What’s Staring At You?

 

It’s poetry month and we couldn’t let it slip by without posting a poem.

Poetry isn’t afraid to handle difficult topics. Ignoring, denying, or pretending that something doesn’t exist, doesn’t make it go away. Sometimes, we must name that which stares us in the face. By giving it a name and dragging it into the light, we see it for what it is. Samantha Hoehle does just this with her brave poem, “A Constant Battle.”  A senior at Kalamazoo Central High School, Samantha wrote this on the campus of Western Michigan University during a “Courage to Create” poetry workshop offered as part of Kalamazoo’s annual MLK Day Celebration.

 

A Constant Battle

Racism stares at me from across the table.
Callous, he tries to fill my head with beliefs that cut me to the core.
I do not want to live with him.
I do not want him to talk to me.
I wish he would disappear.
But he has dug his roots deep into the earth—
And while many of us try to uproot him,
Others create avalanches of hatred and ignorance
Pushing the dirt back into our holes,
Adamant he stays.
Racism reaches out his hand to “help” us,
Sneering upon rejection,
Blatantly stating he is in the right.
But no. He is wrong.
Racism tries to creep in, and I push him out, continuing to dig.
I will not let him turn me into something he would be proud to see.
I am not sorry.

Samantha Hoehle

 

And if you missed the two student poems we published back in January, you can find them here.

 

Three New Sparks with CIS

From left to right: Ellen Sudeikis, Tate Vogt, and Jamie Morgan.

Welcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking about. Today we have compiled some answers from the newest members of our CIS family: our interns!

All three fabulous Western Michigan University students are working towards their bachelor’s degree in the School of Social Work. Here they are, in no particular order (drum roll, please): Tate Vogt (from Jackson, Michigan) is with the CIS team at Northglade Montessori Magnet School, Ellen Sudeikis (from Chicago, Illinois) is with the CIS team at Spring Valley Center for Exploration, and Jamie Morgan (from Albion, Michigan) has joined the CIS team at King-Westwood Elementary School.

Alright, interns: pencils out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

  • All about ethics
  • How to change the power steering lines
  • The new WMU football coach played for the Broncos during his undergrad at Western

What are you currently reading?

  • Lord of the Flies/ The Giver
  • Harry Potter
  • Me Before You

 What do you love about Kalamazoo?

  • The breweries and taphouses culture-bringing people together
  • The variety of restaurants
  • How nice everyone is, especially in comparison to Chicago!

What do you want to be when you grow up?

  • A substance abuse counselor
  • A good father
  • A social worker and a mom

What is your favorite word right now?

  • Soda pop
  • Absolutely, as in “Absolutely, I’d love to do that.” When someone says that, it makes you feel like they really want you to be there.
  • Passionate

Will you share with us something that has been on your mind lately?

  • The election and beyond
  • Time management
  • How am I going to manage taking four classes, working at Red Lobster five times a week, and interning for 30 hours?

Behind every successful student is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?

  • My mother and father. My mother helps me with all my needs and my father pushes me.
  • My father, He supports me in many ways. He is my rock.
  • My brother is my caring adult.

Thank you, interns. Welcome aboard!

What is the world coming to?

If you stepped onto the campus of Western Michigan University this past weekend and peeked into the “Brown and Gold” room you would feel hopeful about the future.

On Saturday, about 75 Kalamazoo Public School students chose to spend part of their day participating in a “Courage to Create” poetry workshop. “Courage to Create” is just one of a number of fun and educational offerings students can participate in, along with families, as part of Kalamazoo’s annual MLK Day Celebration. We love celebrating the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with young people.

“These kids are great!” said Elizabeth Kerlikowske, President of Friends of Poetry. She is right. Giants and Knights sat side by side, wrote poetry, and many shared their works aloud. The students were polite, kind, they took risks with their writing, and listened to each other. They set a good example for grownups!

What is the world is coming to? Love and goodness, for starters. Here are two terrific examples of what students created:

Love

Love smiles and embraces me with the biggest hug. “I love you!” she shouts as we go on with the day. As we walk along, she is just singing that one song, “All you need is love, love, love.” As corny as she is, you can’t help but smile because Love just gives you the warmest feeling.

As we are walking, we see a couple fighting, so of course, Love walks up to them and asks, “Oh, where is the Love? Isn’t Love stronger than anything else? You must embrace it!” To my surprise, the couple turns to each other with the biggest smiles. “I love you!” they shout.

