In Schools, and Now Beyond

Today’s post is written by Felicia Lemons, Development & Marketing Project Manager. She originally sent this information out as an email to update CIS supporters as to how the CIS after school program has transitioned from in-school support to virtual support during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to the Communities In Schools (CIS), core work of integrated student support, CIS of Kalamazoo supports students through after-school programming. At 15 KPS schools, students benefit from additional academic support and enrichment activities beyond the normal hours of the school day.

We are proud to share that we continue to provide this much needed support, however virtually. I am proud of how our CIS staff have stepped in to fulfill the needs of our students and their families. When in-person learning was first cancelled our after school coordinators started connecting with their students and families to first make sure their basic needs were being met and connecting families to resources.  Now we are offering 10+ hours of programming every week to keep our students engaged during this time.” – Nicole Wilkinson, CIS Associate Director of Site Services

 

Food and Supply Support

Many members of our team continue to volunteer to participate at the KPS food distribution sites along with practicing safe distance porch drop-offs for families who are unable to make it to a distribution site.

This month, we have packed and delivered over 300 boxes of school supplies to students. Supplies include paper, pencils, craft tools – all for students and families who may not have the necessary supplies to complete the remainder of this school year at home.

Academic Lessons and Tutoring

CIS after school coordinators host virtual office hours to help with homework and offer academic lessons for students in math and English Language Arts. Many coordinators continue to connect with students for one-on-one tutoring for additional support.

Enrichment Programs

Special student clubs led by after school coordinators and youth development coaches are available for students. Fitness Club, Comic Club, and Sign Language Club are just a few examples of clubs that have transitioned to virtual clubs for student enrichment. In addition to our staff lead clubs, we continue to work with enrichment providers like Prevention Works, Live Your Song, and Trinity Prep Center to provide special engagement opportunities for students.

Family Engagement Programs

CIS facilitates family engagement nights for both parent resources and family fun. Family engagement includes an instructor led family paint party and an interactive STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) night with the Air Zoo. Parent resources include programs with math and science resources through KPS, CIS-led information sessions about knowing your rights surrounding COVID-19, and so much more!

Field Trips

CIS team led virtual field trips for students include “visits” to the zoo, museums, and parks. Coordinators conduct Q&A sessions during the field trips for student engagement and interaction.

 

The after-school program is sustained and supported by the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) grants.

The CIS After School Program continues to be a vital resource for students who can benefit from additional academic assistance, develop their strengths and interests, and connect with their peers and coaches during the pandemic. Your support of CIS makes it possible to bring additional resources like the 21st CCLC grants to our community for students. Interested in supporting students in Kalamazoo? Donate by clicking here.

 

CIS Supporting Students through this Pandemic

During this pandemic, with all Michigan schools closed for the remainder of this school year and many people out of work or with reduced hours, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) students and families are disproportionately more vulnerable than ever. To ensure that this pandemic does not widen gaps in equity and accessibility, CIS has been working hard to make sure students continue to have access to the resources and caring relationships they need to maintain the gains they have made this school year and to realize their full potential. During this challenging time, here are just a few examples of what that CIS support looks like:

 

  • Providing regular check-ins with students and families via phone and video calls to maintain relationships and to connect them to community resources for basic needs services and reliable information.
  • Passing out educational packets and books three days/week at schools and community distribution sites in cooperation with Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS) as part of the district’s “Grab and Go” breakfast and lunch meal distributions.
  • Packing food boxes at the Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes food pantry for distribution at their drive-through pick up sites.
  • Dropping off items (non-contact deliveries) for families that lack transportation to make it to a community distribution site.
  • Engaging with CIS partners as we work together to mobilize coordinated community support for all of Kalamazoo’s students and families.

    

“The needs of our students and families have increased exponentially due to the pandemic,” says Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo James Devers. “At the same time, the personal needs of staff, along with those of their family, friends, and extended circles have increased as well. And yet despite that, our CIS team have made heroic efforts to stay connected to and to support Kalamazoo’s students, families, and partners. We remain grateful for the outstanding friends and donors who continue to support us as we work to eliminate barriers in students’ lives so they can continue to succeed.”

