an hour, the event was over, but only after a Q and A between Coates and two community representatives who were seated on a sofa that was brought out to the stage. Coates sat opposite them in an upholstered chair. The idea, apparently, was a Barbara Walters-style interview. But the interaction was awkward and the queries disconnected from the guts of Coates’s comments. And then the award-winning author and MacArthur Genius grant recipient, Coates, was gone from little ol’ Kalamazoo, best known for the song about the gal from here. And we were left with each other again.
In the wake of Coates’s visit, everything happened. The local organizations focused on racial equity and healing, which were already seeing increased interest in their programming due to national protests over the increasing number of black men killed by police, got even busier. Just one example: The Society for History and Racial Equity held a Summit on Racism a couple weeks after Coates’s visit. It drew many more participants than expected—close to 200, and the room’s capacity was 150. The organization’s racial healing retreat the following month quickly reached its maximum number of participants: 25.
And nothing happened. Kalamazoo remains divided largely along racial lines, with the 22 percent of the population that is black on the north and the 68 percent that is white to the west and south. The 6 percent of the Hispanic population generally resides in a pocket on the east side. County statistics from 2010 indicate that almost 44 percent of African Americans live in poverty, as compared to 16 percent of whites. And among the Christians of Kalamazoo, as elsewhere in the nation and as Martin Luther King Jr. noted years ago, Sunday at 11 a.m. continues to be largely segregated.
Inter-ethnic mixing doesn’t often happen spontaneously. Cultural happenings for adults remain largely divided by ethnicity, as do social outings and many clubs. As a rule the most diverse audiences are for local school and college athletic contests, at movie theatres, the shopping mall and downtown festivals.
An old idea has gripped me since Coates’s visit. And now I find myself emotionally attached to it, and this gives me the courage and motivation to better live the idea. In the 1950s, Allport, who studied personality and personality traits, devised the “contact hypothesis.” In a chapter in his book The Nature of Prejudice, Allport posited that intergroup relations could be improved if the contact involved four conditions: equal status between the groups (such as black and white people), common goals, intergroup cooperation, and the support of authorities, law, or custom. The contact hypothesis urges us to go beyond surface relationships and drive-by greetings. As applied to Kalamazoo, it would urge that blacks and whites do something meaningful together. We have to find situations in which we must cooperate, depend on one another, and pursue shared goals. If we do so, when we do so, “them” can become “us.”
Scholars following on from Allport’s work have found that the more we perceive a common identity that contains both “them” and “us,” the less we are biased against the original outsider group. The two subgroups find a common identity in a bigger group. We become Kalamazooans instead of North Siders and South Siders.
The simplicity and power of the contact hypothesis has never seemed more urgent to me. To escape prejudice and build the larger group, you have to purposefully seek out one- on-one meaningful relationships with unlike others. And in our city of 76,000, which I imagine is not too different from many small American cities, the lines are clearly drawn by neighborhood, income, schools, and occupations. So one must make an effort to cross the divides. The late Robert Maynard, a journalist, editor, and publisher who founded an institute for journalism education, called these fault lines—the boundaries of race, class, gender, generation and geography that shape and create social tensions.
As a journalist, I learned somewhere along the way—I don’t recall if it was from Maynard’s teachings or from the Poynter Institute for Media Studies—that a good rule of thumb is to cross two fault lines with each source. As an example, if I were seeking out residents to interview for a story about local water quality, I shouldn’t interview my mirror image— another white, heterosexual, middle-class, middle-aged woman. I might look for a senior citizen who is Hispanic, or a gay man who doesn’t live in my neighborhood. This ensures that as a reporter, I don’t simply seek out those sources that look like and act like me, sources that are easily within my comfort zone.
Coates’s visit got me thinking about applying Robert Maynard’s fault-lines approach to regular life outside of journalism. Seek out people who cross my fault lines, and do this as intentionally as the contact hypothesis’s prescription for creating meaningful relationships with unlike others.
When I shared these thoughts with Donna Odom, the executive director of the Society for History and Racial Equity, she responded: “Exactly what the retreats, community discussions, and book club are all about!” She was kind to hold back from a simple “Duh.”
