Then let us hurry, comrades, the road to find.

Now entering its sixth year, Courage to Create is once again offering seventh through twelfth graders the opportunity to reflect on social justice and share their voice by:

  1. submitting poems to the annual contest (deadline is January 21, 2020 and rules are noted at the bottom of this post),
  2. attending Courage to Create poetry workshops offered on Saturday, January during Kalamazoo’s annual MLK Day Celebration held at Western Michigan University, and
  3. celebrating with the community on February 19, 2020 at 4 p.m. on the WMU campus. Selected student poets read aloud their work, along with several local poets.

Courage to Create is a collaborative effort of Western Michigan University Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, Friends of Poetry, and Kalamazoo Public Schools. Here’s a peek at four of the people behind the scenes who work to make Courage to Create a reality for hundreds of students each year. Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids posed two questions to them:

What got you on the road to justice? 

What have you been seeing/experiencing lately along your path to justice?

Here’s what they said:

Buddy Hannah

As an African American who was raised in the segregated south during both the Jim Crow and Civil Rights era, justice has always been a part of my DNA. As I experienced injustice at an early age, I was also taught at an early age that the only way to fight injustice was to become an advocate for justice. Having been surrounded by an entire community who fought daily for justice, my path to justice was an easy one to follow.

Although segregation no longer exists—at least in theory—injustice still require me—and others—to speak out against it. Over the years, I have tried to use my creativity in many ways to be an advocate for justice, be it through my poetry, playwriting, or other avenues available to me. There is still a need to fight for justice, not only for people of color and other minorities, but for the human race. The only way to fight injustice is to fight for justice.

-Buddy Hannah, retired radio host, playwright, director, and poet

Elizabeth Kerlikowske

I got on the road to justice when I stepped on my first bus that went to Ottawa Hills High School, an inner-city school in Grand Rapids. In the six years I spent there, I learned more about life than at any other time in my life. It was a great experience of what the world could be like if we trusted each other, got to know each other, and worked toward the same ends. Later, I was “punished” for social activism by a university. They roomed me with three black women. Of course, that was the most important part of my education!

My path to justice is sometimes blocked by jaywalkers who only have eyes for their phones. We don’t talk to each other enough anymore. My sister visited from California. We were chatting with a clerk at D&W. Her husband couldn’t believe this was happening: we were all just Michigan together. We need to try and connect more over groceries, weather, and the new cross walk stops. Anything to form community, if only for a moment.

-Elizabeth Kerlikowske, President of Friends of Poetry

William Craft

I think we are all born knowing intuitively what is just and what is not. We have distractions that get us off that road to justice. The easiest thing in the world is to put our own well-being before that of society. The personal strength to stay moral and just is something we know in our hearts. Staying true to that is what defines a person’s character.

What keeps me on the path to justice is my desire to live in a society where all people have the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; ideals laid out in the Declaration of Independence. I take tremendous pride in my American identity and want to be sure that those ideals are fought for, that they are more than just words, and that our actions define us as a just and honorable society.

-William Craft, Director of Information Technology, Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Western Michigan University

 

Realizing that how and to whom we extend recognition of their full humanity are

Kathy Purnell

choices, they are decisions we make in each moment about “who the equals are” and what equitable treatment means in any given context. We must move towards each other with equity by opening up and learning from one another about our experiences and to attune our responses to one another in ways that are life-affirming and just.

I express my commitment to social justice in many ways, but at the present time, it is primarily expressed through my part-time teaching (this academic year I am holding teaching appointments at Kalamazoo College, WMU and the WMU School of Medicine), and my work as a full-time immigration lawyer for Justice for Our Neighbors-Michigan in Kalamazoo. What I am experiencing now in immigration practice is really disturbing because policy and regulations in many areas that have historically sought to protect vulnerable populations, such as refugees and asylum seekers, are changing at a really rapid pace in ways that are detrimental to the health and security of people who are fleeing violence and persecution and in need of legal and social support.

-Kathy Purnell, J.D., Ph.D., Staff Attorney, Justice for Our Neighbors-Michigan, Kalamazoo Office

Courage to Create Rules:

  1. Poems may be submitted in any style.
  2. Poems should reflect on social justice in celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy.
  3. The contest is open to students in grades 7-12.
  4. Poems will not be returned. Writers should not submit their only copy.
  5. Poets may submit more than one poem. Each poem should be submitted on a separate page. Author’s full name should be placed at the top of the page, along with his or her grade, school, and email address or phone number.
  6. All poems will be reviewed anonymously by a group of distinguished community poets.
  7. All poems must be submitted to the online submission portal at http://www.wmich. edu/mlk/c2csubmission.
  8. Deadline for submissions is Jan. 21, 2020.

