Lauren is an investigative television journalist in St. Louis, Missouri (News 4 Investigates Team). She has spent the majority of her career as a reporter and anchor, and she has worked in newspapers, radio and television. Before moving to St. Louis, she worked as an anchor and reporter at KARK in Little Rock, Arkansas. She earned her B.A. in English at K.
Sally is the new head of the Kazoo School, a preschool through 8th grade private school in Kalamazoo. She wrote a blog post in the autumn that touched on the subjects of family, home, reunions, and the magic of entering an elementary school as an adult: “Because I work in one every day, I often forget what a magical experience it is to enter an elementary school as an adult. We are instantly transported to an earlier time–hopefully a happy time–of pencil shavings and kickball, backpacks and circle gatherings.” The post also says some very nice things about the pull of one’s alma mater. Sally graduated with bachelor’s degree in psychology, and she studied abroad in Caceres, Spain. Sally’s husband, Courtney Read, graduated as a member of the class of 2006. He majored in history and studied abroad in Erlangen, Germany.
It is a very long trip from Yazd, Iran, to Kalamazoo. But in 2010 Mojtaba Akhavan-Tafti ’15 was able to negotiate its many twists and turns, as well as making the cultural adjustments associated with the journey. Now, five years later, he’s graduated from Kalamazoo College with majors in physics and chemistry.
Next he will turn his full-time attention to an even longer odyssey—the 93 million miles traveled by the sun’s solar winds. When those winds arrive at Earth, our atmosphere and magnetic field usually deflect them. They re-converge, however, on the night side of our planet, where some interesting things take place, including the creation of what are called flux ropes.
Those are the phenomena and that is the field (magnetospheric physics, to be exact) that Mojtaba is studying at the University of Michigan this fall as he starts work on his Ph.D.
According to him, such a rarified area of inquiry would never have been possible had he not come halfway around the world to Kalamazoo College.
Yazd, a city of more than a million people, is situated in central Iran, about 300 miles south of Tehran. Mojtaba graduated from high school there, and even started college. But then he had conversations with his uncle, Hashem Akhavan-Tafti, who had come to the states after the fall of the Shah, then graduated from K in 1982 (and is now a member of College’s board of trustees).
His uncle encouraged Mojtaba to make the same migration, even though both men knew the journey involved a great many steps. The first was to obtain a visa to enter the United States. Because the U.S. doesn’t have an embassy in Iran, Mojtaba had to travel to Turkey to file his application. He couldn’t leave Iran, however, until its government permitted him to do so.
Once he obtained his visa Mojtaba relocated to Howell, Michigan. There he spent three months on a farm with his uncle and Aunt SuzAnne. She is the person he most credits for helping with his acclimation to the West. “She is my best friend and the best mentor I could have asked for.”
A precondition for Mojtaba enrolling at K was improving his ability to speak and write English. To do so, he took an English class at Western Michigan University, then took what is called the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), a standardized proficiency test for non-native speakers wishing to enroll in an American university or college.
Once he received word that he’d passed, he was set to begin his studies at K in the fall of 2011. By that time he’d been in America for more a year and was, well, more than ready.
Before classes started, however, he embarked upon his LandSea adventure. “That was a big learning experience for me,” he recalls. “I made some of my best friends during that time.”
Although naturally outgoing, Mojtaba says that his biggest challenge has been to become more social. “Just to become comfortable and act normal, to be likeable. I’ve learned the value of a smile.”
When told that his smile and the twinkle of his eye bear a resemblance to those of tennis great Roger Federer, Mojtaba nods and says, “Yeah, I’m told that from time to time, especially by the guys on the tennis team.”
From the beginning, his studies at K have focused on the sciences. He spent the summer after his first year at Wayne State University working in a neuroscience lab. His foreign study—in Lancaster, England—involved particle physics.
Jan Tobochnik, the Dow Distinguished Professor in the Natural Sciences, has been impressed with Mojtaba. “He is a very outgoing young man, very personable. He loves to organize things. For example, he was part of an effort to get the College to put solar panels on the golf carts we use on campus.”
Mojtaba also helped organize K’s first Complex Science Society. “It’s to help bridge the gap between social sciences and empirical sciences,” he explains. “During our first year we focused on renewable energy. During the second we dealt with vaccination practices in the U.S.”
He also was involved in establishing a local chapter of the National Society of Physics Students. That work led to him and others into local elementary schools to encourage young children to pursue science.
