MAUREEN CARTMILL: BEE-ing THERE FOR KIDS

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 Maureen Cartmill, CIS Site Coordinator for Woods Lake Elementary: A Magnet Center for the Arts.

Maureen was born and raised on the east side of Michigan, in what is now known as Farmington Hills. As far back as seventh grade, she planned on teaching. Half-way through her undergraduate studies at Western Michigan University, with teaching positions becoming increasingly difficult to find, her mother, a first grade teacher, suggested she specialize. “WMU’s Speech Pathology and Audiology Department was number one in this half of the nation. I could work in an elementary setting. Decision made.” Maureen received a Bachelor’s in Speech Pathology and Audiology while minoring in Elementary Education. Then, the graduate degree she pursued in Reading ultimately transitioned to a Master of Arts in Counseling and Personnel.

After seven years with CIS, Maureen retires at the end of this month. Prior to CIS, Maureen supported students in various positions within Kalamazoo Public Schools. Maureen had been teaching at Chime Elementary for two and a half years when her career “took a detour.” Someone at Northglade Montessori Magnet School—where her daughters were attending school—discovered she was a certified teacher. She was hired and served as the permanent substitute in the school’s library. She then went on to Parkwood-UpJohn Elementary to serve as librarian [a position a certified teacher could fill if a media specialist were not available]. Over the years, funding for Maureen’s position changed, and her titles changed with it. No matter, she says, for “thirteen amazing years I specialized in reading support, coordinated the library, and ran building-wide literacy programs and events.”

While the entire CIS and KPS family will miss her presence, we feel good knowing that in  retirement Maureen will still buzz about doing good works and making the world a sweeter place.

Alright, Maureen: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

Pop Quiz

First off, how are you holding up during this pandemic?                                                                                            

My immediate and extended family are healthy. I feel fortunate. Several family members are essential workers. There is a 16 month old I have not held in almost three months. Visits with my mother are now through a window. But…we are all healthy and waiting to reconnect.

Constantly working on a phone and a computer is a strain. I yearn for barrier-free communication. Communities In Schools offers us a great deal of support to combat the isolation you can feel working from home. I appreciate that. I miss the Woods Lake staff and students. Oh, and I cook now.

What are you learning about yourself in all this?

Hitting the” pause button” has been healthy. Prior to Covid-19, I would be locked in third gear from early morning until late at night. Stationed at home I find that I enjoy the solitude. My children are grown. There is no music playing and the TV remains off during the day. If someone pops into my head, I call, right then, and check in on them. I make time for prayer. I appreciate simplicity. I know I am fortunate.

What is one of the best parts about being a CIS Site Coordinator?  

Relationships. I’m involved with students through their entire elementary experience. I love watching them grow physically and emotionally. I love watching friendships evolve that could last their entire lives. With children, no two days are the same. You guide and support them through the rough days and celebrate and share hugs on the days they succeed. We are a resource. Our door is always open.

I genuinely love being part of a team that supports children through their personal journey as well as their academic journey.

Given all the challenges we face during this time—school buildings closed and all of us practicing social distancing—what does your CIS work look like now? How have you continued to support students during this challenging time?   

Initially, it was a rush to make sure families had all the essentials they needed. I spent most of my day on the phone talking or texting with parents. The Kalamazoo Community was/is incredibly supportive. The list of resources for families grew every day.

Once KPS initiated their breakfast and lunch outreach and their virtual classrooms, I took a step back. Parents were overwhelmed with calls, texts, emails. The job of trying to educate within the home became a big responsibility. Currently, I feel my job has transitioned from basic needs to emotional support. Contact with students has diminished. When calling, I always begin by asking the parent how they are doing? How has the past week been for them? What can I help them with today? It helps me gain a better understanding of the climate within the home. I believe by supporting the parent, I am supporting the student. To promote some family activity, I dropped off board games to several of our families, old favorites like Sorry and Charades.

The students you work with had already been dealing with other stresses in their lives before this pandemic. And now, this pandemic layers on additional stress for both these young people and their families. How are students coping? Are you seeing any common threads as to how students are responding?  

