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.

Moses Walker

Moses Walker is a truth-teller, justice seeker, and numbers guy. He’s also a Communities In Schools board member. Featured in our upcoming CIS Connections newsletter—which is all about boys—Moses shares some of his thoughts on boys, education, and community. Here’s his response to a question you’ll only find here as we couldn’t include it in the newsletter due to space issues. Check out the rest of the story in the next issue of CIS Connections, coming soon!

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.
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.
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.

 

To find out what Moses thinks we need to do better as a community to equip our boys to become successful and fulfilled young men, and more, read the rest of our conversation in the latest issue of CIS Connections. 

 

Women Making Kalamazoo Better For All

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Pam (right) receiving her YWCA Women of Achievement Award from Carrie Pickett Erway, President and CEO of The Kalamazoo Community Foundation.

Kalamazoo is bursting with strong, wonderful women.

Just last week, the 2015 award celebration for the YWCA Women of Achievement was held at the Radisson. Pam Kingery, Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo  was one of four women to receive the Women of Achievement Award.Kalamazoo Community Foundation sponsored her award and, as President and CEO, Carrie Picket Erway shared with the packed audience: In December 1999 Pam took on the challenge of developing a new organization from scratch, known as Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo. Pam’s recipe to success was in using a national model to overcome the barriers that disrupted kids, giving them hope and the belief they can succeed in school, graduate and be prepared for life. Under her leadership and vision, the organization has steadily grown to over 140 employees, serving 20 schools, reaching 1,300 students, coordinating 175,000 hours of service, and over 9,700 students receiving service through community partnerships coordinated by Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo.

Several of you have asked that we run the speech that Pam gave  that evening. We think you’ll find it straightforward and sincere, just like Pam. But, before we share it, just a few words about some of the other award winners with connections to CIS….

The YWCA Lifetime Woman of Achievement Award was given to Carolyn Alford. A former CIS board member, who, among many other volunteer and professional accomplishments, also served 16 years on the Kalamazoo Public Schools Board of Trustees. She  reminded the packed audience that we can make an impact on our community “when we work together as one on behalf of others.” She definitely lives these words.

CIS and our kids have also benefited from the wisdom and expertise of former CIS board member and YWCA Woman of Achievement Sherry Thomas-Cloud. Currently, Sherry is the executive director of the Douglass Community Association.

(Right to left) Tiara Blair, Pam Kingery, Cynthia Cooper, and Artrella Cohn
(Right to left) Tiara Blair, Pam Kingery, Cynthia Cooper, and Artrella Cohn

The YWCA Young Women of Achievement Award was bestowed upon 19 young women from area high schools and organizations that show exemplary leadership through extracurricular activities, volunteer work, serving as role models, and academic achievements. Special kudos to our own Tiara Blair!

We are so proud of her and how she and all the Women of Achievement serve as role models for the next generation. In fact, later this week, Thursday, May 21st, our future women–over 2,000 3rd-5th grade girls–will pound through the streets as part of the Greater Kalamazoo Girls on the Run 5K. You go, girls!

Here now, is Pam’s speech:

I love this community!  I came here with my husband for his graduate school program, intending to stay one-two years. Now, 41 years later, I feel very blessed to be in this special place.  I have had the good fortune to have two careers here—one in mental health and one with Communities In Schools.  And in both, I have been extremely lucky to work with smart, talented colleagues who care about their work as much as I do—several have honored me with attending this evening.  A special thanks to Jennifer, Emily and Trella for nominating me for this award.  I want to thank my family—my husband, Don, my daughter Logan and my sons, Noah and JB; not only have they been very supportive of me, they embrace my work with Communities In Schools with their own time, talent and treasure. They conspired to surprise me with the special visit by Noah from Washington DC to attend this event. My very special friend, Tyreese and his mom, Renee, also enrich me every day by sharing their lives.  Thank you, Tyreese!

I so appreciate this award and the YWCA’s history of supporting and lifting up the women of Kalamazoo. To be a part of that group of women is inspiring to me.  To theKalamazoo Community Foundation for sponsoring my award, please accept my genuine gratitude. I really believe in “For good and forever”—it isn’t just a tag line—and so it is especially meaningful to have your support. Thank you.

Diane Eberts (center) and Lisa Rodriguez (right) congratulate Pam on her YWCA Women of Achievement award.
Diane Eberts (center) and Lisa Rodriguez (right) congratulate Pam on her YWCA Women of Achievement award.

I want every child in this community to benefit from its resources as much as I have, and as much as my children did—for the good of us all, forever for Kalamazoo and beyond.  And so my deep and profound appreciation includes in particular the Board members of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo and our generous donors.  Thank you for giving so much of yourselves and taking this journey of faith and determination that together we will surround our kids with love and a community that continues to say “we believe in your ability to succeed.”

Finally, I believe my mother’s spirit is here with me.  She is the person who instilled in me a love of education, in spite of having to give up her own. Thanks, Mom—I am forever your grateful daughter.