In our next blog post, we’ll introduce you to one member of our team, CIS Success Coach Nazhly Heredia-Waltemyer. You won’t want to miss it!  In the meantime, be sure to follow our CIS Facebook page, here, where we will continue to update you as to how CIS is responding to student/family needs during this crisis.

 

#GivingTuesdayNow – Together we…

…show up for kids

…are all in for kids (in school and beyond!)

…give thanks

…are grateful

…appreciate our community

…happy to give on #GivingTuesdayNow

Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo is delighted to participate in #GivingTuesdayNow, which is a global day of giving and unity that was organized as an emergency response to the unprecedented need caused by COVID-19. Generosity in any form empowers us to make positive changes in the lives of others, and is a value that everyone can act on.

The tagline for #GivingTuesdayNow: “Together We…” is a perfect sentiment – CIS has elected to participate by giving thanks to our community for the kindness, generosity and collaboration which enable us to remain fully staffed and supporting students each and every day.

For this global day of unity and giving, members of our team each have reflected on an individual or group to recognize in some way. Whether it be volunteers who have gone above and beyond, graduating seniors who deserve some love, or any number of others in our community, CIS team members are eager to recognize some very special people. Here are just a few of the ways that CIS team members have elected to participate in #GivingTuesdayNow:

  • Recognizing seniors that the high school site teams have worked with by preparing celebratory yard signs and banners to post in yards and windows of graduating seniors
  • Sending hand-written thank you cards to community partners who are working on the front lines in our community
  • Sharing gratitude with corporate partners who have offered advice and support for navigating the complexities of running an organization during COVID-19
  • Encouraging neighbors to get involved by delivering sidewalk chalk for writing messages of gratitude and kindness for all to see
  • Writing a poem to share with a specific volunteer who has supported a student
  • Sending a “plantable” card to two special volunteers to thank them for planting seeds of kindness at a school
  • Sending e-cards to corporate sponsors who have extended kindness and understanding after we had to change our annual event
  • Preparing and sending virtual greetings to volunteers, partners and supporters

And much more! We are fortunate to be a part of this community that provides constant reasons to give thanks, and we’re delighted to take part in this global day of unity.

Together We thank you for being part of our community.

Take care of yourself and read

During this time of isolation and social distancing, it’s more important than ever to read. Did you know that reading can reduce stress in both children and adults? It’s good to know that during these anxious times, choosing to reading can be a powerful strategy to positively impact our emotional and physical health. When we open a book and read, our heart rate slows and we reduce tension that has built up in our bodies. A 2009 University of Sussex study discovered that reading reduced stress as much as 68%.

We asked CIS staff what they are reading during this most challenging time. Here’s what some of them shared:

I am currently reading Slan by A.E. vanVogt.

Cameron Massimino, CIS Site Coordinator, Edison Environmental Science Academy

 

I am currently reading The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie, but I anticipate tomorrow I will be on book 2 of the trilogy, Before They Are Hanged.

Jenna Cooperrider, Associate Director of Site Services

 

I just finished reading The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. Next up is One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus. Historical Fiction is my favorite genre.  Happy reading all!

Carol Roose, CIS Site Coordinator, Washington Writers’ Academy

 

I am currently reading The World According to Humphrey written by Betty G. Birney. My daughter’s school is participating in “One School, One Book” and we are reading this book together.

Felicia Lemon, Development & Marketing Project Manager

 

I am currently reading Gemini Files by Blacc Topp, as well as listening (Audible) to Within The Shadows by Brandon Massey.  Next up is Elbert: The Uncaged Mind (The Black Series Book 2).

Artrella Cohn, Sr. Director of Community Engagement and Student Investment

 

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.

Jennifer Miner, CIS Site Coordinator, Kalamazoo Central High School

 

Our family is reading The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe together.

Angela Van Heest, CIS Site Coordinator, Parkwood-Upjohn Elementary School

 

I recently finished Understanding Your Place in God’s Kingdom by Myles Munroe.