Students are struggling. Consider that two thirds of a child’s waking hours were spent at school. School provided variety, structure, social connectedness, and physical and intellectual challenges. After two or three weeks, the novelty of a vacation begins to wane. Everyone misses their friends. Students who have cell phones are making some social connections. Families with one phone are at a disadvantage when the parent needs to take the phone to work. Parents who work from home must have their phones available to them. Not everyone has a computer, iPad, or WiFi. Students are lonelier and more isolated.

What are you currently reading?

I am not reading anything at the moment. I must keep my Master Gardener’s certification current, so I am watching webinars on pollinators, vegetable garden pests and diseases, and the proper pruning of fruit trees. Were you aware that there are many varieties of bushes and trees that are critical for the survival of overwintering bee colonies?

What is your favorite word or phrase right now?

Initially, it was “One day at a time.” That has transitioned to “Be safe and take care of those you love.”

When we re-emerge from this pandemic, where is one of the first places you will go?

I will visit independent establishments. It will be a full-day event:

Coney Dog. We love the owners. Shout out to Katherine and Bill and son Michael.

Crow’s Nest. You have been closed too long.

University Roadhouse. A neighborhood destination.

O’Duffy’s Pub. The best place for Happy Hour with friends.

People who don’t know you, may not realize that you have been a beekeeper. What initially drew you to beekeeping?

I watched a swarm of bees cross our property and, like a tornado in reverse, the bees disappeared beneath an outbuilding 12 feet from our back door. No one we called knew how to remove them. (Close your eyes and don’t read the next few sentences.) We placed a shop vac hose at the entrance of the hole and began sucking the bees as the entered or exited the hive. Little did we know there were 40,000 to 60,000 bees setting up housekeeping. Guilt overcame us when the next day there was an article in the Gazette informing the public that honeybees were disappearing at alarming rates due to Colony Collapse Disorder. TURN OFF THE SHOP VAC!!! The public was invited to an informational meeting in Comstock. Shortly after, the Kalamazoo Bee Club was born. I was a convert. I bought my first “Nuc” of bees a year later.

How many times would you estimate that you have been stung?  

With my calm and disarming ways, I was certain I would never be a target. The answer is three.

Okay. Two more bee-related questions. Given your background in bees, what are your thoughts on these murder hornets having made it to the US? Also, can you share a fun bee fact with us?  

The Murder Hornet is one more potential challenge facing the honeybee. Currently we have no concerns in Michigan, but experts will be watching vigilantly. The image of hornets ripping the heads off honeybees and decimating bee colonies is a bit chilling. Michigan beekeepers are more concerned with such things as varroa mites, insecticides that make their way into pollen and nectar, and hive beetles.

Fun fact. Bees need to use the bathroom during the winter. It’s called a cleansing flight. As soon as there is a day that reaches 35-40 degrees, they’ll leave the hive to relieve themselves. You can see evidence of the flight in the snow just outside the entrance to the hive. You don’t want constipated bees.

Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?

My parents raised five children but it was my mother who held down the fort while my father had to travel. The five of us were born within three and a half years. I am the oldest. My mother was clever, resourceful, creative, patient, definitely outnumbered, and at times justifiably frazzled. She went back to teaching when I was in second or third grade. By junior high I would walk to her elementary school to catch a ride home. I loved to watch her teach. I look back now with the lens of a teacher and what seemed magical to me at the time was exemplary classroom management, moment to moment character education, and strong academic instruction. On her desk there was a word of the week which she integrated into daily conversation. Her students made those words their own. My favorite Barbara Loughlin reminder was “If you concentrate and cogitate, Mrs. Loughlin won’t have to reiterate.” She is the reason I decided on elementary education.

Anything else we should know about you? 

My faith sees me through both trials and triumphs. I’ve been blessed with an amazing family and friends that make me laugh. I have loved every job I’ve ever had because they’ve involved children and families. I’m a little concerned about the Detroit Tigers trajectory.

Thank you, Maureen, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.

