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!

One Generous Community, 14,000 Back-to-school Supplies

Once again, our generous partners have made a difference for kids. Many community organizations and local businesses hosted supply drives and helped ensure that the basic need for school supplies was provided for students at the start of the school year. Our CIS site coordinators were able to collect and distribute supplies to students in 20 Kalamazoo Public Schools buildings. We wish to say “Thank You” to all of our wonderful community members who hosted school supply drives this year!

Airway Fun Center

AT&T Michigan

Breakfast Optimist Club of Kalamazoo

Edward Jones

Edwards Garment

FLYNN THIEL

IBEW Local 131

Jaqua Realtors

Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes

Kalamazoo Public Library

Kalamazoo County Association of Retired School Personnel

Kushner & Company

Menards on West Main

Miller Johnson

NALS of Greater Kalamazoo

Old National Bank

Outerwears

Parkview Hills / Willow Lake Clubhouse

Rose Street Advisors

Salvation Army

West Michigan American Payroll Association

WMU Black Student Union

WMU Lee Honors College

 

Over 14,000 school supply items were donated! With your support, students have access to resources like school supplies every day.

Interested in participating? For an updated list of current, urgent needs, please click here.

 

 

 

 

Sweating the Small Stuff

CIS Site Coordinators sweat the big and small stuff to make sure kids are connected to the resources and people they need to stay in school and succeed. Last week, we heard from many of our elementary CIS Site Coordinators—they were tapped out of smaller-sized sweatpants. The requests for sweatpants were exceeding supplies.

Students and school staff connect with CIS site teams at their school to request basic items of clothing such as sweatpants as well as school supplies and personal care products that are needed. It can be hard to focus on learning for students if they are uncomfortable or embarrassed, and it’s hard to do classwork and homework without the right supplies. Thanks to many of you, CIS Kids’ Closet is an invaluable resource that makes it possible for kids to attend school every day, all day with confidence and dignity, ready to learn.

Some years back, one of our former CIS Site Coordinators, Laura Keiser, pulled together a “Top Seven” list of why sweatpants never go out of season. Here’s what she wrote:

Whether it’s wet pants (spilled milk, fell in a puddle, had a potty accident), smelly pants (limited or no access to laundry facilities), or no pants (refused to wear anything but shorts to school in March and realized the error of their ways at recess) – sweatpants do matter. Sweatpants get a bad rap. This unassuming staple of clothing worn by all those exercising, lounging, or otherwise needing a comfortable pair of pants doesn’t usually make the “must have” list in the fashion & style magazines. But did you know that sweatpants are one of the most important items donated to the CIS Kids’ Closet? As a CIS Site Coordinator, I give out sweatpants every day to the kids in my school and I see the difference they make in helping our kids attend school every day, all day, with comfort and dignity.

Here’s seven reasons why we think sweatpants should make the “must have” list!

7. Sweatpants are inexpensive.
6. Sweatpants are durable.
5. The elastic ankles keep the bugs out. (Just kidding! We wanted to make sure you were still reading.)
4. They can be pulled over other clothes to be used as an extra layer in the winter.
3. There are no pockets so you can’t sneak stuff to school – like your pet hamster.
2. They are “user-friendly” for younger students – no buttons, snaps, or zippers!
1. And the #1 reason – sweatpants fit a variety of shapes and sizes and both boys and girls.

Consider being a supporter of sweatpants and donate a new pair or two to CIS Kids’ Closet today! To learn more of what is on the “wish list,” go here. Please note that based on our limited staff and facilities capacity, we do ask that all in-kind donations are new. We encourage you to donate gently used items to other organizations in our community who depend on these donations to support their work.

Introducing New Members of the Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo Board of Directors

This past July, we welcomed five new members onto the Board of Directors. We want to welcome Josh Sledge, Jyllian Liggins, Sheri Welsh, Scott Nykaza, and TiAnna Harrison who share our passion for helping kids succeed. They join more than two dozen other committed individuals who are “all in” for kids.

