Tribute to Moses L. Walker

There are community pillars and there are community pillars. On Thursday, January 16, 2020, Kalamazoo lost one of its grandest, Moses L. Walker.

In reflecting on the amazing life of this longtime CIS board member, CIS Executive James Devers says, “Along with the Kalamazoo community, the CIS family mourns the loss of Moses Walker. His was a life of service, love, compassion, and excellence. Our deepest condolences go out to his wife and the entire Walker family.”

Four years ago, we sat down with Moses to learn about the kind of boy he once was, and the people and experiences that shaped him into the man he became. Due to space constraints, we published only a portion of that conversation in the CIS newsletter, that issue’s theme: “Boys to Men.” We also included a few of his responses in a March 22, 2016 post here at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids. In tribute to this long time CIS Board Member, we now publish the interview in its entirety, along with some of the photos Moses provided us at that time.

Conversation with CIS Board Member: Moses L. Walker

Communities In Schools board member Moses Walker is a truth-teller, justice seeker, and numbers guy. As a boy, he walked everywhere. As a man, he has touched the lives of practically everyone who walks anywhere in Kalamazoo, whether they know it or not. Born in Kalamazoo, the community that raised him, Moses Walker has, in turn, helped to raise this community. Here, he shares some of his thoughts on boys, education, community, and much more.

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.

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.

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.

Do you think boys today face different pressures than what their fathers faced?

That’s a difficult question for me to answer. We have three grandchildren—my son’s three daughters—so they are the children of today. That’s two generations removed from me! But, from a societal standpoint, I can tell you: things change all the time. My generation was raised in a different way. We came from large families. I was born in 1940 and one of nine; that was not uncommon. We were close to each other—literally. We lived close to our friends. We could walk to each other’s houses. We had a different sense of community and sense of neighborhood. Everyone was your parent. Everyone had the right to correct you. That doesn’t exist today.

Even transportation is different. We walked everywhere. We didn’t own cars and many of our parents didn’t either. That sense of neighborhood when I was growing up doesn’t exist today. Many children have lost that sense of belonging, a sense of a greater bond. That saying, ‘It takes a village to raise a child?’ Well, that was truer in my day. We were a village. Children today are not growing up in the same village. People are less connected and as a result, peer pressures have greater influence on children and how they react to them.

According to Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson, psychologists and the authors of Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys, too many of our young men “remain emotionally illiterate in pursuit of a caricature of strong, silent masculinity.” Do you agree?

Probably. Too many of our young men today are raised in single parent, female households. We don’t see black males today involved in children’s lives as they once were. There is a major gap. In fact, over 70 % of our young boys are born into homes without men around. In the barbershop, we talk about how women can do the best they can, but that absence of a male figure—a positive male role model—makes a big difference. The absence of this, especially during a boy’s developmental years is a contributing factor to this problem.

What do we need to do better as a community to equip our boys to become successful and fulfilled young men?

That’s a difficult question. First of all, to become successful and fulfilled, you’ve got to be educated. Boys, particularly black males right now are not doing well when it comes to graduating on time or not graduating at all. White females are at the top, with 88% graduating on time, second is black females, followed by white males and then we see a major decline, with only 61% of black males are graduating on time. That’s a big warning sign.

We don’t want our boys heading to Jackson State University on 6000 Cooper Street. That’s the wrong university! But it’s hard. When children lack hope, are in an environment where education is not stressed, not passed on, it’s hard. But we have to stop making excuses. There are no easy ways but education is key. In my parents’ time, you just needed a pick and a shovel. These days, it’s tough succeeding without the necessary technical and academic training that today’s world demands. We need to engage, engage, engage, and keep our boys—and girls—in school.

If you could give only two pieces of wisdom to parents on raising sons, what would they be?

Value education. You must value it yourself in order to pass this along. Number two: make sure your child is putting forth the effort. Regardless of whether your child is black or white, they are not going anywhere if they aren’t prepared technology-wise or academically, so make sure they’re working hard. It starts with you. There’s no easy road. Hard work. It really comes down to recognizing the importance of education and sitting on your butt and doing the work. The Kalamazoo Promise guarantees opportunity. But the Promise doesn’t guarantee success or results.

There are many great organizations within our community. What is it about CIS that attracts you to give of your time and talent to this particular board?