Encourage the students you know to participate. More information can be found here at WMU’s website on MLK Celebration/Courage to Create and the November 2019 Excelsior, “Young Writers Encouraged to Find ‘Courage to Create’.”

Note: The title of this post is taken from Langston Hughes’ poem, “I look at the world.”

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.

 

 

 

 

Rod Raven Coaching Kids Both On and Off the Court

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 Rod Raven, who is the lead Activity Helper at Arcadia Elementary School where he also serves after school as basketball coach for both boys and girls. In both these roles, Rod works with CIS to assure students have what they need to succeed in school and life. Rod is a 2019 Champ recipient and if you missed what was said about him at Champs, go here.

Born and raised in Gary, Indiana, Rod came to Kalamazoo in 1985 seeking better employment opportunities. Prior to working at Arcadia Elementary, he ran summer programs, including working six years at the Boys and Girls Club. Rod is also the proud father of three children. His son Demonte is a military police officer, daughter Taysha attends college at KVCC, and daughter Nakia is a therapy behavior technician here in Kalamazoo.

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

Pop Quiz

Practice is the foundation of success in sports (and other things). It’s been said that whatever you do in practice, you’ll do that during the competition. Do you find that what kids do in practice, carries over from the court into the classroom?

Definitely. And that behavior carries over into the halls, onto the playground, and into the future. Take manners for example. That’s an important life skill and something we practice. A lot of the teachers will stop me and say how students are greeting them by saying “Good morning” and “Good afternoon,” and that this is a turn-around from the previous school year.

I love seeing our kids doing their work in school, reading, working on art, listening to teachers, and walking calmly down the hallway. They are echoing each other’s positive behaviors.

A commonly shared aspect of success on and off the court is being a consistent performer, to try hard in all conditions and never give up, responding positively to winning and losing, taking up both success and failure in a positive way. Is this a teachable trait? And if so, how do you teach it?

I do believe it’s a teachable trait. I encourage the boys at the beginning of practice and before games that no matter how the game turns out; we’re all winners here. I will give that message to both teams—there is no failure here. Participation is honorable in itself.

I stress teamwork, politeness, kindness, and respect. The way I coach is by structuring things a little differently during our time together. The first half hour is educational and students read and do homework. The second half of the hour is devoted to life skills. We talk and reflect on both the positive and negative behaviors that have occurred in school and home. We discuss and debate what choices could have made or made better, so that should they experience a similar situation later on in life, they will be aware of it, and make a positive choice in the future. After all that, we then have about 25 minutes of basketball practice. I realize that’s not a lot of time, but it sends the message that academics and behavior are more important. The students will be going on to middle and then high school and behavior is key to success in school and on the court.

I tell the kids that Michael Jordon and Lebron James may be the best known players, but a lot of other players out there were just as good but because they had behavior problems, they didn’t get to be on the platform and go to that next level. Getting a good education is important. To get to that next level—whatever area they see themselves in—behavior and academics need to be a focus.

Rod, Myah (left), and Joan (right) listening as Bob Miller (not pictured) introduces Rod at Champs.

CIS Site Coordinator Joan Coopes and CIS After School Coordinator Myah VanTil say you are not only invested in the students’ success, but you get them to invest in each other. Can you talk some about how you do that?

We work as one. We practice life skills together, talk as one, help each other with homework, whether its math or social studies we’re working together. And students help each other with choice-making. Say a player is making a bad choice on the playground. Other members will step in and remind that student that they are representing not only themselves, but the team. They remind them what they stand for.

Over the last four years, I haven’t had to break up any fights and that is because they have been learning to make better choices: to walk away, to talk it out, or resolve the situation with support from others.

Several of the boys have commented [about you] to both Joan and Myah that “he is teaching us how to be gentleman.” How do you go about imparting this?

The way you present yourselves tells others a lot about you. I never was one for slacks hanging down so every Friday, the boys dress up in a shirt and tie. As the “Young Men of Arcadia,” they demonstrate politeness and being a gentleman. At the end of the school year, I take them to a formal dinner so that they can experience that setting and practice their manners. They really improve from the beginning to the end of the year. All this helps them be role models to their friends and family now and later in life.

What are you currently reading?

I’m always reading lots of sports magazine. And I also love reading poetry.