 

CIS Supporting Students through this Pandemic

During this pandemic, with all Michigan schools closed for the remainder of this school year and many people out of work or with reduced hours, Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS) students and families are disproportionately more vulnerable than ever. To ensure that this pandemic does not widen gaps in equity and accessibility, CIS has been working hard to make sure students continue to have access to the resources and caring relationships they need to maintain the gains they have made this school year and to realize their full potential. During this challenging time, here are just a few examples of what that CIS support looks like:

 

  • Providing regular check-ins with students and families via phone and video calls to maintain relationships and to connect them to community resources for basic needs services and reliable information.
  • Passing out educational packets and books three days/week at schools and community distribution sites in cooperation with Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS) as part of the district’s “Grab and Go” breakfast and lunch meal distributions.
  • Packing food boxes at the Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes food pantry for distribution at their drive-through pick up sites.
  • Dropping off items (non-contact deliveries) for families that lack transportation to make it to a community distribution site.
  • Engaging with CIS partners as we work together to mobilize coordinated community support for all of Kalamazoo’s students and families.

    

“The needs of our students and families have increased exponentially due to the pandemic,” says Executive Director of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo James Devers. “At the same time, the personal needs of staff, along with those of their family, friends, and extended circles have increased as well. And yet despite that, our CIS team have made heroic efforts to stay connected to and to support Kalamazoo’s students, families, and partners. We remain grateful for the outstanding friends and donors who continue to support us as we work to eliminate barriers in students’ lives so they can continue to succeed.”

In our next blog post, we’ll introduce you to one member of our team, CIS Success Coach Nazhly Heredia-Waltemyer. You won’t want to miss it!  In the meantime, be sure to follow our CIS Facebook page, here, where we will continue to update you as to how CIS is responding to student/family needs during this crisis.

 

The Community is Here With You

Today’s guest blogger is Jane Asumadu. As CIS After School Site Coordinator at Linden Grove Middle School, Jane hopes to share her passion for education, particularly reading and writing, with students. As a Kalamazoo native, former Japan resident, and world traveler, Jane hopes to share her experiences with the community. 

We have found ourselves in a fairly difficult situation. Rapid changes mixed with uncertainty have caused a lot of anxiety in our community. However, through these difficult circumstances, we can become more resilient as a community. 

So, we have been presented with some challenges. How can we continue learning for our students at home? And how can we stay connected when we have been advised to stay apart? Below, I have compiled a list of some of the resources available for students and families as we tackle school closures and social distancing, but still want to encourage growth and learning. In next week’s post, I will discuss ideas of staying connected, physically and emotionally.

Local resources

  1. Kalamazoo Public Schools is distributing food and learning packets at select locations and times until Friday, April 3. Breakfast and lunch will be packed up and available for pick-up by all students up to 18 years old on Mondays (two days worth of food), Wednesdays (two days worth of food), and Fridays (three days worth of food). 

Distribution Schedule:

  • 11:30-12:30 – All KPS school buildings except Greenwood, Indian Prairie, Winchell, ALP, South Westnedge School
  • 11:30-12 – Interfaith
  • 11:30-12 – Eastside Neighborhood Association
  • 12:30-1 – Fox Ridge Apartments
  • 12:30-1 – New Village Apartments 

For more information contact Chartwells/KPS Food Service: (269) 337-0458.

  1. Kalamazoo Loaves and Fishes is continuing to offer meals for all local residents for pick-up by appointment and through their Mobile Food Initiative. Contact them at (269) 343-3663 to set up an appointment or for more information. KLF is also still looking for volunteers during this time, as well.  
  2. The South Michigan Food Bank has a number of pantries in our area that they support. Please call the 211 hotline and ask them to help you get in contact with one of these pantries. They are also holding their own food distributions (no appointment required) at these locations and times:
  • Fresh Fire AME (2508 Gull Rd., 4th Saturday of every month, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.)
  • Milwood United Methodist Church (3919 Portage St., 1st Tuesday of every month, 4 p.m.-6 p.m.)
  • Westwood Neighborhood Food Pantry (538 Nichols Road, 1st and 3rd Saturday of every month, 10 p.m.-12 p.m.)
  • Valley Family Church (2500 Vincent Ave., Portage, every Tuesday starting March 24, 5:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m.)

     3. YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo is closed to the general public, but is still providing childcare services for the children of those who are considered to be essential workers at this time. Visit their website for more details.  