For his Senior Individualized Project (SIP) Mojtaba studied the atmospheres of Earth and Mercury, two of the planets in our solar system with magnetic poles. His SIP received departmental honors.
He spent his SIP summer of 2014 at the University of Michigan with his advisor, Professor J.A. Slavin, and studied physical phenomena such as ‘magnetic reconnection’ and ‘coronal mass ejections.’
As a result of that experience he was invited to attend the March, 2015, launch of a NASA mission at Cape Canaveral. The Magnetospheric MultiScale mission carried four identical satellites that, once deployed, gather information about the Earth’s magnetosphere. Mojtaba had worked with data from a similar spacecraft for his SIP.
The original plan was to view the launch, with others, from a favored site on NASA grounds. That hope was scuttled, however, when officials realized that Mojtaba was an Iranian national.
“They told me I’d have to watch from across the harbor instead. But at least Professor Slavin went with me. Even from there, it was still stunning to watch.”
When he’s needed a break from school work, Mojtaba has sometimes retreated to nature. “I really enjoy going to the Lillian Anderson Arboretum. It is a good place to heal.”
Mojtaba’s post-graduate studies will focus on the data coming from those four spacecraft. “Solar winds have the potential to overwhelm our technological civilization. If we could predict when that was going to happen we could take preventive measures to reduce the likelihood of a problem. I also hope to get involved in designing instruments for future missions.”
On a different note, pun intended, he has begun taking violin lessons.
Mojtaba soon hopes to achieve another goal—becoming an American citizen. He intends to make America his permanent home.
“While two decades of living in and facing the challenges of growing up in a developing country prepared me for working hard,” he says, “coming to the U.S. and obtaining a liberal arts education enabled me to broaden the scope of my understanding as well as the impact I can have as an individual and as a citizen. Today, more than five years after my first time entering the U.S., I have come to believe that even the sky is no longer a limit!”
Mojtaba also hopes to help other students the way he was helped. “My aunt and uncle have established a scholarship institute called ‘The 1for2 Education Foundation.’ It means that a recipient of the scholarship commits to pay for the education of two others. My aunt and uncle helped me, so I want to help others someday.”
One of the most special times to be a part of the action on campus is during Homecoming weekend. Some of us, like my colleagues on the Alumni Association Executive Board (AAEB), are fortunate to be on campus several times a year. When was the last time you came home to Kalamazoo College?
Homecoming at Kalamazoo College can mean many different things… fall colors in the Midwest, football games, the Hornet 5K run. For me, it’s about connecting with old friends, making new connections, and reconnecting with my alma mater.
The AAEB would like to welcome you back to K every year for Homecoming. This year’s festivities occur October 23 through October 25. But it doesn’t have to be your reunion year for you to come to campus and feel the energy of a new academic year. After all, it’s likely you knew far more K students than just the members of your immediate class year! The campus is buzzing with activities of all kinds, and the city of Kalamazoo is a vibrant community.
Happenings worth your return include departmental gatherings, at which you can connect with professors and alumni who shared your major and various opportunities to see new buildings on campus or visit old haunts.
The AAEB sponsors two very special Friday evening events for alumni during Homecoming weekend. The first is a networking reception that informally gathers current students with alumni, faculty, and staff. Alumni share stories of their own career paths, listen and learn from others’ work experiences, and explore professional possibilities both local and global.
The second event is the Alumni Awards ceremony where we honor the achievements and service of fellow graduates. These special awards include recognition of a younger alumna or alumnus who has accomplished a lot in the first several years of life after K.
We welcome and encourage any and all alums to attend both of these events and the many other fun activities throughout Homecoming. That weekend is your chance to come home, to see what feels the same and to discover new connections.
So whether your reunion is right around the corner or several years out, Homecoming 2015 will provide opportunities to stay connected with one another other and with our alma mater.
And if you aren’t able to get back to campus as often as you like, we encourage you to seek ways to connect in your local community. From regional events like Hornet Happy Hours to being a part of a career fair or recruitment event, there are ways to engage with K and your fellow alumni close to your home. The AAEB has created a menu of Alumni Bites to outline the many opportunities.
And in those interims between local and regional events and our class reunions on campus, we can always find each other and stay connected through the alumni directory, alumni Facebook pages, and occasional informal gatherings with groups of K friends.