Have you read Kwame Alexander’s work, like his book, The Crossover, that blends basketball and poetry? It combines two things you love!

One of my friends told me about his books. I need to read that one! I do enjoy reading poetry and writing it, too.

You write poetry?

I write poetry for friends, mostly. I’ll write poems for valentines and birthdays, illnesses, things like that.

What is your favorite word right now?

Ambition.

Where is one place in Kalamazoo you love hanging out?

School. I don’t do a lot of club stuff. I’m always busy with kids, at school and during the weekend in my community.

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

So many! Right now, I’d have to say Mr. Greg Socha. Over these last six years that I’ve been with Arcadia he has provided such encouragement. He shows a willingness to listen and take on challenges with me. When I’ve come up with an idea, he’s 100 percent behind it. We never look at an idea—or trying out an idea—as failure. I’m going to miss him. [Principal Greg Socha retired at the end of this school year.]

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

2019-2020 Request for Proposal

CIS is seeking community partners to work with us in the CIS After School Program to support students and their success in school.  Use the links below to find more information, as well as access the Enrichment Partner Proposal and Enrichment Partner Profile forms.  Deadline to submit a proposal is Monday, July 29, 2019.

2019-20 CIS Request for Proposal

2019-20 CIS Enrichment Partner Profile

2019-20 CIS Enrichment Program Proposal

 

What We Are Made Of – Kalamazoo Edition

Mosaic of Angelo, created by Jason Mecier

In Kalamazoo, we continue to be inspired by the national CIS office unveiling of What We Are Made Of. Initiated earlier this school year, this collaboration between pop artist Jason Mecier and CIS students resulted in 3-D mosaic portraits of students being displayed in a gallery in Washington D.C.

Since then, we’ve been thinking a lot about what we’re made of. We’ve been curious about what others are made of. CIS staff told us what item represents part of what they are made of, and if you missed that January blog post, you can learn what they said here.

During April’s poetry month, Mrs. Andrea Walker and her fifth grade class at Woodward School for Technology and Research collaborated with student leaders from Woodward’s Poetry Club to create a combined What We Are Made Of piece.

Their work—made up of words like tiger and turquoise, books, snow leopards, lip gloss, and glitter— graced the lobby of The Civic Theatre as part of the 2019 Kalamazoo Poetry Festival “body themed” offerings.

Putting the final touches on the collaborative work.

Sophia attending the Champs Celebration with her family.

Inspired by the national campaign, CIS of Kalamazoo created a What We are Made Of exhibit as part of our 12th Annual Champs Celebration. The local photo exhibit, sponsored by Warner Norcross + Judd, was a collection of six CIS students from the Kalamazoo Public Schools reflected in mosaic form. Each portrait was assembled with elements from the students’ lives that represent who they are as individuals. Below are a few samples to share from the event.

 

Here’s Sophia’s along with what five items she identified represent her and her story:

1. Venezuela   My home country.
2. Soccer / Running Shoes   I have played soccer the majority of my life. I participate in the Girls on the Run Program. It is my first time being in a program like this.
3. Wolf   If I were an animal, I would be a wolf because of the way they think and they are fast.
4. Pizza   It is my favorite food.
5. Puzzles   I love to do them with my lunch buddy mentor at school.

Here’s Matt’s mosaic:

Here’s his response to five items that represent his identity and story:

1. Lion   Symbol of confidence and bravery; I stand up for what I believe in.
2. Mom’s Obituary   My mom passed away a couple of years ago.
3. Sketchbook & Pencils   I like art and use it to express myself and how I feel.
4. Hammer   Represents my dream of giving back to the community by building more schools and activity centers for kids.
5. Brick   It’s solid and can’t be easily broken.

We so appreciate learning what kids are made of and hearing the stories that shape who they are. You can check out the National CIS website page here and discover more stories. (Scroll to the bottom of the page and you may spot a few students from Kalamazoo who are featured along with other CIS students from across the country on the site!)

 

Pam Kingery, CIS of Kalamazoo’s Founding Executive Director Retiring

Pam Kingery, Founding Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo

On behalf of the Board of Directors of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS), CIS Board President Tony McDonnell announces the retirement of our founding Executive Director, Pam Kingery, which will occur at the end of June, 2019. [Look for McDonnell’s article on Pam’s retirement in the upcoming CIS Connections.]

