President/CEO Carrie Pickett-Erway delivers her opening remarks at the 2017 Community Meeting. Photo by Terry Johnston.

President/CEO Carrie Pickett-Erway's remarks from the Community Foundation's 2017 Community Meeting on March 23 at Miller Auditorium on the campus of Western Michigan University

Good evening. Welcome, everyone, to the Kalamazoo Community Foundation’s 2017 Community Meeting. We’re thrilled to have you all here tonight at Western Michigan University's Miller Auditorium. We are so grateful for our partnership with WMU's Center for the Humanities. And a special thank you to PNC Bank for its generous sponsorship of tonight’s event. PNC has sponsored our community meetings for the past 15 years.

How exciting is this? Dr. Mae Jemison, here in Kalamazoo! What a remarkable and inspiring life. From engineering to medicine; from the Peace Corps to NASA; and now a tireless advocate for all youth, especially for girls and people of color; an advocate for STEM education, science, technology, engineering and math; and an advocate for the inclusion of girls and youth of color in pathways to science.

And, as if she hasn’t had a big enough impact on children already, LEGO toys announced earlier this month that the company will produce a Women of NASA set, which will include a Mae Jemison astronaut figure. Our speaker tonight is not only a woman of action — she’s an action figure!

Our action figure shares the Kalamazoo Community Foundation’s commitment to education — and to removing barriers to education. Her work has taken her across the universe, while our work is focused here in Kalamazoo County. Here at home not even half of our kids are ready for kindergarten and nearly one quarter of our students don't graduate from high school. The infant mortality rate for black babies is four times higher than that of white babies. Unemployment, food insecurity and housing instability rates are significantly higher for people of color compared to our total population.

The Kalamazoo Community Foundatin's vision is a community where every person can reach full potential and Dr. Jemison personifies this. By full potential, we mean kids are ready to learn, supported and ready for life; adults have the education and skills they need to be self-sufficient; and every person feels safe in every neighborhood. We want a community without systemic discrimination or bias. We want our community to be a place where your skin color, gender, race, or sexual identity isn’t a barrier to your success. This is critical for our community and for the future of our youth.

There are young people in the audience tonight that we are helping to surmount the obstacles in their path. You saw some of the programs we partner with on the screen. We’re working on addressing the needs and challenges of the most marginalized members of our community. With an equity lens to philanthropy, we customize our approach to meet the specific needs of individuals and partners. We identify and invest in current and new solutions for persistent issues.

One example of our emerging work is a new partnership involving the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and several local partners working on racial healing. We’re excited to be planning for a partnership with the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation initiative. This will involve many local programs already working on race, bias, healing and transformation. It will help our community expand our understanding of the racial disparities that exist in Kalamazoo and help us, as a community, come to terms with the deep divides that exist in Kalamazoo.

With all of her achievements and her commitment to equity and education, it should be no surprise that we invited Dr. Jemison to speak tonight. The sound barrier isn’t the only barrier Mae Jemison has broken. We will hear tonight from an extraordinary person — a star — about her strategies for success for our young people. Everyone in our community should soar like Mae Jemison who dared to reach for the stars. Her life story illustrates the importance of both equity and education — the two priorities that drive our work to make Kalamazoo County a better place for everyone.

Tonight, we’ll hear how she made her dreams come true, but not before overcoming significant barriers. As a young African American woman, she experienced people trying to limit her potential. Education was one of the pathways she used to overcome these low expectations. Imagine if Dr. Jemison had not reached her full potential? Perhaps she has yet to reach her full potential? What would the world have lost, if she had limited her potential?

Her biographers have called Dr. Jemison determined, daring and confident. They have described her as bold and pioneering. Growing up in Chicago, she watched the television show Star Trek and dreamed of going into space. She went off to college at the age of 16, studying chemical engineering and African and Afro-American Studies at Stanford University. She went on to earn a medical degree at Cornell, and served as a doctor in Sierra Leone and Liberia. And then after training at NASA, she went into space on the Space Shuttle Endeavor.

What a journey she has had — here on Earth and in space. Some would say Dr. Jemison has been everywhere. Well almost. After tonight she can say she’s even been to the amazing community of Kalamazoo. Please help me welcome our speaker, Dr. Mae Jemison, on Exploring the Frontiers of Science and Human Potential.

April 3, 2017