James Devers, Executive Director

 

I am reading The Stand by Stephen King.

Shannon Jones, CIS After School Coordinator at Milwood Magnet Middle School

 

I’m currently (re) reading Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. On a more personal note, I also just finished audio taping several children’s books to send (along with an “old fashioned” tape recorder) to my new grandson in Seattle – born last Friday. We included some of our daughter’s favorite books when she was a child – and one we knew her husband loved! Lastly, we included one of my favorite books, which my husband and I read together: The Invisible String by Patrice Karst – – which has never been more timely.

-Lauren Smirniotopoulos, CIS Site Coordinator, King-Westwood Elementary School

 

Our family is reading The Wingfeather Saga Series by Andrew Peterson.

Cara Weiler, Associate Director of Site Services

 

I’m re-reading Tranny by Laura Jane Grace.

Dana Flynn, CIS Site Coordinator, Northeastern Elementary School

 

I’m reading The Book of Gutsy Women by Hillary and Chelsea Clinton

Laura McCoy, CIS Site Coordinator, Washington Writers Academy

 

I am currently reading the New World Translation of the Holy ScripturesStudy Edition. I am currently in the book of Isaiah.

Tracie Hall, Finance Coordinator

 

I’m reading state and federal legislation resulting because of COVID-19!

Colleen Loc, Human Resources Manager

 

As a family we just finished reading Wonder by R.J. Palacio. We are also reading the Portage Public School’s “One School, One Book” and are reading The Adventures of a South Pole Pig: A Novel of Snow and Courage by Chris Kurtz.

Nicky Aiello, Volunteer Services Coordinator

 

I am currently reading Core Knowledge and Competencies (Levels 1-4). They are standards set forth by the National Afterschool Association (NAA) that are categorized into 10 different content areas. I’m working on my AfterSchool Accreditation.

Phillip Hegwood, CIS After School Coordinator, Maple Street Magnet School

 

I am reading The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson.

Joan Coopes, CIS Site Coordinator, Arcadia Elementary School

 

I’ve started Grief’s Country: A Memoir in Pieces by Gail Griffin. (She taught at Kalamazoo College for 36 years.) I love it when books hook me from the first page and this one caught me with its first line.

Jennifer Clark, Special Projects & Initiatives

 

I am reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Jane Asumadu, CIS After School Coordinator, Linden Grove Middle School

 

I usually pick a fiction and expository (usually about bees) to enjoy. Right now I’m reading Crossing the Tiber a journey of sorts and, optimistically looking ahead to summer, Under the Radar Michigan/The First 50.

Maureen Cartmill, CIS Site Coordinator, Woods Lake Elementary

 

I’m reading The Outsider by Stephen King.

-Debra Newsome, Senior Director for Finance, Human Resources, and Administration

 

I finished reading Who Moved My Cheese and The Present: The Gift for Changing Times by Spencer Johnson. I will start Positive Addiction by William Glasser, M.D. My pastor recommended it.

Maria Chalas, CIS After School Coordinator, Arcadia Elementary School

 

I am rereading The Book Of Joy by the 14th Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.  I love this book and have read it in part and whole many times. It helps me keep perspective in times of change.

-Carli Thompson, CIS Site Coordinator, Prairie Ridge Elementary

 

Click here to read what a few of our CIS board members have been reading. Within this same post you will also find information on where to obtain fresh reading materials during this time of isolation. Take care of yourself and read!

 

 

Connectedness During a Time of Social Distancing

For the second week in a row, Jane Asumadu is our guest blogger. [If you missed her post last week, “The Community is Here With You,” you can find it here.] As CIS After School Site Coordinator at Linden Grove Middle School, Jane hopes to share her passion for education, particularly reading and writing, with students. As a Kalamazoo native, former Japan resident, and world traveler, Jane hopes to share her experiences with the community.

In last week’s post, I provided a list of some local and national resources available that support learning and the basic needs for students and families at home. This week, I want to look at our time at home through a different lens. How can we maintain emotional stability at this time?