I recently spent a weekend camping with my K roommate and several other K friends and their families (together we now total 18!). It felt like no time had passed, and our bonds with each other and our alma mater were reinforced. I know we will stay connected and see each other in between, but it makes me that much more excited for our next reunion!
If there are other ways you would like to connect with Kalamazoo College or the AAEB directly, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear your ideas for events at Homecoming and in your area!
Sally (Warner) Read ’08 wastes no time. Two months after graduation from Kalamazoo College she began taking doctoral classes in education at Michigan State University. And in seven short years she she’s landed her dream job as head of the Kazoo School, a private, independent, progressive school less than two miles from K.
“It’s all been a whirlwind, and I have a lot of learning to do as I figure things out,” said Sally.
Like many first-year K students, Sally was open to many post-graduate possibilities. She did know that she loved children and wanted to change the world. During a pre-admission visit to K, she sat in on her sister’s (Becky Warner ’04) developmental psychology class and knew that she wanted to major in that field.
During her first quarter she became a self-described “Dr. [Siu-Lan] Tan [Professor of Psychology] groupie” and signed up to be a teaching assistant for her, which she did throughout her four years at K. Sally particularly enjoyed the co-authorship program at the Woodward School where K students help the children write and illustrate fictional stories.
“I loved Dr. Tan’s class, even though I was a little scared of her,” said Sally. “She really challenged me to do better and to think more deeply than I ever had before.”
Sally’s Senior Individualized Project occurred at the University of Texas (Dallas) where she conducted research on social aggression for the Friendship Project, a longitudinal research project about aggression among children. Sally analyzed the Project’s data bases to discover how gender differences affected the children’s self-reports of social and physical victimization. Going to Dallas was also an opportunity to be with her boyfriend and future husband, Courtney Read ’06.
Near the end of her K experience Sally decided that a career in education made sense for her, and she applied for and was accepted into a Ph.D. program in teacher education at Michigan State University. At age 21 she was the youngest, most inexperienced student in the program, a fact that didn’t intimidate her at all. If anything, graduate school solidified her tendency toward fearlessness (well cultivated at K) and her passion for learning. Both have served her well in her new job.
During doctoral studies Sally was influenced by two progressive educators whose ideas have become cornerstones for her research and for her work at the Kazoo School. John Dewey (1859-1952) was a philosopher and psychologist who advocated for an education based on democratic principles that would prepare young people to be productive, responsible members of a democratic society. Alfie Kohn (1957- ) advocates the viewpoint that education is effective when the learner actively makes meaning as opposed to absorbing information. Knowledge, argues Kohn, should be taught “in a context and for a purpose.”
For her dissertation Sally interviewed and observed third grade students at the Kazoo School who were working on an election year project. She also followed kindergartners as they learned mathematics through the symmetry and patterns of nature at the nearby Kleinstuck Nature Preserve.
“I immediately fell in love with Kazoo School,” said Sally. “Progressive schools often get a bad name for being laissez-faire. My research focused on seeing what progressive education looks like in a real, 21st-century school. I wanted to know how teachers find meaning in their work when they are given the autonomy to teach and learn without the use of a standardized test.”
Sally’s first job after receiving her doctorate was at the Eton Academy in Birmingham, Michigan, an alternative school that specializes in working with students who have learning disabilities. She liked the experience and planned to stay at Eton to teach Spanish. Destiny intervened. Sally received a call from the former Kazoo School board chairperson who invited her to become the interim head of school (for the 2014-15 academic year) and to apply for the permanent position.
At first Sally declined.
“What do you do if you’re 27, and you’re offered your dream job?” said Sally. “I didn’t feel ready for it.”
Then she did a lot of soul searching and sought out the advice of her mentors. She concluded that she would regret missing this opportunity if she didn’t apply.
“I lived and breathed Kazoo School during my dissertation, and I liked it,” said Sally. “It was really what I was looking for in a school: small classes; children’s art everywhere; a spirit of collaboration among students, teachers and parents; and, of course, a vision of the school that I believed in.”
Kazoo School has 96 children in grades pre-kindergarten to eighth grade and it employs 18 full- and part-time teachers. Since 1972 the school has focused on challenging and nurturing children to become independent thinkers and lifelong learners in an environment that seeks academic excellence, social responsibility, and respect for others.