For a full list of the CIS Board of Directors, visit: https://ciskalamazoo.org/meet-the-board/

Jyllian Liggins, Community Member

Jyllian Liggins is a native of Kalamazoo, Michigan. She attended Western Michigan University and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration in 2001. She later earned her MBA from Spring Arbor University in 2009. Jyllian held several positions at Consumers Energy Company until resigning to stay at home to raise her family.

Jyllian is married to James Liggins, Jr. and they have three beautiful children. Jyllian is passionate about impacting the positive growth and development of youth. She led the children’s ministry at her church for many years. Currently, Jyllian is active in the music ministry at her church, a member of Tendaji, a local women’s philanthropic group, and a member of Jack and Jill of America, Inc. Jyllian also enjoys traveling, running half marathons, trying new pizzerias, and listening to music.

Favorite Children’s Book:  There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly by Simms Taback

 

Dr. Scott Nykaza, Chief Executive Officer at Kalsec®, Inc.

Raised on a small farm in Wisconsin, Dr. Scott Nykaza started school on a track scholarship from the University of Arkansas majoring in Animal Science and Agri Business. He obtained a BS degree in this area, after transferring in his second year to Kansas State University. Dr. Nykaza went on to receive a MS degree in Plant Breeding and Genetics at KSU and later, after working a few years, a PhD in Plant Genetics from Colorado State University.

After getting a PhD in Plant Breeding and Genetics, he started working at Monsanto on research with GMO crops in various capacities, leaving the organization as a Regional Business Leader for Monsanto. Along the way, Scott earned an MBA from Michigan State University.

Dr. Nykaza came to Kalsec, Inc.® to work in the purchasing area in 1999 and after a few years became Vice President of Procurement. He enjoyed the work and travel that position had to offer and visited over 100 countries throughout the years. After seven years, Scott transferred to Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing and was promoted to Chief Operating Officer in October 2011. He held that position until 2013 when he became the Chief Executive Officer of Kalsec, Inc.®.

Scott’s family includes his wife Janet and daughters Emily and Madeline. They enjoy visiting them during the vacation time. Emily lives in New Orleans with her husband and two children and Madeline lives in Washington DC. Janet and Scott have participated in many charitable activities over the years and feel motivated to help support others less fortunate and in need of help.

Favorite Children’s Book:  Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans

 

Josh Sledge, Senior Director, Programs at Financial Health Network

As a Senior Director on the Financial Health Network’s Program team, Josh supports innovative financial services providers working on solutions to improve consumer financial health. His work includes managing relationships with Network member organizations, conducting consumer and industry research, advising companies on strategy and product design, and leading initiatives designed to foster new financial health solutions. Among other topics, he has particular expertise on the small-dollar credit industry and nonprofit innovation. Before joining the Financial Health Network, Josh was a Senior Investment Analyst at Prudential Capital Group, an investment division of Prudential Financial. Josh earned an M.A. in Liberal Studies from Northwestern University and a B.A. in Business Administration from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.  He’s a Kalamazoo native and a proud graduate of Kalamazoo Public Schools.

Favorite Children’s Book: The Book With No Pictures by BJ Novak

 

Sheri Welsh, President & CEO of Welsh & Associates, Inc.

Sheri holds a BS in Business Administration from Central Michigan University and is a SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP).

Sheri is a graduate of Leadership Kalamazoo and a Past Board Chair of the Leadership Kalamazoo Advisory Council, YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo, American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women, and the Kalamazoo Regional Chamber of Commerce. Currently, she serves on the board of directors for the Small Business Association of Michigan and Kalamazoo County Ready 4’s. She lives in Kalamazoo with her husband Richard and spunky Welsh Corgi, Jack. Sheri and Richard have two children who are graduates of Kalamazoo Public Schools and Promise Scholars.

Favorite Children’s Book:  Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

 

*Not pictured, TiAnna Harrison is a new addition to the CIS Board of Directors representing Kalamazoo Public Schools as the Board of Education Treasurer.

James Devers: The Conversation Continues

James Devers

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 Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo’s New Executive Director James Devers. When the CIS board selected James Devers to lead Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, we introduced him briefly to you back in June with this post. And if you read our most recent back to school issue of CIS Connections, you know even more about James, such as what book changed his life. Here’s some of our conversation that, due to space issues, didn’t make it into the newsletter.

