TURNING LIVES

by Kaye Bennett

Sometimes—perhaps often—it’s what students learn outside the classroom that has the most influence on their life’s work.  That’s certainly what D’Angelo Bailey ’05, the current director of the Jeter’s Leaders program of the Turn 2 Foundation, has discovered.

As a basketball player at Kalamazoo College, Bailey was required during his freshman year to volunteer once a week at Kalamazoo’s Woodward Elementary School.  The oldest of 10 children, Bailey felt he’d put in enough time being around kids at home while he was growing up.  But the Woodward experience, he soon discovered, made him feel less homesick, and he enjoyed it, so much so, in fact, that he continued to volunteer there throughout his years at K.  Bailey also became involved with Keeping the Doors Open, the math camp of John Fink, the Rosemary K. Brown Professor in Mathematics and Computer Science. The program selects and works with high-aptitude middle school math students in the Kalamazoo Public School system to keep their passion for the subject aflame.

Bailey’s time on the basketball court while he was at K also had a huge influence on his future. A point guard, he played his first three years at K, with the team making it to the NCAA Division 3 tournament his sophomore year.  Then, during his junior year, a torn meniscus forced him off the court.  Instead of playing, he spent his senior year coaching the junior varsity team and serving as an assistant coach of the varsity team.  Like his family, his teammates always made him feel like he was part of a close-knit unit, Bailey says.

Bailey’s graduation coincided with a tough economic downturn.  “The economy was tanking,” he says.  “Jobs were short for my class.”  He was ready to move back home to Chicago:  “I was going to take any job.”  He wasn’t looking forward to doing that, since, throughout college, he had been the one held up as an example to his high school friends, most of whom—among those who had gone to college—had dropped out along the way and returned home to live with their parents.

Then his Kalamazoo friends and K connections kicked in.  A week before he was going to leave Michigan, a friend offered him a room in his townhome, so Bailey decided to stay on a little longer.  He got a job with Residential Opportunities Inc. (ROI), which provides services to disabled children and adults.  Then he got a call from Fink, urging him to contact the Turn 2 Foundation about an opening they had for a program coordinator.

Turn 2 is a not-for-profit organization founded by New York Yankees shortstop, and Kalamazoo favorite son, Derek Jeter.  Named for Jeter’s Yankees uniform number, as well as baseball jargon (“turning two”) for an infield double play, the Foundation aims to give young people a group they can “turn to.”  The mission of the Turn 2 Foundation is to promote healthy lifestyles among young people and to help them avoid drugs and alcohol.  Since its launch in 1996, the Turn 2 Foundation has awarded more than $12 million in grants that have benefited thousands of young people.  It has programs in Kalamazoo, New York City, and Tampa, Florida.

Bailey applied for the Kalamazoo-based Turn 2 job, kept his ROI job, and also accepted a coaching position at K, continuing to work with both the men’s junior varsity and varsity basketball teams.  In 2006, with a few minutes still unaccounted for in his day, he decided to go back to school.  Somehow he managed it all, and earned a master’s degree in public affairs from Western Michigan University in 2009.

Today Bailey is down to just one job, and he’s able to devote all his attention to the Turn 2 Foundation, where he describes his work as leadership development for young people.  In the nearly seven years he’s worked at the foundation, Bailey says that more than 50 Jeter’s Leaders have graduated from high schools in the Kalamazoo area.  (Bailey notes that some of those graduates were among the Woodward School students he tutored in his undergrad days at K.)  The Foundation’s Kalamazoo program consists of Jeter’s Leaders, for high school students; Proud to Be Me, for elementary students; and Youth in Action, for middle schoolers. To enter the high school program students must have a 3.0 GPA, plus a commitment to serve the community.  Most of the applicants are athletes, and many
"Our job is to enhance their leadership skills."
attend the Kalamazoo Area Math and Science Center as well as their regular high school.  Turn 2 participation involves more than 120 volunteer hours per year, says Bailey, so it’s a big commitment for already-busy youth.  “These students have the potential to be great leaders, and they possess a lot of leadership skills,” says Bailey.  “Our job is to enhance their skills.”

Some of the skills they enhance are public speaking, global awareness, and preparation for college.  Jeter’s Leaders students are taken on college tours each year, and a summer service project brings the New York and Michigan youth together.  The 2012 summer trip was to Washington, D.C. Previous summer projects included a post-Hurricane Katrina service project in New Orleans.
Bailey credits Derek Jeter and his family, all of whom are involved with the foundation, for making Turn 2 run like a family. “They make sure they’re available for us,” he says, “and none of us wants to let each other down.”

Bailey says he has seen changes at K in the area of diversity in recent years.  When he first moved to Kalamazoo, Bailey recalls that he was one of just 30 or so students of color at the school.  Today, some 20 percent of the nearly 1,400-member student community are students of color. Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran became president of Kalamazoo College the year Bailey was a senior, and he could feel the change.  “She reached out to make everyone feel welcome,” he says.

Now, he says, he feels more like he and fellow students and alums of color are more “a part of the fabric of K.”  He recently became a member of the College’s Alumni Association Executive Board

Although Bailey’s college education came from K, he says, “I learned a lot outside the classroom, and I found my career outside the classroom.”  But when his family asks him, “Would you be doing the same thing if you had gone to a different school?” he answers, “Probably not.”

Inside or outside the classroom, on the basketball court or meeting with tomorrow’s leaders, Bailey feels that his Kalamazoo College experience played a major role in the person he is today.

Photo - D'Angelo Bailey


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