One of Sally’s favorite things to do at school is to interact with the students. She leads school assemblies on Friday mornings and talks with students in the halls. She also sees students at work when she visits classrooms to evaluate teachers. While most teachers fret over evaluations, Kazoo School teachers are comfortable with having Sally come to their classes. They know she misses being with the children, and that takes the edge off her official business.
“The children here are so awesome,” she said. “I take as many opportunities as I can to visit their classrooms and interact with them. The pre-kindergarteners are especially excited to see me. They call me ‘Dr. Sally.’”
Sally enjoys meeting with the children for another reason.
“It’s interesting to see how much they have changed and grown from the few short years ago when I was doing research here,” she said. “I can’t wait to see what they’ll look like a few years from now.
Although the new job has been exciting, Sally admits it hasn’t been easy. In her first month, the office assistant left. A short time later she hired a new business manager. One fine fall day she had a flood in the school basement that began on Friday at 4 P.M. Late in her first fall she had to call an early snow day. Sally got through it all—and she conducted her first fund-raising campaign.
The school had not done a big annual fund drive before, but Sally decided to try it. The results? More than $100,000 and an 80 percent parent participation rate, both significant increases from previous years. The key to her success?
“Follow-up, a great team of parent volunteers, and, more follow-up, with a personal touch,” she said. “I learned a lot about the culture of giving from my time at K.”
Although Sally’s academic background isn’t specifically in educational administration, she has turned out to be a natural leader who uses a collaborative approach with her parents, teachers, and the school’s board of directors. This style has worked well for her at a school where only two teachers are younger than she is.
“There are so many decisions to make all the time, which can be tiring,” she said. “I have been strategic in how I’ve chosen to approach it.”
Sally promised teachers she wanted to make everyone successful by drawing on everyone’s expertise rather than telling people what to do. She set up a shared file of expertise on Google Docs. And she readily consults with teachers whose long experience (15 to 20 years) at Kazoo School has given them deep institutional knowledge of the place.
Sally’s journey has combined vision, hard work, mentoring, and the execution of a plan. It all just happened quicker than she anticipated. Last May, the board of Kazoo School named Sally permanent Head of School.
Ladislav Hanka ’75 has a mind that buzzes with constant activity, always attracted to the sweetness of an idea with a twist. His degree is in biology, and his love of the natural world is evident in his art. His etchings, prints, and drawings illustrate the intricacies and mystery of nature: craggy trees, elegant fish, round-bellied frogs, fierce raptors and delicate song birds, dank mushrooms, the occasional napping old dog.
So the idea of combining living bees and his etchings seemed, well, natural. He saw it as collaboration.
Some five years ago, a friend had given him a box of bees.
“There was a little bit of sugar water in there, something like mosquito netting, and the bees were climbing around inside the box,” Hanka says. “And I thought, so cute! Like having a puppy!” He laughs. “Suddenly, I was a parent. It was on that level of forethought that I became a beekeeper.”
Where the idea came from to place his etchings inside the beehives, among the living bees, Hanka can’t say.
“Who knows where ideas come from,” he shrugs. “You wake up some night, and there it is. It seems such a simple idea, too, but I’d never seen anyone do it. So I put the etching in after soaking the paper in hot beeswax, brushing it on, and the bees seem to like that paper. Typically, they start on the chunks of old, recycled beeswax and avoid the lines of the etching. Perhaps it’s the flavor? Or the waxy aromatic paper? Otherwise they tend to chew up and destroy any foreign substance intruding on their hives. Then again, they may just be critics.” Hanka grins.
Standing in his studio, a building he constructed where the garage once stood at his residence in Kalamazoo, just a few blocks from Kalamazoo College, he leans in close to take a look at his etchings. He has them lined up in a row on a small ledge along the end wall. The etchings closely match what he exhibited in ArtPrize 2014 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
ArtPrize is an annual art competition judged both by popular vote and a jury. This past summer more than 1,500 artists from across the world exhibited their work in and around downtown Grand Rapids. Hanka’s panoramic etching in ArtPrize 2011 won the Curator’s Choice award and was purchased by the Grand Rapids Art Museum for its permanent collection.
Hanka’s 2014 ArtPrize entry, “Great Wall of Bees: Intelligence of the Beehive,” is his third since the competition’s inception. Contained inside a glass case along the length of a wall just inside the entrance of the Urban Institute of Contemporary Art (UICA), live bees buzzed and danced and chewed over three rows of Hanka’s etchings—detailed images of toads, salmon, trees, insects, birds—building honeycomb along the curves of his lines, indeed in surprising collaboration.