I guess Love is really unexpected.

-Saquaya Baker, a junior at Kalamazoo Central High School

 

Goodness

I take Goodness with me wherever I go: to school, events, family functions, you name it. She is very popular! Her kindness makes others smile and want to be around her. She makes me a better person as well. When I have negative thoughts, she is always there to keep me in check because her motto is, “Do unto others as you want others to do unto you.” It’s a nice reminder every once in a while when I am in a bad mood.

However, Goodness isn’t always there to guide me. When I moved to Kalamazoo from Birmingham the beginning of my eleventh grade year, she left for some time. I think it was because I pushed her away. Anger and Depression took her place, but I did not want them there, so I asked her to be patient with me and come back because I could not get through my situation without her. To my great appreciation, she returned, all smiles, with the bright colors she loves to wear and the fantastic Dad jokes that can make anyone’s day just by hearing her laugh at them. We are the best of friends again and we are changing the world one smile and helping hand at a time.

-Sidney Washington, a senior at Kalamazoo Central High School

In the months to come, we’ll  publish a few more works created during this workshop, so keep up with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.

 

Pop Quiz: O’Neal Ollie  

O'Neal Ollie
O’Neal Ollie, CIS Success Coach at Loy Norrix High School

Welcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking about. Today we feature O’Neal Ollie who is the CIS Success Coach at Loy Norrix High School. CIS Success Coaches allow Communities In Schools to have a larger footprint in larger schools. CIS Success Coaches are an extension—a more expansive one—of the case management model. It allows CIS to delve more deeply into a school, to meet student needs. For students who need a moderate degree of support, having that one-on-one coaching support from O’Neal Ollie can be the tipping point that gets them over the hump and on the road to graduation.

A graduate of Kalamazoo Central High School, O’Neal then headed to school in Riverside, California and later returned to Kalamazoo, graduating in Sports Management from Western Michigan University. Today, O’Neal and his wife Terri are proud KPS parents of son Bass, a senior at Kalamazoo Central High School who is also enrolled in college, and daughter, Symphony, who graduated from Kalamazoo Central, was honored by the YWCA in 2014 as a Young Women of Achievement, and is now in her third year at Michigan State University. O’Neal notes that “it’s my wife Terri who keeps all of us on track.”

Alright, Coach Ollie: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

POP QUIZ

O'Neal with Dareon, CIS Alumni
O’Neal with Dareon, CIS Alumni

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

Oh, my goodness. I learn so much stuff. For a person that thinks he knows everything, well, that is a tough one. Okay, I learned about dual enrollment. That is the process of enrolling a student in college while they are still completing high school with eligibility to play high school sports. My son is a senior at Kalamazoo Central and plays three sports.

Favorite word?

At this time of the year, it is football because my son is in his senior year.

What are you currently reading?

Sports Illustrated, because of the Olympics, which were so good with swimming, gymnastics, and track.

You graduated from Kalamazoo Central. Thinking back to your years with the Kalamazoo Public Schools, who was one of your favorite teachers?

Vern Davis and Clarence Gardener. Also, Coach Don Jackson. He taught PE, probably one of my biggest mentors in school. Mr. Davis was a math teacher and Mr. Gardner was general business & accounting. Both coached as well.

My counselor was Nelson Stevenson and he was my main man. He enrolled me in Upward Bound. That was my introduction to college. We stayed on Western’s campus-in Bigelow Hall-for eight weeks. I learned the social aspects of college and thought, this is going to be great! I have life-long friends that I made from attending Outward Bound.

Mr. Davis made you feel so good about yourself. He made it easy to learn. It probably helped that he was a former NFL player. He played for the Philadelphia Eagles and was All-American. I had his class fourth hour. “Don’t ever make me come look for you,” he’d say.

Coach Gardiner’s business and accounting was the most useful class I’ve ever taken. I still write my checks the way he taught me in school. When I went to college, I majored in accounting until I changed to sports management.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I’ve always been interested in school and sports administration. But, regardless of all I’m doing work-wise, I can’t forget I’m a dad. I learn a lot from my son and daughter.

Montrell Baker, CIS Site Coordinator at Loy Norrix, with O'Neal
Montrell Baker, CIS Site Coordinator at Loy Norrix, with O’Neal

Like what?

Things I never expected to learn, like, what it means to go prom dress shopping. That is a whole process and it’s a family event.

Behind every successful student is a caring adult. Who is your caring adult?