I believe in what CIS stands for and the target population we serve. CIS is reaching out to some of our most vulnerable children and supporting them in a multitude of way so they can be successful. That’s really what it’s all about. Also, my relationship with [Founding CIS Executive Director] Pam Kingery—that goes back a long ways. At the end of the day, though, the CIS mission—surrounding students with a community of support so they can stay in school and succeed in life—is compelling. Some of our kids need additional supports and CIS is helping them academically, socially, and beyond.

Thank you, Moses Walker!

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. 

 

Pop Quiz: Von Washington, Jr.

Von-Washington-JrWelcome 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 Von Washington, Jr. who was the former principal of Kalamazoo Central High School. In July, Von joined theKalamazoo Promise® team as Executive Director of Community Relations. (Janice Brown remains on staff as Director Emeritus and Bob Jorth, administrator of The Promise office since its creation in spring 2006, was recently promoted to Executive Director.)

Since Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo and the Kalamazoo Promise® are housed in the same building and Von’s office is conveniently situated across from me, I decided to officially welcome Von by popping over and springing this pop quiz on him. He was a good sport about it and I’m happy to report that he passed with flying colors! Here are the results:

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

Learning just how many Promise eligible students there are—well over 3,500 Promise-eligible students. That’s an amazing number. Many scholarships out there are ‘use it or lose it.’ With the Kalamazoo Promise®, students have ten years to use it. That’s a real gift.

What are you currently reading?

Mobilizing the Community to Help Students Succeed by Hugh B. Price. And I just finished reading The Coming Jobs War by Jim Clifton. He happens to be the Chairman of Gallup and I’d recommend his book as well.

Mobilizing the Community to Help Students Succeed sounds similar to the CIS mission. Can you share a nugget from the book?

Bottom line…it takes an entire community coming together and pooling its resources for the success of students. One of the ways the community can do this is through CIS and also using positive language about schools and learning. If your schedule is such that you can’t do something time-wise, like volunteering, you can still support students by being positive. When you do that, you are supporting schools and the efforts of everyone else. Positive attitudes only increase. Teachers feel more supported and student attendance improves.

As a principal, I often saw this. There are very few things that one can do in a school if they are not a certified teacher. There are limits and barriers stopping the average person from volunteering within a school. But here in Kalamazoo, an individual can pick up the phone or walk into the CIS office and find out how best they can contribute. I see it happening every day. People bring in backpacks, school supplies, you name it. CIS is more than just tutoring and after school supports. It is the vehicle for those who want to leverage the Kalamazoo Promise®, to help students and schools, with very few barriers.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

(Von laughs.) I’m still working on that. I have had wonderful role models. I would love to be mentioned in the same breath as John Caldwell, former principal of Kalamazoo Central High School. Janice Brown has made enormous contributions to this community. When I am all grown up and if I heard my name mentioned in the same breath as either of those two individuals, well, that would make me prideful.

What is your favorite word right now?

Collaboration. I know it sounds cliché, but collaboration means so many things. Collaboration means sacrifice, desire, community serving, and good stewardship. Many words define collaboration. The ripple effect from collaboration is what excites me right now…It is not a one time deal. It means being part of creating a vehicle to do something better and more efficiently.

Will you share with us something that has been on your mind lately?

The fact that the Kalamazoo Promise® is the most prolific scholarship program in our country and it still seems to be a quiet program. As a community, we have to let everybody know it’s still going and that it is going strong, the number of people it’s impacting and that it’s never ending.

It’s important that students aren’t just aware that there is a scholarship out there for them  but to increase the detailed understanding of this impact that the anonymous donors have made for them. When a student realizes: “some people I don’t even know me have invested in me,” well, that is powerful. When I have this knowledge inside me, it can change both thoughts and behavior. An appreciation of this gift at an early age can make a difference and lead to academic success.

Behind every successful student—and grownup— is a caring adult.  Who is one of your caring adults?

My parents. They are firm believers in hard work, experiences, and they have been the best teachers in my life. I’ve had to hustle to have or receive the things that I have. I learned from them. My son and daughter are both in college now and I’ve tried to have them follow the same rules we had growing up.

My parents are still going strong. They work with over 15,000 students a year through their company, Washington Productions, Incorporated. [WPI desires to create an accurate and in-depth view of the African American experience through the performing arts.]

I’ve met your father [Von Washington, Sr.] before, sat at a table with him at an event sponsored by Western Michigan University’s Rumi club. He has quite a dynamic presence, much like you. What is your mom like?

My mother [Fran Washington] is one of the most caring, nurturing individuals I know. She can look you in the face, and say, “I love you, I care about you, now get out there and earn it!” As a child, I always wanted to make her proud and, well, I still want to.