In 1998, the City of Kalamazoo and Kalamazoo Public Schools, with the input of many community stakeholders concluded that they had strong mutual interests for investing resources to improve the education and graduation of KPS students. Economic development, social justice, quality of life and workforce development interests intersected to create a local affiliate of Communities In Schools (CIS). Representatives of this community selected Pam Kingery as the person who could breathe life into this promising approach for supporting kids. As McDonnell notes, “In December 1999, Pam Kingery took on the challenge of developing the Kalamazoo version of Communities In Schools, using a national model to overcome the barriers that derail kids, giving them hope and the belief they can succeed in school, graduate and be prepared for life.”

In 2003, CIS joined with the Chamber of Commerce’s Kalamazoo Area Academic Achievement Program [KAAAP] and the Kalamazoo Public Education Foundation [KPEF]. Pam’s leadership has been “extraordinary” says McDonnell. “We all—the board, the staff—this entire community—owe her a debt of gratitude.”

Assures McDonnell, “the CIS Board has already embarked on its search for the next executive director. We look forward to a smooth transition and finding someone with the same passion and drive, a new leader who, in the wake of exciting opportunities and intriguing developments, will take this incredible organization to the next level, and help us serve even more students.”

Before Pam retires, Ask Me About My 12,000+ Kids wanted to find out what she has discovered along the way. Here’s our conversation with her:

Kids first! This has been your mantra over the years. So, let’s start with kids first. Tell us a story about one of the 12,000+ kids CIS has helped that has stuck with you over the years.

I still think of one of those first kids. His site coordinator worked so hard to get him eyeglasses. While he was incredibly excited to see clearly, he ended up tossing the glasses out of the third floor window of his school—what was then Vine Alternative [now KAMSC]. The frames of the glasses, purchased by his Medicaid coverage unfortunately branded him as low-income with his peers. He pointed out he would rather go back to not seeing than to have other students bully him for his Medicaid-frame glasses.

And I can’t help but think of the young man who had school failure after school failure. He had moved around a great deal, often missing school. At age 15, the CIS site coordinator took him for an eye exam. Following the exam, the optometrist informed them that the student was legally blind. He received glasses with extremely thick lenses.

All the way back to school, the site coordinator, worried about how the student would be perceived by his classmates, tried to prepare him for the possibility that kids might make fun of his glasses. But this young man was totally enthralled with everything he could see. He was especially taken by the trees. For the first time, he could see that the green of the trees was made up of individual leaves. He said he didn’t care if he got made fun of for thick lenses. He was just so happy to be able to see. At fifteen, his whole world suddenly opened up. You can’t help but wonder, how might things have been different for him if his vision problem could have been identified earlier, when he was five and not fifteen?

What happened with the first student?

With both of these students, we dipped our toe in the water with vision as one significant barrier to success. The first student I mentioned, it is because of him that we reached out to The Junior League of Kalamazoo. He had introduced us to the complex challenges with solving vision care needs and what kids and their parents were contending with at the time. Back then, I think there were three options for Medicaid frames and these were easily identified by other kids as evidence of poverty. So, while we were able to meet his need, it came at such a great social-emotional cost to him. Junior League gave us that first vision care grant of $5,000 and it allowed us to help that student upgrade his frames, and it helped many other families struggling to meet their children’s vision needs, some families who couldn’t even access the Medicaid frames.

As is always the case, there were lots of incredibly caring teachers, who on top of everything else they do, were trying to get glasses for kids. Others like the Lions Club and the KPS nurse were also working very hard to help with glasses, one student at a time. What we added was this organized, systematic approach to making sure that all kids who failed vision screening could then be supported to get them across the glasses finish line.

It’s one thing to be screened for vision—or any other need for that matter—but if nothing happens as a result, screening has no value. That we’ve been able to take identified needs and create systems for intervening is what I am still most excited about in terms of what CIS is able to do for kids and families. The creation of an ongoing system—one we’ve built together with the Kalamazoo Public Schools and the community—means lots of kids will continue to get lots of help long after any one of us is gone.

Back in 1999, you started CIS here in Kalamazoo from scratch. What was one of the first ingredients you used to get started?

I don’t know if it’s an ingredient, so much as a realization. What struck me early on is that this thing we were trying to create was not going to be successful if I was a traditional leader in the traditional sense of one charismatic person who would create and carry this organization on her shoulders. No one person could do this and sustain it. We would only be successful if what we were trying to do was owned by many, many more people that just me.

And early on, you did see that sense of shared ownership, beginning with our board, and our founders. And since then, together, we have only continued to grow the systems of support and the number of students and schools CIS serves.