My mom, my second mom, and my third mom. I have eight older siblings and my oldest sister, Ida Buchanan, was a secretary in my building when I was in high school. I would much rather my mother than my sister Ida get a hold of me. She did not play. Still doesn’t. She still works, going between Hillside and Linden Grove Middle School.

My mom, I always appreciated how hard she worked and the way she had a way of breaking things down to make us understand things. One of my favorite quotes she said was when I came home crying one day. “You’re crying because folks are talking about you?” she said. “You start crying when folks stop talking about you.”

Thank you, Coach Ollie!

We continue to talk about O’Neal Ollie in our soon to be released newsletter, CIS Connections. O’Neal and his CIS site team member, CIS Site Coordinator Montrell Baker, share their insights about helping students get on track to graduation. And if you missed Montrell’s interview with Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids, you can read it here.

Ten Sparks

Our CIS interns: (Back row, left to right) January Haulenbeek, Dominique Jackson, Kayla Favia, Jacob Fuller, Fernando Davis, and Jacob Nota. (Front row, left to right) Kaley Monroe, Keele Sage, Suzie McNees, and Alicia Clemens.
Our CIS interns: (Back row, left to right) January Haulenbeek, Dominique Jackson, Kayla Favia, Jacob Fuller, Fernando Davis, and Jacob Nota. (Front row, left to right) Kaley Monroe, Keele Sage, Suzie McNees, and Alicia Clemens.

Let’s give a warm welcome to ten fresh, new faces who are beginning their internship with Communities In Schools, working within the Kalamazoo Public Schools. Fernando Davis, Dominique Jackson, Keelei Sage, Kaley Monroe, Suzie McNees, Jacob Nota, Alicia Clemens, Kayla Favia, January Haulenbeek, and Jacob Fuller all hail from Western Michigan University. They are working on their degrees (Bachelors and MSWs) in the School of Social Work, Interdisciplinary Health Services, and Family Studies.

Down the road, we’ll check in with two of them—both Kalamazoo Promise scholars—to see what they are learning, what if feels like to be giving back within the very school district they graduated from, and how they are helping students succeed in school. In the meantime, we popped a quiz on all ten of them and compiled their answers in no particular order. Keep reading to see how they did and what they love about Kalamazoo.

Alright, interns: pencils out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

-Communities In Schools is larger than a local agency, which is awesome!
-I’ve learned who my CIS Site Coordinator is.
-Art therapy is an amazing way for people to express and heal—I am in an expressive arts class.
-I have started to learn more about policies because two of the four classes I am taking this semester are policy classes.
-I’ve learned that I can make it from Battle Creek to Kalamazoo in under 40 minutes. (I commute every day.)
-Ostriches lay the biggest eggs.
-I recently learned that turtle meat tastes different, depending on which part you eat. Some parts taste like chicken, turkey, ham, and so on.
-I have been learning about anxiety disorders and how they affect an individual, how to cope with it, and what the medications do to you.
-I recently learned how complex a policy is. I also learned that working for the government in policy has many positive benefits.
-Horses have a blind spot right in front of their heads. Horses that jump are actually jumping blind. Crazy!!

What are you currently reading (other than school-related)?

-It is a dream book. Why we have dreams and what they mean.
-The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
-Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Shumer and Game of Thrones
-Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
-After You (sequel to Me Before You)
-Fight Club
-Twilight. I know it’s dorky.
-The Bible
-I am not currently reading anything. I’ve had a very busy past four months due to family needs.
-I’m about to start a book called, It’s Kind of a Funny Story. I read it a long time ago but want to read it again now that I’m older.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

-Kind and compassionate.
-A therapist and public speaker.
-A high school counselor.
-A father.
-Either a school social worker or with foster care or child protective services.
-I would like to be an individual that changes lives. I would like to make a wonderful impact on many different lives.
-I want to be a school social worker.
-A social worker.
-A school social worker or maybe something in the mental health field.
-I’m not sure yet. All I know is I want to help people in some way, shape, or form.

What is your favorite word right now?

-Ridiculous
-Cheese. Cheese is my favorite food so every day I ask for cheese, whether it’s cheese fries, cheese dogs, mozzarella sticks, etc.
-Relaxing. I’ve been so busy, I’m ready to relax.
-Strive. I’m always striving to do my best in everything I do.
-Soi-disant, which means self-styled. (It’s my word of the day.)
-Run
-Onomatopoeia. It has been my favorite word since freshman English at Loy Norrix.
-Stellar
-Sassafrass, as in Sassafrass Tea. I learned about sassafrass from Blanford Nature Center, a place where I attended school.
-Movies. I like to watch lots of movies when all of my things are done.

