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.”

Anthology lifts up the voice of children

Have you read the new anthology, Immigration and Justice For Our Neighbors? If not, you may want to add it to your summer reading list. Published by Celery City Books, the anthology includes the work of a number of Kalamazoo Public School students from Arcadia Elementary School. Poems by Reem Ahmed, Nour Abdullah, Hala Alhasan, Nada Alhasnawi, Faris Bukhader, Nabaa Eyddan, Lisbet Lopez, Taema Qwam-Alden, Roziya Rustamova, Abdullah Tayara, and Ritika Verma are woven throughout the anthology. These fourth and fifth graders are published alongside prominent poets and writers from Michigan and beyond.

If you want to read a book on immigration policy, then this isn’t the book for you. However, if you are a neighbor, have a neighbor, or are interested in exploring the theme of immigration and what kids have to say about it, this 116 page anthology is for you.

Scott Matteson designed the book’s eye-catching cover which bears the Statue of Liberty draped in flags of different countries. Photo by Jessica Grant.

Here are nine things you may not know about this anthology project:

What readers are saying.

CIS friend and community advocate Deborah Droppers says, “I applaud the anthology of essays and poems found in Immigration and Justice For Our Neighbors. The anthology uses the written word to encourage thoughtful discourse on the challenges that each of our communities face while celebrating the amazing things that happen organically when people believe in the power of conversation between neighbors that are close and beyond our picket fences.”

Retired KPS teacher Carol Hodges says this: “Opening this anthology in the middle, I find a child’s poetic love letter to the country of Iraq juxtaposed against the complex musings of an American man teaching English to Arabs in the Mideast. Then there is the story of a Nigerian woman named Rejoice who fears being deported. How different is her modern-day experience from the 1919 steerage voyage of the young British woman leaving shame and servitude behind?This volume is thin but it is far from an easy read. You’ll need time to ponder.”

The people behind the pages.

Were it not for the support of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo and the Kalamazoo Public Schools, the children’s voices might not have been heard. A shout out to Arcadia Elementary School teachers Debora Gant, Holly Bishop, Erin Young, and Donna Judd for the opportunity to work with such wonderful students. Also, Donia Ali and Grace Gheen are two shining stars at Arcadia who are part of the fabulous Kalamazoo Public Schools Bilingual/English as a Second Language (ESL) Program. They were instrumental to the success of this project in so many ways.

It’s in the bag.

KPL’s Book Club in a Bag

The anthology is now part of Kalamazoo Public Library’s impressive list of books available as a Book Club in a Bag. Karen Trout, Reading Together coordinator for the Kalamazoo Public Library says, “KPL’s 2016 social justice resolution includes the statement: KPL values compassion and champions everyone’s right to be welcome in a safe environment in the library and in the wider community. Adding this title to our Book Club in a Bag collection–and encouraging local dialogue about the issue of immigration–is a perfect way to put this institutional commitment into action.” Book Club in a Bag is open to all Kalamazoo Public Library district resident cardholders.

 

Student voices reaching beyond Kalamazoo.

In Grand Rapids, the celebrated Iraqi-American poet Dunya Mikhail read and discussed excerpts from the “Dear Iraq” poems written by Arcadia poets at “I, Too, Am Michigan,” part of the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters “Writers Squared series.”

At a reading at the stunning sculpture gardens of Roan and Black in Saugatuck, award-winning Michigan poet Jack Ridl talked about the project and helped the voices of the children reach an even wider audience. Ridl contributed three of his own poems to the anthology.

Jack Ridl talks about anthology at Roan and Black.

Students got a lot out of this anthology project.

The Arcadia fourth and fifth graders wrote poems, some for the first time. Their work was published and they have had opportunities to read their work to others, at home, school, on the Kalamazoo College campus, and at Bookbug. They’ve read alongside well-known Michigan poets and writers like Buddy Hannah, Elizabeth Kerlikowske, Hedy Habra, Lynn Pattison, Kit Almy, Phillip Sterling, Marion Boyer, and Alison Swan. They’ve even been approached by audience members asking the students to autograph their copy of the anthology and have graciously done so. (Kudos to Arcadia Principal Greg Socha for all his support of this project, including his wise suggestion of giving students the opportunity to practice their signatures in advance of readings!)

Arcadia students with former CIS AmeriCorps VISTA Nick Baxter getting ready to read.

Student are giving back to the community.

One can’t help but think that the students have given more than they have received. Like the other contributors, the children donated their work and all proceeds benefit Justice For Our Neighbors in Kalamazoo, a legal clinic for immigrants.

Also, their words make grown ups think! As one reader said, “I know immigration has been a hot topic but it didn’t really hit home until I read the children’s ‘Dear Country’ poems.”  Similar sentiments have been shared by other readers. A reader who attended the June Bookbug event said, “I’m humbled by the bravery of these children. I can’t imagine the courage it takes to read before a group of people, let alone leave one’s country and then read so beautifully in a brand new language. How many of us could do that? I don’t know if I could!” 

CIS connections.

Nick reads an excerpt from his essay.

In addition to the students’ poems, CIS friends will be pleased to discover an interview with former CIS site coordinator Gulnar Husain. Also, Nicholas “Nick” Baxter, a former Americorps VISTA worker with CIS, contributes a lovely essay entitled “Blueberries.”

Jennifer Clark, co-editor of the anthology, works on special projects and initiatives for CIS and worked with the students on this anthology project as a CIS volunteer, offering workshops at Arcadia Elementary School. She can’t sing the praises enough of the CIS staff at Arcadia. Thanks to Caitlin Bales and Rachel DeNooyer for all their support! CIS volunteer Cindy Hadley also worked behind the scenes, escorting students to and from the poetry workshops. Go, Cindy!

 

 

A second printing.

Less than two months after the young poets read their poems before a crowd of over 125 people who turned out to celebrate the April 19th release of Immigration & Justice For Our Neighbors at the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership, the anthology sold out of its first 400 copies and went into a second printing.

Miriam Downey, co-editor of Immigration & Justice For Our Neighbors, welcomes everyone to the anthology launch.

Where to get the book.

In addition to finding the anthology at local libraries, it is available at the following locations:

Bookbug (3019 Oakland Drive in Oakwood Plaza at Oakland Dr. & Whites Rd.)

Michigan News Agency (308 W. Michigan Avenue in downtown Kalamazoo)

Kazoo Books (2413 Parkview Avenue in Kalamazoo)

Tudor House Tea & Spice (352 S. Kalamazoo Mall in downtown Kalamazoo)

First United Methodist Church (212 S. Park in downtown Kalamazoo across from Bronson Park)

-Books can also obtained by mail by completing an order form that can be downloaded here.

 

Happy summer reading! And if you haven’t had a chance to hear the students read, you can catch them reading their work here.