In this post, I have compiled a list of some strategies and resources that promote physical and emotional balance. Before I begin, though, I must emphasize that I am by no means an expert on mental health. I simply want to share tips while I also walk this path with you all. 

Routines, routines, routines.

With people obligated to spend time at home, it may be easy to fall into weekend or summer break habits. While relaxation is always a healthy way to recharge, waking up late, being in pajamas all day, eating irregularly, and excessive time on screens for days and days can lead to the creation of unhealthy habits, especially for younger kids. So, how do we break that cycle? Establish routines at home. 

In an article in Psychology Today, comparative educational specialist Teru Clavel states that, “…this as an opportunity to establish new or revised house rules…” Now that many of us do not have the structure of our usual daily schedule, we should create a new one for our time at home. Younger children may need a schedule that shows when to eat, read, and play. Older children may need a schedule that states their responsibilities at home (chores) and due dates for assignments. Adults, too, may need to schedule their time as well. It could be a great way to finish that project from around the house or start that hobby you have always wanted to try. 

Below are parts of a example schedule provided by the CDC that shows what a structured day might look like for a family with young kids:

Family with 3 kids, twins age 4 and a 2 year old

  • Age 2
    • Wake up at 7:00 a.m. and have milk
    • Cartoons until breakfast at 8:00 a.m. Get dressed for the day
    • Snack at 10:00 a.m.
    • Lunch at noon followed by nap at 12:30 p.m.
    • Dinner at 5:30 p.m.
    • Bath at 6:00 p.m., followed by a story and a few songs in bedroom
    • Lights off by 6:45 or 7:00 p.m.
  • Continued for age 4
    • Bath time around 6:30 p.m.
    • Read or do something together, like a game or art project, around 7:00 p.m.
    • Potty, brush teeth, and then to bed by 8:00 p.m.

Establishing a routine at home creates structure. There are many creative ways to ensure that this time spent at home can also be a learning experience that supports growth. 

Disconnect to reconnect.

In last week’s post, I shared some online resources that support continued learning at home. This week, I want to add a little aside. Living in the Information Age, we have become dependent on the technological advancements that have taken charge of how our society and lives operate. In 2017, Common Sense Media reported that young teenagers spent an average of 5 hours in front of screens, not including school or homework. Imagine the amount of time they might be spending in front of screens when there is no school at all. There is a lot of research that has been done that discusses the impact of screen time on students and learning. Instead, I want to focus on ways to reduce that time. 

Jane’s suggestions to reduce screen time for students at home:

  • Limit academic learning online to one hour, two hours max
  • Schedule offline reading time, at least 30 minutes
  • Be aware of what your students are watching while online
  • Have TV time together
  • Journaling – 251 Creative Writing Prompts for Kids
  • Go outside and exercise! (of course, while maintaining social distancing)

Most importantly, reducing screen time can help with managing sleep for everyone. The blue light in LED screens has been proven to reduce the amount of melatonin released, which is what we need to have a proper night of sleep. The blue light essentially makes our brains think we are still awake and not ready to sleep. It is crucial at this time that we are as healthy as possible. Good sleep is a great defense against illness. 

Exercise and Mindfulness

Lastly, I want to suggest staying active and mindful. There are still ways to be active while adhering to Governor Whitmer’s Stay Home, Stay Safe Executive Order. We can definitely go for a walk or run outside while maintaining a safe distance from one another. Everyone should go outside and to get some much needed Vitamin D. For those who want to stay inside and be active, great organizations like the YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo have compiled a list of free resources available. Click here to access that list. 

Mindfulness is often misinterpreted as yoga and meditation. Although those are both great tools to practice mindfulness, mindfulness is simply defined as, “…awareness of one’s experience without judgement.” In an age where we are constantly bombarded with the opinions and drama of others, we need to find time to check-in and take care of ourselves. 