What is one of your favorite things about Kalamazoo?

-The diversity and the closeness of the community even though it is a bigger city
-The community. Everyone works together.
-The people—love them!
-I love how friendly everyone is.
-I love the community and how there is always something to do.
The variety of different things to do, such as the different festivals (Ribfest, Island Fest, etc.)
-The connectivity with community.
Downtown. I love the events, restaurants, and all the activities to do downtown.
-The Kalamazoo Promise! And the diversity.
-Being away on my own and getting a good education.

Will you share with us something that has been on your mind lately (other than school-related)?

-Is it possible to go bald due to pulling out grey hairs?
-The new iphone. I have been interested in how “great” it is.
-My relationship with my aging animals/pets.
-Thinking about my family. We lost my grandfather last November, then my grandmother two weeks ago.
-At almost 22, I’ve made the decision to get closer with God and become more involved in the church.
-My trip to Virginia in November to visit my sister.
-My need to make time for self-care.
-How weird I think it is that I will be turning 22 years old soon.
-My trip that is coming up to Cedar Point with a few of my co-workers.
-How to grow a family business.

Behind every successful student is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?

-My mom. No one has been as supportive of me as she has been and she motivates me to go for my dreams.
-My father has been my caring adult since the day I was born. Also, my loving mother.
-My mom and grandparents.
-My mom.
-My grandmother.
-My mother and father.
-My caring adult has been my mom. She’s always so supporting and encouraging.
-My mom, because she does a lot for me and is always there for me.
-My mom has always been my biggest cheerleader.
-Mom, for sure!

 

Pop Quiz: Terra Mosqueda

Welcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking about. Today we feature another member of the Communities In Schools site team at Hillside Middle School, Terra Mosqueda. Embarking on her second year of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA with CIS, her work spans between Loy Norrix High School (three days a week) and Hillside (two days a week).

Terra grew up in Rockford, Michigan and it was college that brought her to Kalamazoo. She started at Western Michigan University studying Child and Family Development and then decided to change her focus. After taking some classes at Kalamazoo Valley Community College she decided to take a year off and try something else other than school.

“Being a VISTA has made me lean more towards social work,” Terra says. “School has always been my biggest obstacle. I didn’t try very hard in high school. And I want to work to make sure kids don’t go down my same path. Honestly, I never thought I’d be in a school again! But I really enjoy the relationships I’m making, especially with the students. Being a VISTA gives me opportunities to try new things. I get to talk to people I’ve never thought I’d have a chance to talk with by being in the schools.”

Like her other colleagues who are VISTAs with Communities In Schools, Terra helps nourish a college-going culture. To this end, she has planned college trips for Loy Norrix students and at Hillside she’s created a “college window” that she changes every few weeks.IMG_2940

She orders food from CIS partner Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes to keep the food pantry stocked. She makes sure CIS Kids’ Closet is organized and filled with essentials, like clothing, hygiene, and school supplies.IMG_2938

Terra works with her CIS site teams to assure a smooth delivery of dental services offered to students through the Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services and their “Smiles to Go” van. She also supports the CIS After School program. “I’ve gotten really close to the kids. They’ve really grown on me.”


Alright, Terra: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

POP QUIZ

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

It’s not so much something I’ve learned as something that I’ve opened up to. and that is that no two kids have the same learning style. If two kids are sitting next to each other and I show one how to do a math problem, that same approach may not work for the other student. I have to bend my mind and think of other ways to help that child. At the same time, this helps me in that I expand and come up with new ways of thinking.

 

What are you currently reading?

With a Pistol in his Hand by Americo Paredes. It is about Gregorio Cortez, a Mexican outlaw still known to this day. When Gregorio eventually dies, he does so in my great-grandfathers house; it’s mentioned in one of the chapters. It’s a really interesting read, and I get to learn a little more about what my great grandfather experienced in his life with his compadre, Gregorio Cortez.

 

What’s your favorite word right now?

Go. I always say “Go” to the kids as a way to encourage them to be in the right classroom, do their homework, and such. “Go” is both encouraging and demanding. It’s the best of both worlds!

 

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I’m really leaning towards social work. It’s so important to keep kids in good environments. I want to help them graduate with the Kalamazoo Promise and do what they want to accomplish in life.