Online resources

Due to the sudden closure of schools, many students probably did not have time to gather the materials necessary to continue learning at home. Thankfully, several local and national companies are offering free services for students online. Below is a short list of sites I recommend, but many, many more still exist.

  1. KPS Continued Learning Hub – The websites listed in this hub should be familiar to KPS students. With their KPS login, students can access sites like Compass Learning and Khan Academy from home. To get started, click here.
  2. Kalamazoo Public Library – Let’s Get Digital is another hub listing a variety of free media available to those with or without a KPL card. Just as their website boasts, “…[kpl.gov] is our online branch and it never closes!” [Also, see last week’s post “A Time to Read,” here.]
  3.  Scholastic Learn At Home is an initiative by Scholastic Books that offers two weeks of day-by-day interactive learning for students of all ages.
  4. Audible is an audiobook app. They are offering free audiobooks for kids, “for as long as schools are closed.” Students can stream select titles in six different languages from a desktop, laptop, phone or tablet by clicking on this site here.

An obvious obstacle with all these amazing resources is access to the internet. Fortunately, companies like Comcast and Spectrum are offering two months free internet to those who may need the support.  

Reach Out

Ironically, despite the necessity of social distancing, there is no better time than this to stay connected within our community. More than ever, it is important to check-in with our family, friends and neighbors. If you or someone you know is in need of extra support, reach out to find ways to help. The services and supports are available, they just need to be connected to the right people. When I find myself dealing with stressful times, I often think of this quote by author Zora Neale Hurston, who said, “There are years that ask questions, and years that answer.” Through patience and support, we will make it through. 

My heart goes out to everyone during this challenging time. Remember to reach out for help when you need it, and take care.

Jane Asumadu

Teacher Andrea Walker: An Open Book

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 KPS teacher Andrea Walker, known as Miss Walker by her fifth grade students at Woodward School for Science and Technology.

As a single parent, Miss Walker worked hard and raised her two children. Both are graduates of Kalamazoo Public Schools, having attended the very school their mother has been teaching at for the past 12 years. Now grown and in college, one attends Kalamazoo Valley Community College and the other, Western Michigan University.

When you walk into Miss Walker’s homey and welcoming classroom, you can’t help but notice how she decorates her room with Nemo. She knows that the kids who swim through her class each year aren’t that different from Nemo, the adorable clownfish, and his friends who have challenges to navigate in life. As one of the many fantastic teachers at Woodward and throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools, Miss Walker is showing up each day for kids and helping them learn and grow.

She compares herself to an open book. Her life, as you will soon learn, is filled with interesting chapters, with pages yet to be written.

Alright, Miss Walker: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

Pop Quiz

What is a question you’ve been asked recently?

[Laughing.] You don’t want to know that answer, especially the day after a full moon. [Note: We interviewed Miss Walker during her lunch break, the day after a full moon.]

Tell us, then, a question you recently asked.

Just yesterday, I asked my students, Where’s the empathy?

I want them to understand feelings and when someone is being mean to someone else, what is the appropriate response? It’s not to laugh, as that can hurt feelings. I want them to connect to each other and express understanding and empathy for what someone else may be going through.

What are you currently reading?

I just finished the book, Mermaid. I didn’t really like it and was surprised because I love Jodi Picoults’ other works. This just wasn’t an amazing read like her other ones.

What is your favorite word right now?

Seriously.

Seriously what?

That’s my word. Seriously. That’s what I often say to the kids, Seriously?

What are you curious about?

The overall depression and anxiety in our kids these days. It worries me.

Have you seen an increase in this over your 12 years as a teacher?

Yes, it’s been growing. There’s a lot of trauma kids are dealing with, as well as a lot of anxiety these days.

Does having CIS in your school help you as a teacher?

Oh, God, yes! CIS helps me tons as a teacher. And not only with the basics [school supplies but CIS provides that emotional and social backing that our kids need. During the day, CIS helps with such a range of things, from personal hygiene issues we might have with a student to tutoring support, and whatever else they may need. Oh, they just do so much. And having CIS after school as well extends the learning day and keeps students safe. I have a hard time remembering what it was like before, when we didn’t have CIS.

You’re also the leader teacher in CIS after school. What does that entail?