A few resources to practice mindfulness and self-awareness at home: 

  1. 25+ Mindfulness activities for Children and Teens – mindfulness in schools is often called social-emotional learning. Try out these exercises at home.
  2. Popular apps like Calm and Headspace offer free trial subscriptions to their seemingly unlimited mindfulness tools like guided meditation and help with sleep.
  3. If you or someone you know needs someone else to talk to, Gryphon Place will continue to offer 24/7 help to those in need. You can contact them at 269-381-HELP(4957) or call their 211 hotline if you need help locating other services like food, shelter, and mental healthcare. 

What Happens Now

It is a time to reflect and reconnect. In Teru Clavel’s article, COVID-19: 12 Preparations for Parents, Clavel points out the importance of communication and staying calm. We should be honest with each other. Not only about what is going on around us, but also what is going on within ourselves. So, continue to check-in with your neighbors and people close to you. Do not allow yourself to be bombarded with every news update and listen only to the facts from the CDC. Protect those around you and continue to look forward to the future. Stay happy and healthy.

The Community is Here With You

Today’s guest blogger is Jane Asumadu. As CIS After School Site Coordinator at Linden Grove Middle School, Jane hopes to share her passion for education, particularly reading and writing, with students. As a Kalamazoo native, former Japan resident, and world traveler, Jane hopes to share her experiences with the community. 

We have found ourselves in a fairly difficult situation. Rapid changes mixed with uncertainty have caused a lot of anxiety in our community. However, through these difficult circumstances, we can become more resilient as a community. 

So, we have been presented with some challenges. How can we continue learning for our students at home? And how can we stay connected when we have been advised to stay apart? Below, I have compiled a list of some of the resources available for students and families as we tackle school closures and social distancing, but still want to encourage growth and learning. In next week’s post, I will discuss ideas of staying connected, physically and emotionally.

Local resources

  1. Kalamazoo Public Schools is distributing food and learning packets at select locations and times until Friday, April 3. Breakfast and lunch will be packed up and available for pick-up by all students up to 18 years old on Mondays (two days worth of food), Wednesdays (two days worth of food), and Fridays (three days worth of food). 

Distribution Schedule:

  • 11:30-12:30 – All KPS school buildings except Greenwood, Indian Prairie, Winchell, ALP, South Westnedge School
  • 11:30-12 – Interfaith
  • 11:30-12 – Eastside Neighborhood Association
  • 12:30-1 – Fox Ridge Apartments
  • 12:30-1 – New Village Apartments 

For more information contact Chartwells/KPS Food Service: (269) 337-0458.

  1. Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes is continuing to offer meals for all local residents for pick-up by appointment and through their Mobile Food Initiative. Contact them at (269) 343-3663 to set up an appointment or for more information. KLF is also still looking for volunteers during this time, as well.  
  2. The South Michigan Food Bank has a number of pantries in our area that they support. Please call the 211 hotline and ask them to help you get in contact with one of these pantries. They are also holding their own food distributions (no appointment required) at these locations and times:
  • Fresh Fire AME (2508 Gull Rd., 4th Saturday of every month, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.)
  • Milwood United Methodist Church (3919 Portage St., 1st Tuesday of every month, 4 p.m.-6 p.m.)
  • Westwood Neighborhood Food Pantry (538 Nichols Road, 1st and 3rd Saturday of every month, 10 p.m.-12 p.m.)
  • Valley Family Church (2500 Vincent Ave., Portage, every Tuesday starting March 24, 5:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m.)

     3. YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo is closed to the general public, but is still providing childcare services for the children of those who are considered to be essential workers at this time. Visit their website for more details.  

Online resources

Due to the sudden closure of schools, many students probably did not have time to gather the materials necessary to continue learning at home. Thankfully, several local and national companies are offering free services for students online. Below is a short list of sites I recommend, but many, many more still exist.