My son, who is in the seventh grade at an ethnically diverse public school, is already easily crossing the lines. He invited a friend, who is African American, to come along with our family to hear Coates. When we picked up the friend, I stood talking with the boy’s mom on the front porch of their home on our city’s North Side. We didn’t talk long due to the chill and the fact she was still in her short-sleeved medical scrubs from her work shift. We were talking about what time we’d get her son back that evening and what it was we were taking him to and who Coates was. It was mom stuff, not race stuff. And, I realized later, that was exactly the point.
Sue Ellen Christian is a professor of journalism in the School of Communication at Western Michigan University. She is the author of Overcoming Bias: A Journalist’s Guide to Culture and Context (Holcomb Hathaway, 2011).
Originally published by Zeteo.
StoryCorps Out Loud
Gordon Bolar | January 20, 2016
A year ago, I met with StoryCorps founder Dave Isay to discuss WMUK’s plans to bring StoryCorps Out Loud to Kalamazoo. He asked me why out of all the initiatives StoryCorps offered I chose Out Loud, which focuses on capturing and recording LGBTQ stories. I said that Kalamazoo had many stories from the LGBTQ community that need to be preserved, validated and heard. Some of these stories would be related to the history of LGBTQ individuals in Kalamazoo. I said that our vision included a multi-event community-wide focus on LGBTQ stories and that we had excellent potential partners.
The first three parts of our Honoring Identity project in 2015, included a StoryCorps Out Loud residency, a presentation by Dave Isay and a presentation by activist speaker Cripin Torres at Transgender Remembrance Day. On Thursday, January 28 at 5:30 p.m. we will hold our project finale: Honoring Identity: LGBTQ Stories from Kalamazoo.
This listening event honors the stories WMUK and StoryCorps collected in November. WMUK is proud to partner with The Resource Center and the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership as we complete Honoring Identity. I hope everyone from the Kalamazoo community will be able to join us for this free event. We thank our funding source, Kalamazoo Community Foundation for helping make this project possible.
Gordon Bolar brings 16 years of Public Broadcasting experience to the position of General Manager at WMUK. Gordon served with Public Television and Public Radio stations in Grand Rapids and Anchorage, Ala. He was also WMUK's Development Director for five years.
Find your cause
Brittany Morton | January 14, 2016
Recently, the Kalamazoo Community Foundation – in partnership with Volunteer Kalamazoo – hosted an event where community members could find their cause. We invited community members to our collaborative office space to pair with local nonprofits that are looking to fill spots on their boards or committees.
We received great feedback from attendees and the 15 nonprofits represented. This feedback has encouraged us to make this event a more regular occurrence.
We created this space for this convening because we know that giving back is not limited to giving money. Resources like time and expertise are just as valuable to the community, and we know that they need to be leveraged. All community members, young and old, have something to give back to their community. That is why we have been working to broaden our scope of partners and friends at KZCF.
Find Your Cause was created as a follow up to our Giving Tuesday event at Bell’s Back Room as an opportunity to give time and expertise, rather than money. This past August we hosted our 90th Birthday Party, held in our very own backyard here at 402 East Michigan Avenue. Each of these events gave us the opportunity to meet new friends and connect at a different level with old friends. As the community’s foundation, it is important to us to have the community member’s perspective in order to leverage our resources most effectively.
As a young and philanthropically minded person just starting off in my career, I can forget that I have much to offer the nonprofit world – even if it might not be in the form of dollars. I have a suspicion that my feeling is a shared one.
As we at KZCF look forward to this year, we plan to continue to create consistent spaces of engagement with a broader range of community members who love where they live and are looking to engage deeply with their community.
Jesselyn Leach | December 9, 2015
“Struggle drives me to keep struggling…your struggle brings gifts to other people, even if it doesn’t get you where you need to go.” – Ta-Nehisi Coates, Kalamazoo College, Nov. 3, 2015
I believe that the struggles we face, ultimately lead us to who, and where we are today. Author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates was recently here for the Community Foundation’s Community Meeting to shed light on his understanding of the world. He also met with student writers and answered some of our questions about his work.
