November 19, 2013

How Do You Spell Excellent? K-A-L-A-M-A-Z-O-O

Today’s guest blogger is Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. Read what she has to say. I think you’ll find it most excellent!

Who doesn’t like being selected for an award?  It feels great to have nominated Kalamazoo for a “Communities of Excellence” award, to learn Kalamazoo was chosen and that other winners are Charleston, South Carolina, Wayne County, Indiana, and Charlotte, North Carolina.  Pretty good company I would say.

Since being notified, I have been doing a lot of thinking about what it means to be a Community of Excellence.  Is it supposed to mean we are perfect—that we have no poverty, no homelessness, no kids who use illegal drugs, no gun violence, no prejudice?  Does it mean that we talk only about the great things—The Kalamazoo Promise®, two great hospitals, being a vibrant college town, getting a new medical school, having a great Symphony Orchestra, strong proponents of social justice, an exceptional non-profit sector, a diverse economy and a vibrant arts community?  I decided not. Part of our strength is a willingness to be honest about our challenges, and a determination to tackle them head on even when we may be tired.

Last week, I attended the swearing in of the new City Commission, Mayor, Vice Mayor and City Manager and the honoring of long-standing public servants, Hannah McKinney and Ken Collard. And there I got a glimpse of something key to being a Community of Excellence.  Earlier in the day I had listened to a story about a community in southern Illinois and felt as though I were sharing in their overwhelming sense of discouragement—they seemed to be succumbing to a sense of inevitable and profound decline, as though nothing could prevent the downturn. Either you left the town, or you bought 32 guns and taught every family member to use them and hunkered down in fear.

Listening to Jack Urban, Bob Cinabro, Stephanie Moore, Barb Miller, Don Cooney, David Anderson and Bobby Hopewell affirmed why Kalamazoo deserves to be selected for a Community of Excellence award. Knowing that Ken Collard’s legacy to the City is a commitment to telling the truth and doing what is right, regardless of what is popular or politically expedient, is excellence. Acknowledging in the most civil manner possible that they have disagreed with one another, that they will disagree with one another again in the future and that they will do so openly but with the utmost care and respect is excellence. Expressing profound admiration for the outgoing City Manager and strong support for the incoming one is excellence. Providing a preview of hard issues and decisions to come, and taking the long view rather than the short one is excellence.  Taking responsibility and assuring us that we shall positively overcome is excellence. I walked out of the swearing in ceremony feeling very proud of Kalamazoo and wondering if these public servants might teach a class in Lansing and Washington DC.

Kalamazoo will be celebrated as a Community of Excellence by the Communities In Schools National network at an awards ceremony in Charlotte, North Carolina in late January. And I have more than two months to think about all the additional reasons that Kalamazoo is totally deserving of the honor—hundreds of ordinary people who volunteer hours and hours each year to tutor kids in our schools or deliver meals to our elders, a public library committed to ensuring that the love of reading extends to all, a Community College determined that students embrace their strengths to find the right future, a community of outstanding teachers dedicated to helping even the most reluctant students to learn, even when we consistently fail to say thank you.

When the Community of Excellence Award is given, I will stand a little taller, understanding that the list of accolades that are recited, aren’t nearly long enough to do justice to the great place where I live. What can you add to the list?

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