It’s A Wonderful Life

The President of Communities In Schools, Dan Cardinali, was in Kalamazoo early last week to see our partnership with Kalamazoo Public Schools in action.  We kept him busy during his two day visit. He, along with the State Director Jeff Brown, visited Edison Environmental Science Academy, El Sol Elementary, Loy Norrix High School, Arcadia Elementary School, and Woods Lake Center for the Arts. (To learn more, look for an article on the visit in a future edition of The Excelsior.)

In between these school visits, a number of us gathered at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts to celebrate Mr. Cardinali’s visit and the work this community is doing through CIS. We titled the event “It’s A Wonderful Life.” I’m posting below the opening remarks made last Tuesday by Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. Given recent events and the mourning that is taking place throughout our country, these words take on even more meaning.

We titled this afternoon’s event after the 1946 Frank Capra movie, It’s a WonderfulLife. Why? Because it’s December and it is cold outside. But, even more so, this classic movie which stars Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, celebrates the goodness of life. It reminds us of the impact one individual can have in transforming lives, how a person’s actions—both big and small—can have ripple effects which wash over an entire community, making it a better place to live.

Kalamazoo, like the cinematic town of Bedford Falls, is an amazing place. Here in ourtown, Dan, we want you to know that we dream big. We want all our children to live life wonderfully. This community has embraced the CIS mission and owns it–surrounding students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life. Here, we want every child to graduate and take advantage of the Kalamazoo Promise®. Life here IS wonderful.

But not all of us are fortunate enough to be living it wonderfully. Like any other place in America, our town is not immune to poverty, racism, all those things that creep into and eat away at the soul of a city. Here in Kalamazoo, way too many of our citizens are living below the poverty level. For many of the children, wonderful is just out of reach.

Remember in the movie, that bridge? The one upon which George Bailey finds himself all alone on that cold night, the one upon which he contemplates ending his life by falling into the icy waters below?

That bridge doesn’t just exist in some black and white movie. It stretches far beyond us, casting long shadows across our country. It is a bridge built on hopelessness and illiteracy, paved in unmet needs and bolted firmly in place by despair and poverty. Children who believe they have no other place to stand find themselves, just like George Bailey, on the edge of that bridge. Far too frequently a child is slipping away from us, dropping out of school. Wonderful is just too far out of reach.

Just like the movie, though, there is good news in the midst of troubled times. The good news is that the world is filled with caring people. Kalamazoo is steeped in resources of the heart. As CIS folks, we see this everyday, our Site Coordinators and partners who are on the front lines working with teachers and other school staff, reaching out to children who are about to plunge into the icy waters below, and in some cases, salvaging the children who have already slipped through the ice. The good news is that we have each other. Together, we are an army of opportunity, clothing our children in hope, feeding our children with love, and helping our children learn.

By the end of the movie, George Bailey is surrounded by family and members of his community. He had some help in getting to that point. George Bailey had Clarence the angel. The Kalamazoo Promise® is our Clarence the angel, for it is a gift, a miracle. But, just like the movie, even angels need help. You, me, all of us together are what gives wings to the Promise.

In the movie, every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings. Here in Kalamazoo we can imagine that every time a bell rings, a child is being lifted up–a child is staying in school and succeeding. A wonderful life is within reach because of all of you and hundreds of others in our community.