Great Wall of Bees was collaborative art and environmental message. In a description of his work on the ArtPrize website, he wrote:
“The additions bees make to the etchings are as inevitably elegant as the gently curving veils of honeycomb you find hanging from the domed ceilings within a bee tree. There is an undeniable intelligence at work in a beehive. You learn to respect that and care about these highly evolved creatures, which brings me inescapably around to bees being in trouble—not just here but worldwide.
“The cause of bee die-offs is hardly a mystery. It’s much like the growth in cancer rates. No single factor causes it. The crisis is due to a summation of assaults on the organism, until it’s all too much. Bees face a gauntlet of toxins, habitat loss, electromagnetic pollution, exotic diseases and imported parasites. …”
Hanka’s living exhibit drew a great deal of attention. He estimates that 80,000 to 100,000 persons viewed the Great Wall of Bees. His work was short-listed in the top 25 in both popular and juried categories for three-dimensional entries.
“For the three weeks of the exhibit, I was the bee-man,” says Hanka. “I heard people talking about the bees in cafes and on the street. People still come to talk to me about the artwork and the bees, even though the show is over.”
It was profoundly gratifying, he says, to interact with the public coming to see his art and to watch the bees build their honeycomb around it. Bees crawled along the glass where children pressed their noses for a closer look. Some expressed concern over dying insects, and it gave Hanka a chance to explain something about the four-week life cycle of a bee and the difference between natural daily die-offs versus the massive losses bees currently suffer in beehives everywhere.
He dips a bare hand into one of his hives, set in a circle beside his house, and the bees emerge, almost lazily, spinning a hum of circles around Hanka’s head and landing on him. They swarm over his bare hands and land in his beard.
“They are not aggressive with me,” Hanka says. “Frame of mind is important. They respond much like any animal would. You have to be sensitive to their mood and show some respect..”
The bees do sting him occasionally, he says, especially when stressed, but Hanka shrugs it off. All a part of the art and all part of the natural order of things. As for the way the insects weave their intricate combs along his drawings, Hanka shrugs about that, too.
“I try to be realistic about that, how much intelligence is in the bee,” he says. “There is a spirit. I have no explanation for some of it.”
Hanka considers ArtPrize carefully, now that the citywide exhibit is done, his wall of bees packed up and brought back to the hive again. During subsequent weeks he contemplated the moment of fame.
“The space is clean and no evidence remains of the effort invested,” he says. “Honey gathering and art are both among the first recorded events in the mists of human history. My work invited people to partake of genuine, unfalsified sacraments. I saw they were truly moved by the beauty they encountered and by their concern for the fate of bees.”
Landing on the competition’s short lists gave him a few seductive moments of contemplating the financial prize (ArtPrize awards two grand prizes worth $400,000, and eight category awards worth $160,000). Those moments quickly evaporated in the final stages of the competition.
“Of course, there was a build-up and then disappointment,” Hanka nods. “Though we may ardently desire the accolades and money these votes confer, it isn’t why we make art.”
What remains, Hanka says, is the message he wanted to deliver: the interaction he had with his audience and his art, the near-mystical experience he had with another tiny life form. He acknowledges the influences that have remained with him from his years at Kalamazoo College, where he studied with Marcia Wood, Johannes Von Gumppenberg, Peter Jogo, and Bernard Palchick (all former professors in the art department). Equally, in biology, he credits Professors Paul Olexia, David Evans, and Fred Cichocki.
“I still keep in contact with many of them, and I value their influence in my life,” Hanka says. Ideas, he believes, are born in the buzz of many minds working at their purpose; they are built one upon another.
Hanka walks between the aisles of his beehives in the same way he walks between the tables in his studio. Both are covered with pieces of his work. He leans forward to study a detail, and then he leans back to contemplate the whole.
He is done with this particular project, this artistic collaboration with the bees that carried over years. Now, the bees will return to what they do best: making honey. The artist will let his mind spin and dream and buzz a little, until it lands on his next big idea.
When the stresses of the day get to be too much, Mia Henry gets into the gym and kicks. She kicks hard. She’s a kickboxer.
“I joined the gym to work out my frustrations, and I thought it was better to punch and kick a bag rather than channel them elsewhere,” says Henry. And then she smiles, her face lighting up with kindness.