Ta-Nehisi’s struggles led him to Kalamazoo, and my struggles led me to meet him. Meeting Ta-Nehisi made me realize that in life, we will face many battles, and the victory doesn’t lie in overcoming those battles, but in being able to learn and grow through our struggles.
The evening I met Coates he signed, “To Jess: Keep struggling!!” into my copy of Between the World and Me. In that moment, I felt that he looked right through me and spoke the words I desperately needed to hear because in this period of time, I find myself facing many struggles. I have recently decided to pursue my passion of writing, and I have committed to this on every level of my being. But even with the courage and confidence to pursue my dreams, I still find myself having moments of doubt.
I grew up watching the people I loved struggle on many different levels. I have witnessed my father going without food at dinnertime because he wanted to make sure we ate, and my mother emotionally breaking down while in abusive relationships. I’ve seen siblings try to make something of themselves, and fail. There are many people who have sold themselves short of life and love and these images haunt me. But the words “keep struggling” remind me that the battle is not yet over. Just because we can’t see the other side of what we are going through, doesn’t mean that we stop fighting. Ta-Nehisi posed a question in his interview, “If you knew the outcome of your fight would result in your losing, would you give up? Of course not! Which means there has to be some power in fighting for fighting sake.”
Between the World and Me began as a letter to his son about what it meant for Ta-Nehisi to grow up a black boy in West Baltimore. On page 39, he writes to his son, “My work is to give you what I know of my own particular path while allowing you to walk your own.” I believe that we all walk our own particular path, and within that path there is struggle. There are times when we lose the faith in ourselves, and those are moments we need to be reminded that our struggle has brought us, and will continue to bring us, to where we need to be.
Jesselyn Leach attends Kalamazoo Valley Community College and is pursuing writing.
Monkey bread and equity
Shannon Bronsink | October 22, 2015
Last Saturday night two of my nieces (Elle, who is seven, and Eden, who is two and-a-half) came for a sleepover. We played games, watched Charlotte's Web on Netflix, and made s'mores in the fireplace. On Sunday morning, after staying up until midnight – between you and me, it was really 9 p.m., but for the purpose of Eden and Elle feeling like they really got away with something, it was midnight – the three of us made monkey bread for breakfast.
Making monkey bread isn’t hard, which is why it’s a great recipe to do with kids. You cut up some biscuits that come in a tube. You coat the pieces of dough with cinnamon and sugar. You put the cinnamon and sugar coated pieces in a bunt pan. You put the pan in the oven.
To keep things simple, I cut up the biscuits and mixed the cinnamon and sugar. I divided the cinnamon sugar into two bags so each girl could have her own bag of dough pieces to shake and coat. The last step was for each girl to put her pieces of dough into the pan, which was waiting on the kitchen counter. Elle, a tall, lanky seven-year-old, would have no trouble reaching the pan. But Eden, being four-and-a-half-years and several inches behind her sister, would never be able to reach. No matter how hard she tried.
“Nani,” said Elle. “Eden can’t reach. She needs the step. I’ll get it.” Away she went to get the step I keep around for just such occasions.
She brought it back to the kitchen, placed it on the ground and helped her sister step onto it. They both went on to carefully place their pieces of dough in the pan. Elle finished first and was off, back to whatever activity had been interrupted when it was time to make breakfast. Eden took a little longer, but she finished the job. All by herself.
Thirty-five minutes later, when the monkey bread came out of the oven, Eden and Elle were both excited and proud of their work.
Here at the Community Foundation, we envision a community where every person can reach full potential. We believe one of the strategies that can make that happen is equity. Equity doesn’t mean everyone gets the same thing. That’s equality. Equity means everyone gets what she needs to be successful.
Eden needed a step to reach the counter. Elle didn’t. She helped her sister by giving her the boost she needed to be able to accomplish the task at hand.