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

Pop Quiz

What is a question you often ask yourself? Or perhaps it’s a question you’ve only been recently asking yourself?

I’ve been gone from Kalamazoo for 23 years. Since coming back in September of 2017, in processing the reality of my journey, I’ve been thinking about this play on the question, Why me? I’ve been thinking about how skill, talent, ability, and circumstances don’t always line up. The reality is that, where I’m at now and the place that I’m going as executive director is a result of something bigger than me. I believe I’ve been preparing for this journey all along even though I didn’t know it was coming.

…I come from a family of laborers. I was not introduced to the corporate world or much of any of the experiences I have encountered. All of it is a discovery. I’m grateful and humbled by the journey and where I now find myself.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

I was at the Douglass Community Association recently and noticed the “1919” imprint on the corner of the building. It’s a good reminder that the black community has had a presence in Kalamazoo, and it goes far back. For instance, in 1968 Judge Pratt, a native of Kalamazoo became the first African American judge in Kalamazoo County. And, of course, Douglass Community Association is celebrating its 100th birthday!

What are you currently reading?

The Bible. That’s my go-to book….I like that the stories illustrate the human experience and show the flaws of people as well as their triumphs. Despite their flaws—despite our flaws—we can do great work.

Do you have a pet peeve?

The thing that bothers me most is when people are mean to other people. That really gets me.

Can you tell us about a person who opened a door for you and impacted you as a leader?

I was planning to obtain my Masters in social work. While working at Ohio State, I had just finished my first year working towards that degree and contemplating taking a year off to complete the second year (clinical work). A Ms. Rivers reached out and invited me to talk with her. I thought I was just going to meet with her for a conversation, not realizing it was an interview, at the end of which she offered me the principal position within the school that she had helped to found. I really had to think about that. Here I was, working for The Ohio State University and did I want to give that up and risk doing something I’d never done before, working as a principal in a small school? I’m so glad I accepted her offer to be principal. Even though I was working in the field of education, Ms. Rivers brought me into the public school sector in a deeper way, and it changed the trajectory of my life.

I appreciated working under somebody who had her passion. She was a former school counselor—had served in that role for 30 some years before “retiring.” She had so much energy and passion at that stage of her life. She could have chosen to ride off into the sunset, but she didn’t. And though she was in her mid to late 60s, I had a hard time keeping up with her!

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

My mother has always been that caring adult for me, but I must say that I did not come to appreciate the significance of her influence until a lot later in life.

While there have been a number of caring adults along my path, those relationships were not so much a sustained and consistent over time. Rather, it was moments of influence from different caring adults that helped shape my thinking and my actions. During my childhood we did lots of moving around. I went to a number of different KPS schools: Woodward, Woodrow Wilson Elementary School [the school is gone now, replaced with the Wilson Recreation Area, an open field and playground on Coy Avenue], Spring Valley Center for Exploration, and Washington Writers’ Academy. After that it was Milwood and Hillside Middle Schools. Even when I attended Kalamazoo Central High School and KAMSC [Kalamazoo Area Mathematics & Science Center], we still moved around.

What is your favorite word right now?

It’s not so much a word as an expression, I consider myself a made-man versus a self-made man. There is a verse in the Bible that says, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” …I, like anybody else, had no control over my family that I was born into. I’ve had my share of crazy experiences as well as opportunities that have been presented along the way. So that expression is an acknowledgement that there lot of things are bigger than me, and that I don’t necessarily deserve the credit for who I am or what I have accomplished to this point in life.

For instance, my mother didn’t have experience in a lot of the areas I was going to walk into when it came to high school and college. She had dropped out of high school at age 16 [she later went back to school and earned her GED]. But she gave me responsibilities that, in looking back on it, shaped me. In her own way, she guided me. I was the oldest of five and would often be in charge of caring for them. Also, we were always moving around and going to different schools and thus found ourselves being around different people. Those childhood experiences made me and helped me become who I am today.

Thank you, James Devers, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.

Be on the lookout for the CIS newsletter to learn more about CIS Executive Director James Devers. Also, James was recently interviewed by Encore Editor Marie Lee for the September issue of the magazine. Pick up a copy at one of these locations or read it on-line here.