 

Behind every successful student is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?

My mom and dad, equally. My mom was the caring one and my dad helped me by pushing me. They had the good cop-bad cop thing going on and it worked well on me.

 

Thank you, Terra!

Are you or someone you know interested in becoming an AmeriCorps VISTA? The next group of AmeriCorps VISTA members will come on board in August. To find out more, go here.

In the weeks to come, we’ll introduce you to Fred Myles and Precious Miller, two more CIS team members from Hillside. In the meantime, if you missed the  post about Principal McKissack, you can read it by clicking here. You can read about Katherine Williamson, Hillside’s CIS After School Coordinator, by going here. To learn about Nicholas Keen, Youth Development Worker at Hillside, go here.

Moses Walker

Moses Walker is a truth-teller, justice seeker, and numbers guy. He’s also a Communities In Schools board member. Featured in our upcoming CIS Connections newsletter—which is all about boys—Moses shares some of his thoughts on boys, education, and community. Here’s his response to a question you’ll only find here as we couldn’t include it in the newsletter due to space issues. Check out the rest of the story in the next issue of CIS Connections, coming soon!

Can you tell us a little about the kind of boy you once were? What or who helped shape you into the man you became?

Good question. Growing up I was always viewed as being bright. Even as a little child, I was given speeches to memorize for school and church programs. And if someone was given two verses to memorize, I was given four. There were high expectations for me. I benefited from my older cousins working with me and was well prepared when I got to school and was recognized by my teachers.

Moses Walker as a young boy.
Moses Walker as a young boy.

The Douglass Community Association shaped me and my friends, friends like Chuck Warfield. We were the Children of Douglass. We went to nursery school there. We played sports, learned how to dance, and shoot pool. Remember, this was at a time when black educators were refused jobs in the Kalamazoo Public Schools so we were the beneficiaries of Douglass youth workers like Ms. Juanita Goodwin and Mr. John Caldwell. They ended up with distinguished careers—as teachers and principals and retiring from the Kalamazoo Public Schools.

While there were no black educators when I was in school—I attended Lincoln School from kindergarten through ninth grade and then [Kalamazoo] Central High from tenth through twelfth grade—I was recognized and encouraged by my teachers. Even though I was always on the academic track, I admit, I did not always apply myself. My high school advisor Mildred McConkey was quite instrumental in my development and pointed out that I didn’t always apply myself. In fact, she was the one who said, ‘He’s smart but lazy.’ And it was true! She helped me get ready to go to college and made recommendations since I wasn’t top of my class.

High school advisor Mildred McConkey seated, bottom right.
High school advisor Mildred McConkey    (seated, bottom right).

I went to Western Michigan University, and then entered the military mid-stream. I experienced racism but it taught me a lot. Just being smart is not enough. There are a lot of smart people in the world. A lot of people have gifts. But that is not enough. What are you going to do with it? I’m not bitter about these negative experiences because they were one of the best things that happened to me. It was a wake up-shake up and the experiences got me on track. I returned to college, finished in two years, and then headed to graduate school at the School of Social Work at Wayne State University.

So yes, the encouragement and support I received throughout my schooling made me who I am but it was the negative experience of the military that brought everything home for me.

 

To find out what Moses thinks we need to do better as a community to equip our boys to become successful and fulfilled young men, and more, read the rest of our conversation in the latest issue of CIS Connections. 

 

Pop Quiz: Principal McKissack

Welcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and thinking about. Today we feature Principal McKissack, who is the new Principal at Hillside Middle School.

Principal Atiba McKissack hails from Detroit. He came to Kalamazoo in 1991 after graduating from Cass Technical High School. “My mom dropped me off and told me not to come back until I finished school. I ended up going to WMU for eight years…for a four year degree. [He chuckles.] I’m what I call an unintentional educator. It was not part of my master plan—I had plans to be an aeronautical engineer—but nothing brings me more joy than being in education.”

After doing a pre-internship in English at Milwood Middle School and his teaching internship at Milwood and South (not yet Maple Street Magnet School) he moved back to Detroit. A year and a half into teaching, he received a phone call from the legendary Dorothy Young, then principal at Hillside Middle School. “She brought me back as a sub. This was confirmation enough for me that I should be back in Kalamazoo. I’ve always loved the Kalamazoo Public Schools.”

Since that phone call, Mr. McKissack was reacquainted with and married the woman who would become his wife and has enjoyed serving Kalamazoo Public School students in various positions: ‘a stint’ as a drama teacher, technology support for the district, assistant principal at Loy Norrix and most recently, their dean of students.