Once upon a bequest
Ginger Worth | September 29, 2015
Our community is built upon the generosity of the people who came before us. Behind many names of our streets, public parks, companies, and organizations, there is a story of a local resident known for significant achievements or who cared so deeply about the well-being of their community.
Tom Vance touched on this in his 10.22.2014 blog about the legacies of W.E. Upjohn. The organizations he helped establish or that carry his name contribute to the culture, education, and health of our present day community. But it is his original donation in 1925 to create the Kalamazoo Community Foundation that has the most profound and lasting impact on the residents of Kalamazoo County.
The same is true for Constance Brown Hearing Centers. In 1939, through a trust established by Constance Reed Brown, close to $250,000 from her estate was left to the Kalamazoo Community Foundation to assist Kalamazoo residents who were hard of hearing. The Foundation asked the Kiwanis Club of Kalamazoo for assistance to help fulfill her wishes. To best reach the hard of hearing, The Constance Brown Society for Better Hearing was formed in 1942.
Constance was born in Kalamazoo in 1877. Her parents and grandparents were deeply connected to the community. They built businesses and advocated for people to have more opportunities. In fact, some streets in the Edison neighborhood are named after her grandparents (Clinton Avenue, Reed Avenue, Cameron Street). Both Constance and her husband, Joseph E. Brown, were also strong proponents of the community. In return for the public helping to grow her family’s businesses, and thus their wealth, Constance’s bequest was to be used to help the people of Kalamazoo. And because Constance struggled with hearing loss for many years of her life, she specifically expressed a wish to benefit people who were hard of hearing.
From the start, The Constance Brown Society for Better Hearing had support. Grace Upjohn was one of the first Board members – her signature is on the original Articles of Incorporation. Mrs. Upjohn also provided funding to build the Harold Upjohn School, adjacent to Parkwood Elementary School, where The Constance Brown Society for Better Hearing taught hard of hearing and deaf students how to read lips, and performed hearing tests and provided deafness prevention and hearing and speech conservation clinics.
The Constance Brown Society for Better Hearing had its offices on Cedar Street where younger children would go for hearing testing and auditory training. In the mid-1960s, a rubella epidemic swept through the United States and resulted in 11,000 children being born deaf. The organization worked with many of these children during this time. Jim Gilmore, Jr. and his wife, Diana, were very supportive. Diana would visit often and bring gifts for the children.
Since its beginning, the name of the organization has evolved from The Constance Brown Society for Better Hearing to The Constance Brown Hearing and Speech Center in 1961 to our current name, Constance Brown Hearing Centers, in 2000. Even with these changes, we are still fulfilling our original purpose as expressed by Constance Brown: “To encourage and assist those who are hard of hearing; to create a service whereby the social, educational and occupational needs and the best interest and general welfare of the hard of hearing shall be promoted…and to generally promote and further the interests of the hard of hearing…through the acceptance of gifts, devises, and membership fees or otherwise.”
More of what Constance Brown Hearing Centers does today falls in the realm of healthcare. Research on untreated hearing loss has shown that it can negatively impact cognitive, social, and health outcomes. Thus, audiologists are health care professionals with advanced academic degrees who are certified and licensed to practice. We employ six audiologists who are uniquely skilled to identify, assess, diagnosis, and treat individuals with hearing loss. Our audiologists also educate and counsel patients and families because hearing loss affects more than the individual. We recommend people have routine hearing evaluations every two years after the age of 45 (or sooner if there is a family history or a medical condition). Having routine diagnostic hearing tests is as important as having routine eye exams and dental checkups.
We provide hearing healthcare to over 3,000 patients annually (from newborns to the very old). Our mission is to be the most trusted source providing state-of-the-art technology to improve hearing for all. The word “all” is significant. As a nonprofit, we are able to accept donations and grant awards, which enable us to make hearing health care more accessible and equitable via a sliding fee scale. Every patient, no matter what end of the economic spectrum, makes a personal financial investment in their hearing. And every patient receives the same high quality hearing health care to stay connected to their world.
It is a privilege to continue the legacy of Constance Brown, and to witness how she is helping one person after another, nearly 80 years later. Her passion to help others with hearing loss combined with her foresight to make a bequest to the Kalamazoo Community Foundation demonstrates how one person can have a lasting impact on their community for posterity.