Thank you, Dr. Rice!

Dr. Michael F. Rice speaking to crowd at a CIS event.

The 2019/2020 school year has officially begun. Gary Start is serving as Interim Superintendent of Kalamazoo Public Schools after Superintendent Dr. Michael F. Rice was named Michigan State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

In August 2007, when Dr. Rice became superintendent, he also became an active board member of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS), championing the CIS model of integrated student services. [More on the CIS model here.] His leadership as an administrator and educator, combined with his passion for social justice propelled CIS and our community to more closely align our resources with the school district to increase our collective impact on children.

The result of this collective response? Every major indicator in the district improved over the years: reading, writing, math, and science state test results; Advanced Placement participation; graduation rates; college-going rates; and college-completion rates.

During his twelve years as superintendent of Kalamazoo Public Schools, Dr. Rice has been a relentless force, working hard to create a literacy community and a college-going culture for our children. He created meaningful change by spearheading innovative and sound reforms, like parent education classes, including education for parents of newborns, expanding and overhauling preschool to restructuring the middle and high school schedules to give students more time in core subjects. To combat summer slide, every fourth, fifth and sixth-grader in the district is mailed books over the summer. He made it possible for all first grade students to visit our invaluable partner, the Kalamazoo Public Library and obtain public library cards. Every year, he visited every third grade class throughout the district, talking with students about college and poetry and making our kids feel special. [More on what was accomplished in the district during his tenure, here.]

As superintendent of a diverse district, he championed all KPS families, the underserved, the affluent, and the middle class. He remembered our names. He reminded us that, as much as we have already accomplished, much work remains.

Dr. Rice often said, “We [KPS] can’t do it alone,” because he knows transformational change does not occur in isolation but is birthed and fed only by the community working together. “Let us remember that every time a child learns to read, every time a child learns to write, every time that all members of a family can read well, every time a student graduates from high school, first in his or her family to do so, every time a young man or woman goes to college, first in his or her family to do so, every time a tutor tutors, a mentor mentors, a church, temple, or mosque steps up to serve children, every time a person comes out of retirement to help a child rise up, we get one step closer to a community culture, a college-going culture, a literacy community, which we will be proud to leave to and for our children.”

We are thankful for Dr. Rice’s leadership and we’re excited that all of Michigan’s children will now have Dr. Michael F. Rice advocating for public education on the state level.

Continue reading “Thank you, Dr. Rice!”

James Devers Selected to Lead Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo

James Devers

CIS of Kalamazoo Board of Directors have announced that they have selected James Devers to serve as the nonprofit organization’s second Executive Director. “After a very thorough search, the Board is excited to welcome James Devers to lead Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo into the future,” said Tony McDonnell, President of CIS Board. “James bring tremendous experience, passion for helping kids succeed and a steady leadership style to his new role as CIS Executive Director,” says McDonnell.

When Pam Kingery, CIS of Kalamazoo’s founding executive director retires from CIS at the end of June, James Devers will begin his tenure as executive director the first week of July.

James has more than 19 years of diverse experience in the field of education, ranging from working for the Ohio Department of Education, to doing community-based computer literacy training, to serving as principal at a K-8 public school in Ohio. Most recently, James has served as the Senior Director of Site Services for Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo.

A graduate of Kalamazoo Public Schools, James holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Western Michigan University and a master’s degree in public administration from The Ohio State University. A passionate advocate for youth and families, James’ volunteer work over the years has included starting several summer camps, tutoring youth, and mentoring high school students who were at risk of dropping out of school.

“I am grateful to be stepping into the role of Executive Director with the perspective gained from my current position as Senior Director of Site Services,” said James. “I already know our staff—we have a terrific team. In my new position I want to ensure that the work we’ve begun, as well as the progress we’ve made together—both programmatically and relationally—will continue. I’m looking forward to bringing my perspective and experience to this dedicated team of staff, volunteers, school and community partners at CIS. Together, we will continue and build upon CIS’s successful history focused on helping kids stay in school and achieve in life.”

You can look forward to learning more about James, his thoughts on leadership, and more in our next CIS Connections (due out this fall). Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids will also bring you an interview with James in the months to come.