Kalamazoo, MI – First Congregational Church in Kalamazoo, MI is the current host site for ProKazoo’s monthly meetings. Local grassroots organizers and community advocates presented their work with the goals of connecting allies with marginalized communities in Kalamazoo County. Local community leaders, Prosecuting Attorney, Jeff Gettings, Kalamazoo County Commissioner, Julie Rogers and Sherine Miller, Kalamazoo Charter Township Treasurer, were among those present to hear from local activists and organizers. Gwendolyn Hooker, Co-Founder of JABS (Justice Against Bullying in Schools) shared that Michigan ranks number one in the nation for bullying in school. Not isolated to Kalamazoo, bullying is a huge problem for youth, especially ages, 6 to 12 years old. October is national bullying month and JABS will have announcements of their next events coming up. Dr. Strick Strickland, Interim President of the Metropolitan Branch of the NAACP, explained his involvement with the Citizen Public Safety Review and Appeal Board. The members are appointed by Kalamazoo City Manager Jim Ritsema and serve two-year terms. The goal of the CPSRAB is to review complaints citizens have filed against the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety and are unsatisfied with the result. If a citizen wishes to appeal this decision, it is reviewed by Ristema with input from the review board. Lead organizer for SEE Change, Elisheva T. Johnson spoke in detail and passion, the construct of the “School to Prison Pipeline”. Racism, a social construct that is invisible, targets African-Americans and youth of color, especially males. Recent data show that K-12 students are 3.8 times as likely to receive one or more out-of-school suspensions as white students. Johnson also shared that there is a lack of transparency between the school and parents and many of youth are “medicated and separated”.
Kelli Redman, the Restorative Justice Program Manager from Gryphon Place, shared out with the group, a presentation outlining the services that some KPS buildings have access too. Outreach to all KPS buildings is a discussion that is in the works. Amanda Miller, current KEA President shared insight on whats called a “bargaining crisis”. Negotiations stalled for KPS teachers and KPS Board on step raises and transparency. KPS teachers are asking for smaller class sizes and a proposed letter of agreement. Miller also urged members of the community to run for school board as two seats will be available December 2018. Ed Genesis, Rapper and community organizer shared first hand his experience going through the “school to prison pipeline” and his transformation and success story. The meeting concluded with a Know Your Rights Panel, consisting of SEE Change advocates answered questions from the audience. SEE Change is planning to Know Your Rights Workshop for parents, caregivers, and students, who wish to have additional support navigating through the educational system.