Ginger Worth is executive director of Constance Brown Hearing Centers.
Ms. Mireles-Hill goes to Washington
Elena Mireles-Hill | August 19, 2015
For all intents and purposes, it shouldn’t have come to be. The meeting was the following week, I was out of the office on vacation 2,304 miles away, and most importantly, I didn’t have anything to wear! My first response to Susan Reed after I got the call to attend a White House meeting to speak about the Welcoming Michigan initiative was “I love the idea Susan…it sounds like a once in a lifetime opportunity….but quite frankly….I really don’t think this is going to be able to happen. Don’t get your hopes too high.”
After a few more conversations, something clicked. Everything started to fall into place: from the organizational support, to the travel logistics, right down to the outfit! As all the plans evolved, and it was clear: Washington was meant to hear about the great work of Welcoming Michigan and the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, an initiative supported by the Kalamazoo Community Foundation.
The meeting was a lively conversation with Washington legislators and foundations from across the country discussing national and local efforts that are advancing support for immigrants. Michigan stood out as being one of the most advanced states in the nation in its support of immigrants with eight counties and cities that have signed onto the Welcoming Michigan initiative and two more, including Kalamazoo County, to sign on this fall. Michigan was looked to by others for guidance in how to develop this work in their regions. Legislators demonstrated a particular interest in discussing the more collaborative role that Community Foundations can play in supporting this work. These individuals exemplified a surprising humble humanity, that despite best efforts, they affirmed a real disconnect from the realities of a vulnerable immigrant population. Their outreach for support from foundations acknowledged their inability to tackle this important issue alone.
I had the opportunity to share about why the Community Foundation has chosen to support the Welcoming Michigan initiative. Welcoming Michigan believes that “when Michigan welcomes immigrants, Michigan thrives.” This initiative aims to create welcoming, inclusive and immigrant-friendly communities. At the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, we believe the equitable prosperity of people and communities is fully correlated with how diversity is celebrated and inclusion is embraced. We believe that we are a more vibrant community when we can identify the rich assets, perspectives, and experiences that are shared when diversity is welcomed. We believe that a thriving community challenges assumptions across all differences and cultivates safe environments where the “other” is treated with dignity and respect. This is the work of Welcoming Michigan and as a granddaughter of Mexican immigrants, I can personally attest to the value of this important work. We at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation are proud to be supporting such efforts locally that advance our community’s capacity to be more inclusive and develop the full potential of ALL.
P.S. No I didn’t get to actually go in the White House (although the four check points to get into the Eisenhower Executive Offices made it feel like I did) and no I didn’t get to meet President Obama but meeting with the Director of Domestic Policy, Secretary for the Department of Labor, and the Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration policy felt like a really great close second.
Elena is a Community Investment Officer at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation.
Welcome to Love Where You Live!
Shannon Bronsink | July 1, 2014
Kalamazoo County is a very special place.
Right here in our little corner of Southwest Michigan you can relax on a beach or hike in a forest. You can run a marathon, visit a farmers' market, watch professional sports, play a round of golf, or enjoy arts events that feature our talented friends and neighbors as well as world-renowned performers. You can sample tasty offerings at locally-owned wineries, breweries and restaurants. You can discover new artists at a monthly art event or annual art fair. You can explore an award-winning nature center, museum or library.
In Kalamazoo County there are farms that feed people around the country, greenhouses that beautify communities near and far, and companies that make medicines and devices that people around the world count on every day.
Kalamazoo County is home to the first public high school in the state, nationally recognized universities and colleges, The Kalamazoo Promise and The Learning Network of Greater Kalamazoo.
Kalamazoo County is also home to hundreds of nonprofits that are working every day to address immediate community needs, looking for solutions to persistent challenges, and collaborating with others to make long-term, transformative change.
Through this blog – Love Where You Live – we hope to shine the spotlight on the people, organizations, places and things that make us love living here. We're excited to share it with you and look forward to your feedback.
Love where you live!