Alright, Principal McKissack: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

With Hillside Students
Principal McKissack with a few Hillside Middle School students (from left to right): Jasmine Anderson, Jenny Morales, Devin Fox, and Khendal Moore.

 POP QUIZ

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned? 

It’s called the “101 Percent Principle.” The term comes from the book, The Leader’s Heart by John Maxwell. The principle is this: find that one percent that you can agree on and then devote 100 percent of your attention to that one percent. Too much time is spent focusing on what doesn’t work. Instead, it’s important to really devote time on identified potential rather than a problem. We need to spend time affirming kids for what they’re doing right, building them up and, in the process, we can then work on those other things that need support. Education is more than just math or science. It’s about the whole child…character building, social emotional growth, and affirming and growing potential.

Do you see Communities In Schools working with the community to address the needs of the whole child?

Absolutely! One of the reasons I value Communities In Schools is because they remove those barriers that keep kids from feeling whole.

As a principal, I have a wonderful senior site coordinator, Ms. [Precious] Miller I turn to. I can connect students to her with ease and their needs can be met. It just makes our work as educators easier. Ms. [Katherine] Williams, our after school coordinator, Ms. [Terra] Mosqueda, our VISTA, they are all so responsive. They never say no. They say, How can we help? What is the student’s name? Send them down to us. I keep my Communities In Schools folder right in front of me. [Principal McKissack jumps up from the conference table, runs over to his desk, and plucks a folder off of his desk.] Here it is!

Principal McKissack

Communities In Schools remove burdens that get in the way of education, whether it’s helping kids get glasses, getting food from the food pantry, it’s all done in a way that maintains the dignity of the child. It’s important that student know they can have needs without having to feel needy. They can feel whole and CIS helps them do that. Communities In Schools is living up to what they say they do and it’s so appreciated here at Hillside.

What are you currently reading?

We Beat the Streets, which is part of our whole school read. I’m also reading Intentional Living by John Maxwell. Maxwell’s book was gifted to me by [Loy Norrix Principal] Mr. Prewitt. Intentional Living lays out how to teach kids about compassion, decision-making, and how they can build long lasting friendships. It’s interesting, because in reading these two books at the same time I see parallels between them. The three male characters in We Beat the Streets face many challenges but are able to become successful—all three become doctors—through intentional living. They support each other.

Books

You read pretty deep stuff.

I’m not a strong reader so I read a lot. I model for my kids, both my students and my children. It’s important to read. I’m always asking my students what they are reading. If they don’t have an answer for me, I ask them about their interests. It’s a good way to help them figure out what books will meets their interests. It’s a great way to start a conversation.

Recently, Hillside was well represented at the second annual MLK “Courage to Create” Celebration. A number of your students made it to the semi-finalist round, reading their work at Western Michigan University and taking a number of top prizes in the poetry competition.

Oh, that was wonderful. Just the pride I had in my students. Not the winning part, but I was overjoyed by the hard work they put into getting there—the reading, studying, the questions they asked. They didn’t give up. And at the event, even though they were nervous and scared—feeling what anyone would feel in that kind of situation, of giving a performance—they didn’t give up. They worked really hard.

Principal McKissack out at WMU with Hillside students and staff
At Western Michigan University during the MLK “Courage to Create” Celebration.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I want to inspire the minds that will change the world. Honestly, I’ve come so far beyond where I thought I’d be that I have spent a lot of time looking back. I was told way early that I couldn’t go to college.

How horrible. Who told you that?

His last name was Albatross.

Albatross. How ironic.

He owned the Coney Island in Detroit. I remember it well. I was sitting at the counter. Other kids were there. He laughed at me when I said I’m going to college. I’m glad he did though. From that point forward I never forgot that moment. Sometimes God places barriers in your way so you can become stronger by overcoming them. I’m actually grateful. College was not an easy road for me but I did it.

Photo Principal McKissack carries with him, of the building where, as a boy, he was told he couldn’t go to college.
Photo Principal McKissack carries with him, of the building where, as a boy, he was told he couldn’t go to college.

Behind every successful student is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?

My caring adult was—and still is—my mother. She saw more in me than I saw in myself and she wouldn’t let me forget that. She was the one who motivated me and to this day she motivates me. Today also happens to be her birthday.

Happy birthday to your mom! And thank you, Principal McKissack!