Henry is the executive director of Arcus Center of Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College (ACSJL). She took the position in a little over a year ago, after Kalamazoo College conducted a national search for a leader to follow Jaime Grant. Henry’s character combines tough empathy with the ability to fight for justice, a perfect combination for a social justice leader.
“I often use the metaphor of boxing when I speak about social justice,” Henry says. “Boxing is difficult, challenging but cathartic. I couldn’t land a solid hit until I got into shape. Freedom fighting is still fighting: you need training first. You need technique and you need to know your strategy in order to achieve change.”
When a recruiter contacted Henry about the Kalamazoo College position, she was intrigued.
“So many social justice organizations are focused on a single political issue or one specific cause,” Henry says. “ACSJL is able to look at the big picture and reflect on what leadership looks like.”
Henry’s road to Kalamazoo has taken many turns, with a starting point in the Deep South.
“I was born in Florida, grew up in Tennessee and Alabama,” she says. “I moved around a lot growing up. My family is mostly in Alabama now, but when I got older, I wanted nothing more than to teach in the big city. I wanted to live in a place of diversity and teach social studies, so I sent out résumés to all the high schools in the most diverse areas of Chicago and drove up with a friend who also wanted to teach.”
Arriving in her goal city, Chicago, Henry walked into one high school after another on her list, applying for teaching jobs. She was hired as a social studies teacher at Roald Amundsen High School.
“No matter what job I’ve held since, I still think of myself as an educator,” Henry says.
Her position at ACSJL will include maintaining and augmenting the vision for the Center; developing programming and partnerships with local, national, and international organizations; raising the profile of the Center and the College nationally and internationally; and working with K faculty, staff, and students on innovative projects and practices in social justice leadership. The Center is on the very threshold of its second biennial Global Prize for Transformative Social Justice Leadership.
“I liked that here the interdependence and contexts of social justice issues are stressed and studied,” she says. “That’s rare.”
In her first months at ACSJL, Henry listened carefully to the Kalamazoo and Kalamazoo College communities. She placed herself first in the role of student, learning, absorbing, considering carefully what she has heard.
“People here have been very open with their discomfort,” she says. “No one thinks we can solve everything. Students have said to me, ‘Mia, we’ll never get rid of racism!’ But then I tell them to think of what we do here as medicine to fight disease. There will always be disease, and we will always have to fight it.”
As a girl, Henry listened to her mother tell stories of segregated schools in the Deep South. Her mother was one of only seven African-American children attending an otherwise white school.
“My mother would show me her school yearbooks, and she could still remember, point out each photo, this child treated her well, this child did not,” says Henry. “It was from my parents that I learned the values of justice, and that revolution begins at home, by treating people well. I was fortunate to have a family willing to have those hard conversations with me and tease out ideas about how we might change the world.”
From her parents Henry learned to admire people who were kind and who lead with love, she says, even while being angry at the injustices in the world.
“It’s the injustice that makes me angry,” she says, “more than the people behind it. I believe in the human capacity for change.”
With the building that houses ACSJL being so new and unique (it is the first architecture in the world designed specifically to reflect a mission of social justice leadership), Henry has assigned to herself the mission to help the community embrace ACSJL as its own.
“I want people to understand that ACSJL belongs to them,” she says.
Although what attracted Henry to ACSJL was its generalist approach to social injustice, she acknowledges a place in her own heart for one particular cause.
“Mass incarceration,” she nods. Along with several other boards, she serves on the board of directors for Community Justice for Youth Institute in Chicago, an organization that works to develop alternatives to incarceration. The profiling, she says, the disproportionate arrests, and the treatment that people receive when incarcerated—these are the causes that move her most to work for change.
As part of her personal work for her chosen cause, Henry visited an Illinois prison and learned about abuses within the prison system, including torture.
“It’s hard to hear about these kinds of things,” she acknowledges. “We don’t want to believe this about ourselves. But it happens.”
Hearing the ugly stories, having the difficult conversations, however, are a part of what leads to positive change, she says.
“My approach to my work at Kalamazoo College comes from a place of love. I love people, all people, enough to fight for them. One person’s values don’t have to be at the expense of another’s values.”
Embracing the call for leadership is liberation, Henry says. “Here, I want to nurture leadership. My hope is that at Kalamazoo College every student, staff and faculty has the tools to apply a social justice lens to their work. Doing so is critical for enlightened leadership and thus deeply embedded in the Kalamazoo College mission.”