Yes, I’m the core teacher for the third, fourth, and fifth graders during CIS after school. That means I meet with the students for one hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I’ll reiterate the facts in math or ELA [English Language Arts] that they have been learning during the school day. We’ll go over strategies and skills and do pre-test preparation. We’ll also do some book studying. I also like to have them play learning games; they don’t realize they’re learning because it’s in the form of fun games.

When you were a kid, where did you grow up?

In Indiana, Portage. I’m originally from Hobart, Indiana and went to Hobart High School and then we moved to Portage, Indiana.

What brought you to Michigan?

I got a job working at Spencer’s Gifts. This was the one in St. Joseph, Michigan. And it was around that time I then started back to school. I was working nights at Lakeland Medical Center in the OB unit as a clerk.

Is that what brought you to Kalamazoo?

The Promise brought me to Kalamazoo. As a single mom, I knew it would be hard, if not impossible to pay for my children’s college education. So when I graduated with my associate degree from Lake Michigan College, my kids saw me walk across the stage. And then I packed them up, and we moved to Kalamazoo so they could get the Promise. I started working at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum as an interpretation specialist, assisting with tours and such. And then I started back to school to get my teaching certification at Western. I interned at Washington Writers’ Academy.

Poetry isn’t part of the American childhood education that it once was. Yet, poetry is important to you. You make a concerted effort to incorporate it into your classroom each year. Why?

I’ve always liked poetry. And you’re right, curriculums touches on it very little.

I love the awakening that occurs in my students when we do poetry. I love seeing the lights go on for them when, in doing and seeing things differently, pieces fall in place and start fitting together for them. I like bringing the work of Dr. Seuss into the classroom. I’ll tell them the story of his whole life and how things progressed for him. It’s an exciting way to engage them in learning. They’re interested in that and take it all in.

I really do love that awakening in the kids…the joy that goes with listening to and creating their own works of poetry,  that this is something they can create for themselves…you see it on their faces as they light up.

What is something interesting you’ve recently learned?

Math! I’ve only taught ELA for the past ten years. Because we don’t have our students switching classes this year, I teach it all to them. So I’ve been relearning math with the new curriculum.

Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?

I’m the only one in my immediate family who has gone to college. The person who pushed me to go to college was a nurse, Barbara Davis. She’s still a nurse and a friend of mine to this day. You’d be better as a teacher than a nurse, she told me. I’m a late bloomer.

At the hospital, we had this chalkboard up at work for noting announcements. I drew all the Sesame Street characters on it. Barbara said to me,  I think your calling is to be a teacher.

Huh, I thought. I had never even considered that possibility until she mentioned it.

She was right! From just the little I’ve been able to see you in action with your students, you are clearly born to teach. Yet, you didn’t see that in yourself until someone else pointed that out. Thank goodness she did!

You know, until talking about all this now, I didn’t realize how many different types of jobs I’ve held along the way to get there!

In the CIS Annual Report [recently out and can be accessed here] you are one of the people who shared what you are made of. You said you’re a book.

That’s right. Don’t judge a book by its cover.

What books have helped shaped who you are?

Are you ready?

Uh, hope so.

All the Nancy Drew books, The Box Car Children, Are You There God? It’s me Margaret by Judy Bloom. Oh, I could go on.

The books I enjoy now with my students, oh, there are so many of them. But one of my favorites is Flush by Carl Hiaasen. It’s one of my favorites for school here because it is relatable and teaches about bullying. I also read aloud to them Wonder by R.J. Palacio. We had a “Wonder party” for our fifth graders. We closed down the hall, had a party, and cake. The kids loved it.

Thank you, Miss Walker, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids.

Courage is Contagious

Despite the weather, on Saturday, January 18, 2020, Kalamazoo Public School students ventured out to participate in “Courage to Create” poetry workshops held at Western Michigan University as part of Kalamazoo’s annual MLK Day Celebration. “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.

Jayla Smith

For today’s post, we share a poem that was created during the workshop by former CIS intern and Western Michigan University School of Social Work student Jayla Smith. Last school year, as Jayla was completing her bachelor’s degree, she served as a CIS intern at Lincoln Elementary School. “It was a great experience,” she says. “I loved working with CIS in the school…It confirmed that I wanted to continue to further my education and pursue a career in social work.”

