Months of planning with dozens of community partners enhanced our 2015 Community Meeting in November when Ta-Nehisi Coates spoke on race in America. People and organizations working on equity in Kalamazoo County shared speaker recommendations, gave advice on community outreach, and participated in a post-event review.

Coates had a significant impact on the audience that evening. From pre- and post-event surveys we learned that understanding of systemic or institutional racism in Kalamazoo County increased from 33 percent to 44 percent, and understanding of the issue on a national level rose from 49 percent to 54 percent. Understanding of our commitment to equity rose from 31 percent to 43 percent, and more than 80 percent said Coates’ talk helped them understand the broad issue of equity.

Survey comments

Comments in the survey included praise as well as increased expectations. "The greatest take away is that KZCF would bring in this challenging thinker," says one attendee. Another says, "KCZF as a white institution should not feel a pass by bringing Coates to Kalamazoo. We will see how dedicated KZCF is, not just bringing him, but truly living out his work."

Some attendees also were disappointed in the length of Coates’ remarks, and felt the on-stage dialogue strayed too far from the topic of race in America.

Says President/CEO Carrie Pickett-Erway, "The response to our Community Meeting and Ta-Nehisi Coates has been amazing. Our community is clearly hungry to engage around issues of race and the Community Foundation is committed to working with partners to break down barriers that prevent people from reaching their full potential."

Paying it forward

With our focus on equity and education, we were thrilled when Coates requested time with student journalists. "It was inspiring to hear Coates speak about his writing, and his advice for young writers encouraged me," says Samantha Macy of the Western Herald. "He was incredibly down-to-earth, and had great insight."

According to Jesselyn Leach from KVCC, "Meeting Ta-Nehisi Coates made me realize that in life we will face many battles and the victory doesn’t lie in overcoming those battles, but being able to learn and grow through our moments of struggle."