The Training of a Champion
ACSJL requires a special kind of leadership. Mia Henry had the rich and varied work experience Kalamazoo College sought for its commitment to social justice leadership, and she has since proved to be the perfect fit.
• Henry has served on the national leadership team for Black Space, an initiative of Safe Places for the Advancement of Community and Equity (SPACEs). SPACEs supports intergenerational groups of community leaders working for racial equity across the United States.
• Henry was associate director of Mikva Challenge, a nonprofit in Chicago working with 50 area high schools that involves young people in the political process through action civics.
• Henry worked as a senior consultant for youth development at the University of Chicago. She taught youth development classes at the University of Illinois at Chicago and was a program coordinator for City University of New York, monitoring college enrollment, student achievement, and parent outreach initiatives.
• Henry worked with the Chicago Freedom School (CFS), an organization that provides training and education opportunities for youth and adult allies to develop leadership skills through the lens of civic action and through the study of the history of social movements and their leaders.
• Henry founded Reclaiming South Shore for All, a grassroots group committed to institutionalizing systems that promote peace, youth leadership, and political accountability. She also owns and operates Freedom Lifted, a small business that provides civil rights tours.
Henry’s experience has provided her a tool kit of empathy and understanding as well as the hands-on experience that has honed her ability to know what works and what doesn’t. She has worked with youth and adults, helping them to approach and solve their problems, personally and academically.
Henry earned a B.S. degree in sociology and criminal justice from Rutgers University and an M.S. Ed. degree in secondary education from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
“Once there was a king,” and he (or she) lived, or went to school, or both, at the Kalamazoo County Juvenile Home. There, she (or he) engaged with Kalamazoo College student members of HYPE (Helping Youth Through Personal Empowerment) in workshops where all learned from one another—about self-agency, about resilience, about structural inequities, about hope. Together the fellow learners began to change the stereotype that inaccurately sees all incarcerated youth as dangerous, criminal, and beyond hope.
The title of this article comes from a line in a poem by Edwin Arlington Robinson. It was one of the poet’s first published pieces (1902), and he predicted (accurately, it turned out) that it would be unpopular with critics and readers alike. Its subject, after all, was a homeless vagrant forced to panhandle—a level of poverty, or “failure,” that Robinson experienced himself. Later, Robinson won three Pulitzer Prizes. And when he died (1935) eulogists called him “one of the finest poets of his time.”
I thought of Robinson, and his poem “Captain Craig,” when I interviewed Hannah Bogard and Mele Makalo, recently graduated seniors (June 2015), Civic Engagement Scholars, and co-directors (and re-designers) of HYPE during the academic year 2014-15.
“The youth that I work with at the Juvenile Home are filled with an incredible form of hope,” says Hannah, “and the ability to endure with a kind of strength I haven’t experienced in any other setting.”
“I honestly think that our greatest leaders are, unfortunately, in the juvenile justice system,” says Mele.
HYPE was founded in 2005, the year Michigan Campus Compact awarded a Venture Grant to the Mary Jane Underwood Center for Civic Engagement and sophomore Ariana Schindle ’08. HYPE is dedicated to promoting restorative community-based justice by building meaningful relationships with the youth in the Juvenile Home, a 40-bed facility and Youth Center School that serves both incarcerated students and those on release. Its clients—mostly male and mostly black—range in ages from 11 to 17. They are entangled with the juvenile justice system because they have committed a criminal offense or they have violated the terms of their probation. But that is not the entire story, a fact that can easily be overlooked.
“The greatest contributing factor that brings youth into the juvenile justice system is marginalized class and race identity,” says Mele. “There are social structures that we adults allow to prevail or remain in place, and these structures push members of vulnerable communities into the juvenile justice and prison systems.
“This is why the reflections HYPE volunteers share outside the Juvenile Home after our workshops are so important,” she adds. “We must reflect on our role both inside and outside as advocates for these youth.”
“HYPE works because K students and the youth at the Juvenile Home collaborate in a way that strengthens self-agency,” says Hannah. “HYPE volunteers are not heroes or saviors,” she adds, “and we are careful to stress this and discuss this at length with our K colleagues. Such thinking would obscure the strength of these kids, including their potential for self-agency, their curiosity about the world, and their extraordinary capacity to empathize with and support each other.”