  1. KPS Continued Learning Hub – The websites listed in this hub should be familiar to KPS students. With their KPS login, students can access sites like Compass Learning and Khan Academy from home. To get started, click here.
  2. Kalamazoo Public Library – Let’s Get Digital is another hub listing a variety of free media available to those with or without a KPL card. Just as their website boasts, “…[kpl.gov] is our online branch and it never closes!” [Also, see last week’s post “A Time to Read,” here.]
  3.  Scholastic Learn At Home is an initiative by Scholastic Books that offers two weeks of day-by-day interactive learning for students of all ages.
  4. Audible is an audiobook app. They are offering free audiobooks for kids, “for as long as schools are closed.” Students can stream select titles in six different languages from a desktop, laptop, phone or tablet by clicking on this site here.

An obvious obstacle with all these amazing resources is access to the internet. Fortunately, companies like Comcast and Spectrum are offering two months free internet to those who may need the support.  

Reach Out

Ironically, despite the necessity of social distancing, there is no better time than this to stay connected within our community. More than ever, it is important to check-in with our family, friends and neighbors. If you or someone you know is in need of extra support, reach out to find ways to help. The services and supports are available, they just need to be connected to the right people. When I find myself dealing with stressful times, I often think of this quote by author Zora Neale Hurston, who said, “There are years that ask questions, and years that answer.” Through patience and support, we will make it through. 

My heart goes out to everyone during this challenging time. Remember to reach out for help when you need it, and take care.

Jane Asumadu

A Time To Read

On Thursday, March 12, Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued a mandate to close all Michigan schools grades K-12 through April 5 to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Spring Break is the following week for Kalamazoo Public Schools and, as of this posting, that is still happening, which means students should be returning to school on April 13th.

In the meantime, it’s more important than ever for our kids—and us!—to read. What books do you plan to read?

Last month, we asked Communities In Schools board members what they are reading. Here’s what a few of them said:

Race Against Time by Jerry Mitchell. A reporter reopens two unsolved murder cases of the Civil Rights Era. Also, Sapiens and Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari.

-Darren Timmeney

 

Just Mercy by Bryan Stephenson

-Namita Sharma

 

Edison by Edmund Morris

-Randy Eberts

The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Daniel Coyle

Judy D’Arcangelis

 

Range by David Epstein. Also, Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell.

-James Curry

 

The Five Disfunctions of a Team by Patrick Len

-Sheri Welsh

 

21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

-Dave Maurer

 

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela. Also, The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris.

-Pam Enslen

 

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

-Dominic Pullo

Not that long ago, we introduced you to our newest board members and they shared their favorite children’s book. You can read that post here

Need to get your freshly washed hands on one of these or other books? Even though the Kalamazoo Public Library is currently closed during this pandemic, their online branch never closes. They have a solution for self-isolation boredom. You can check out their large variety of digital options, including eBooks, eAudiobooks, eVideos, eMusic, and eMagazines. It’s easy to browse and you can filter your search in several ways, including by age (adult, juvenile, or teen). Here’s their website.

Also, keep in mind our three wonderful independent bookstores that serve this community. Like other small and local businesses, they are part of what makes Kalamazoo so special and they continue to need our support. They are here for us and you can help the local health of our economy by turning to them (without even setting foot outside your home!) for your reading needs instead of going to Amazon.

Here are quick links to each of their websites and Facebook pages:

Kazoo Books:   websiteFacebook 

Michigan News Agency:  websiteFacebook 

this is a bookstore/Bookbug:  website & Facebook 

You are important to us. Take care of yourself. And when we emerge from this pandemic, we will be a stronger, wiser, and even more well-read community than before.

Tribute to Moses L. Walker

There are community pillars and there are community pillars. On Thursday, January 16, 2020, Kalamazoo lost one of its grandest, Moses L. Walker.

In reflecting on the amazing life of this longtime CIS board member, CIS Executive James Devers says, “Along with the Kalamazoo community, the CIS family mourns the loss of Moses Walker. His was a life of service, love, compassion, and excellence. Our deepest condolences go out to his wife and the entire Walker family.”

Four years ago, we sat down with Moses to learn about the kind of boy he once was, and the people and experiences that shaped him into the man he became. Due to space constraints, we published only a portion of that conversation in the CIS newsletter, that issue’s theme: “Boys to Men.” We also included a few of his responses in a March 22, 2016 post here at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. In tribute to this long time CIS Board Member, we now publish the interview in its entirety, along with some of the photos Moses provided us at that time.