I hope that our sustainability over the last almost twenty years suggests that my educated hunch was correct. I think the joint ownership and passion for CIS and what it could be, has made for a much broader and stronger foundation. Organizations come and go. When an organization has been “owned” by one person, it is especially easy for that organization to go with that person. Joint ownership makes it a lot harder to let something go. It’s this shared sense of passion and ownership for CIS and its mission that so many people have invested in; it’s the glue that holds this organization together.

[An article posted last month in Nonprofit Quarterly, speaks to Pam’s collective leadership approach. You can read it here.]

What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?

The creation of a systemic approach and the assembling of an incredibly talented staff and board. You can create a wonderful system, but if you don’t have talented people to do the work, it’s impact will be nonexistent. And if you have talented people, but no organized system to apply their talents, there will also be limits. It’s because of those two things—in combination—that I feel such optimism for the future of CIS.

What advice would you give to the person who will ultimately step into your position when you retire at the end of June?

Listen.

When examining myself and when I’ve messed up is probably when I’ve succumbed to the temptation to talk more and not listen enough. We can all probably listen better and more often. I don’t think there are too many of us who are listening too much. It’s good advice for all of us to take in and listen more, whether we’re at work, at home with our family, our kids, with friends, you name it. Listen.

Back in 2014, you helped kick off our “What’s your Story?” series by sharing your own moving story. [You can read that post here.] You said that your mother instilled in you a love for education. You also said that you were the first and only person in your family to receive a college education.

Pam as a little girl, with her mom

I had originally told staff the story of what my mom had only told me as an adult. Growing up, I remember how my mom always talked about how much she loved school. But it wasn’t until years later, as a grown adult with my own kids that she told me she had dropped out in high school because she was so incredibly poor.
I have this photo of my mom as a child and she is wearing a potato sack for a dress. She described herself as a bow-legged child who always had a terrible haircut. She and her sister literally got their hair cut by having a bowl placed on their head, and dull scissors used to cut around the bowl.

Pam’s mother (right) with younger sister

Kids made fun of her and she finally couldn’t take it anymore and dropped out of high school. She ended up going to Detroit at age sixteen—by herself—and got a job.

That knowledge about my mother’s experience informed my thinking around what we are doing with CIS Kids’ Closet. From that very personal story, I know that sometimes the piece of clothing we offer is far more than that piece of clothing. Through Kids’ Closet, we aren’t just handing out pants or socks. We are also handing dignity to that child. We are sending the message to kids that, as adults, we are going to care for and protect you.

In speaking with CIS staff, some of the qualities they mentioned that you possess that have helped us grow into the organization we are today: a visionary leader, someone who is passionate, compassionate, ethical, fearless, and thoughtful. Which of your qualities has helped you best lead the CIS team in Kalamazoo?

Pam leading the CIS crew during a staff development training

I’d like to think that I am a life-long learner. That I never stop learning and trying to find out how we can improve and how we can do a better job for kids. Being open to learning and considering new ideas and flexibility is a really important trait. Flexibility is a one of those things that is both a strength and a limitation.

How so?

When you let flexibility drive you, you can unknowingly keep reinventing the wheel. Instead of building on what you’ve learned, you can end up with twenty or two hundred different ways of doing something because you are trying to be flexible with everybody. There are benefits to having standards for the way some things are done based on evidence. I’m glad I’m flexible but there is, I think, an inherent tension between those two things: when to be flexible and when not to be flexible. There is a time for flexibility, a time for creativity, and a time for standardization.

We know you love a really good book. What are you currently reading?

I just finished Tim Geithner’s book, Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises. I found it a fascinating book… I was on plane to Austin the other weekend and a young kid, about 22 years old, came up to me and said, I saw you reading Tim Geithner’s book. He definitely wanted to know what I thought of the book. Turns out he worked for a think tank in Washington, D.C. with some of Geithner’s former colleagues.

I’ve started reading Relationshift: Revolutionary Fundraising that CIS Board member Terry Morrow recommended. It’s written by Michael Bassoff and Steve Chandler. Members of the CIS Development Committee and other staff are also reading the book thanks to the generosity of Development Chair, Darren Timmeney who purchased several copies for us.

Pam, thank you for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000+ Kids. And thank you for your leadership. Your relentless focus has given Kalamazoo a priceless gift; a proven way for the community to collectively and systematically address critical needs for students—whether it’s a pair of glasses, or shoes, a tutor, a mentor, or mental health support—so barriers to learning are overcome and students, surrounded by this web of community support are empowered to stay in school and achieve in life.