Originally from Detroit, Jayla came to Kalamazoo to attend Western Michigan University. In addition to her studies, she is currently interning with the Kalamazoo Promise Scholars Program on Western’s campus. She will be graduating this spring with her Master of School Work (MSW). During the MLK Courage to Create workshops, Jayla welcomed the middle school and high school students, and supported the poetry facilitators. Jayla also sat and wrote alongside the students during the poetry exercises. When students were invited to read aloud some of the work they created, Jayla shared her poem, encouraging others to share. Here’s her poem:

 

My heart resides in a glass box that I keep inside my refrigerator.

She gets cold easily so keep her close to the bulb,

but she is still not satisfied.

I paint her walls red with hot sauce

and she screams that her eyes burn.

What do you want?

 

It takes courage to create. It also takes courage to stand up and let your voice be heard. So thank you, Jayla, for modeling courage for our students.

The upcoming MLK Courage to Create celebration, in which students who participated in the annual MLK Courage to Create contest read alongside community poets, will be held on Wednesday, February 19th on the campus of Western Michigan University, in the WMU Multicultural Center in the Adrian Trimpe Building. The celebration starts at 4 p.m. and is open to the public.

 

Principal McKissack out at WMU (in 2016) with Hillside students and staff. Hillside students are rock stars when it comes to Courage to Create. Come out and see how they do this year!

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!

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.”

Beyond the Backpack

As Kalamazoo Public School students prepare to step into their second month of school, they have a community of support that launched them into a successful year of learning.

On Saturday, August 17th, the Beyond the Backpack School Readiness Fair took place at Bronson Park. Hosted by Collaboration Kalamazoo, the fair, designed to increase school readiness for students, was a huge success. More than 1,100 in attendance, families were able to learn about community resources available in literacy, dental and other health supports, and more. From free glasses to free backpacks and supplies, with the support of our community and collaborating together, more students are on the path to success this school year.

Collaboration Kalamazoo is composed of Bible Baptist Church, Charlie’s P.L.A.C.E., Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, The Kalamazoo Promise, and Kalamazoo Public Schools. “This year’s event,” said CIS Senior Director of Community Engagement & Student Investment Artrella Cohn, “was a tremendous showing of what it looks like when the community brings its knowledge and resources together for the betterment of students and their families.”

The Collaboration Kalamazoo team members: Alexia Jones of The Kalamazoo Promise, Nkenge Bergan of Kalamazoo Public Schools, Artrella Cohn of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo, TaKarra Dunning of Charlie’s P.L.A.C.E., and Yolonda Lavender and Kandace Lavender of Bible Baptist Church.

With more than 1,100 individuals in attendance, families were able to learn about literacy supports in the community, access dental education and additional health resources, including mental health education, immunizations, sign up for health insurance, and more. In partnership with Hiemstra Optical and VSP Vision Care, 34 students were served on the Mobile Vision Unit, with 27 receiving glasses. Students also benefited from free haircuts and fresh hair styles from area barbers and stylists. The event provided free and much needed backpacks for students, but certainly went “Beyond The Backpack” to prepare students for a successful school year.

 

The 2019 financial sponsors for this event included: Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS), Kalamazoo Community Foundation, The Kalamazoo Promise, Kalamazoo Public Schools, Old National Bank, and YWCA Kalamazoo.

In-Kind Donors included: The Presidential Blend Suite, Charlie’s P.L.A.C.E., City of Kalamazoo, Exquisite Hair Design, First Baptist Church of Kalamazoo, First Congregational Church, First United Methodist Church of Kalamazoo, GQT Kalamazoo 10, Gordon Water Systems, Hiemstra Optical, Johnny Jackson (barber), Kalamazoo Promise Scholars, Life EMS, Marshall Music Company, Rentalex, Terry Watson (barber), UncLee’s Barber Shop, and VSP Vision Care.

Thanks to each and every one of you for surrounding students with support and launching them into a successful school year.

Check out this short video capturing some of the 2019 Beyond the Backpack School Readiness Fair: https://youtu.be/CboCKgoXU6o