Conversation with CIS Board Member: Moses L. Walker

Communities In Schools board member Moses Walker is a truth-teller, justice seeker, and numbers guy. As a boy, he walked everywhere. As a man, he has touched the lives of practically everyone who walks anywhere in Kalamazoo, whether they know it or not. Born in Kalamazoo, the community that raised him, Moses Walker has, in turn, helped to raise this community. Here, he shares some of his thoughts on boys, education, community, and much more.

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.

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.

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.

Do you think boys today face different pressures than what their fathers faced?

That’s a difficult question for me to answer. We have three grandchildren—my son’s three daughters—so they are the children of today. That’s two generations removed from me! But, from a societal standpoint, I can tell you: things change all the time. My generation was raised in a different way. We came from large families. I was born in 1940 and one of nine; that was not uncommon. We were close to each other—literally. We lived close to our friends. We could walk to each other’s houses. We had a different sense of community and sense of neighborhood. Everyone was your parent. Everyone had the right to correct you. That doesn’t exist today.

Even transportation is different. We walked everywhere. We didn’t own cars and many of our parents didn’t either. That sense of neighborhood when I was growing up doesn’t exist today. Many children have lost that sense of belonging, a sense of a greater bond. That saying, ‘It takes a village to raise a child?’ Well, that was truer in my day. We were a village. Children today are not growing up in the same village. People are less connected and as a result, peer pressures have greater influence on children and how they react to them.

According to Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson, psychologists and the authors of Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys, too many of our young men “remain emotionally illiterate in pursuit of a caricature of strong, silent masculinity.” Do you agree?

Probably. Too many of our young men today are raised in single parent, female households. We don’t see black males today involved in children’s lives as they once were. There is a major gap. In fact, over 70 % of our young boys are born into homes without men around. In the barbershop, we talk about how women can do the best they can, but that absence of a male figure—a positive male role model—makes a big difference. The absence of this, especially during a boy’s developmental years is a contributing factor to this problem.

What do we need to do better as a community to equip our boys to become successful and fulfilled young men?

That’s a difficult question. First of all, to become successful and fulfilled, you’ve got to be educated. Boys, particularly black males right now are not doing well when it comes to graduating on time or not graduating at all. White females are at the top, with 88% graduating on time, second is black females, followed by white males and then we see a major decline, with only 61% of black males are graduating on time. That’s a big warning sign.

We don’t want our boys heading to Jackson State University on 6000 Cooper Street. That’s the wrong university! But it’s hard. When children lack hope, are in an environment where education is not stressed, not passed on, it’s hard. But we have to stop making excuses. There are no easy ways but education is key. In my parents’ time, you just needed a pick and a shovel. These days, it’s tough succeeding without the necessary technical and academic training that today’s world demands. We need to engage, engage, engage, and keep our boys—and girls—in school.

If you could give only two pieces of wisdom to parents on raising sons, what would they be?

Value education. You must value it yourself in order to pass this along. Number two: make sure your child is putting forth the effort. Regardless of whether your child is black or white, they are not going anywhere if they aren’t prepared technology-wise or academically, so make sure they’re working hard. It starts with you. There’s no easy road. Hard work. It really comes down to recognizing the importance of education and sitting on your butt and doing the work. The Kalamazoo Promise guarantees opportunity. But the Promise doesn’t guarantee success or results.

There are many great organizations within our community. What is it about CIS that attracts you to give of your time and talent to this particular board?

I believe in what CIS stands for and the target population we serve. CIS is reaching out to some of our most vulnerable children and supporting them in a multitude of way so they can be successful. That’s really what it’s all about. Also, my relationship with [Founding CIS Executive Director] Pam Kingery—that goes back a long ways. At the end of the day, though, the CIS mission—surrounding students with a community of support so they can stay in school and succeed in life—is compelling. Some of our kids need additional supports and CIS is helping them academically, socially, and beyond.

Thank you, Moses Walker!