Careful reflection before and after working with clients is only one of the changes Mele and Hannah have incorporated into HYPE. They have expanded the program from four to 14 volunteers, each of whom makes a yearlong commitment. The expansion allows each workshop to include at least two K students.
The majority of the K volunteers are students of color, and this fact helps make HYPE as effective as it is, according to Hannah, who came to K from Ann Arbor. “The immediate perception of the likelihood of shared life experiences accelerates trust and relationship building,” she explains. During workshops all volunteers make a point of engaging individually with each student.
The co-directors have brought more structure to lesson planning and more consistency to the design and implementation of the life skills workshops and other ways volunteers engage with the kids. Hannah and Mele seek input from the volunteers, and after the workshops everyone discusses what worked well and what needed more work.
The two civic engagement scholars proved flexible with strategies to establish trustful one-on-one relationships with the kids in the Juvenile Home. When HYPE’s twice-weekly format (informal meetings and a workshop) changed to once-weekly (a workshop only), Mele and others began to tutor at the Youth Center School during school hours, building strong personal relationships through that work in place of the informal meetings.
And, like all good leaders, Mele and Hannah cultivated strong supportive relationships among HYPE members (so that each individual could reinforce the passion of fellow colleagues) and with the professional staff of the CCE.
“Paulette Reiger, Alison Geist, Teresa Denton, Sashae Mitchell ’13, and Kacey Cook ’15 helped us when we expanded and organized our programming,” said Mele. “They foster and support student initiative and leadership.”
Mele and Hannah were the first HYPE leaders to pay a great deal of attention to succession planning, working closely with next year’s civic engagement scholars and HYPE co-leaders (Sep’tisha Riley and Alejandro Jaramillo) to lock in this year’s achievements as a foundation (or point of departure) for 2015-2016. That effort included a “transition folder” comprised of all of Mele and Hannah’s lesson plans and every written reflection by this past year’s HYPE volunteers.
Hannah, a psychology major, involved herself with HYPE three of her four years on campus. During her junior year of study abroad in Thailand she worked at a shelter for girls who had been victims of human trafficking. Mele, a human development and social relations major, served as a member of HYPE each of her four years on campus.
Why do this work?
“Because I like it,” says Hannah. “We have a base of resources here at K, and we need to share them in the community.”
“Children aren’t trouble,” Mele says. “Their environments are trouble. Their worlds are often insane. We are there to try to see from their perspective, and that’s when it becomes reciprocal learning.”
Hannah and Mele share the story of a boy awaiting trial. His mother turned him in to the police when the boy attacked his stepfather. His stepfather was beating the boy’s mother, and he wanted to protect her. Afraid of losing her spouse, however, she sacrificed her son instead.
“I have learned and gained so much from the kids at the Juvenile Home,” says Mele, a native of Los Angeles, “that I feel it’s my responsibility to remain in Kalamazoo for a few more years to continue our work together.”
I doubt if ten men in all Tilbury Town
Had ever shaken hands with Captain Craig,
Or called him by his name, or looked at him
So curiously, or so concernedly,
As they had looked at ashes; but a few—
Say five or six of us—had found somehow
The spark in him, and we had fanned it there,
Choked under, like a jest in Holy Writ,
By Tilbury prudence. He had lived his life
And in his way had shared, with all mankind,
Inveterate leave to fashion of himself,
By some resplendent metamorphosis,
Whatever he was not. And after time,
When it had come sufficiently to pass
That he was going patch-clad through the streets,
Weak, dizzy, chilled, and half starved, he had laid
Some nerveless fingers on a prudent sleeve,
And told the sleeve, in furtive confidence,
Just how it was: “My name is Captain Craig,”
He said, “and I must eat.” The sleeve moved on,
And after it moved others—one or two;
For Captain Craig, before the day was done,
Got back to the scant refuge of his bed
And shivered into it without a curse—
Without a murmur even. He was cold,
And old, and hungry; but the worst of it
Was a forlorn familiar consciousness
That he had failed again. There was a time
When he had fancied, if worst came to worst,
And he could do no more, that he might ask
Of whom he would. But once had been enough,
And soon there would be nothing more to ask.
He was himself, and he had lost the speed
He started with, and he was left behind.
There was no mystery, no tragedy;
And if they found him lying on his back
Stone dead there some sharp morning, as they might,
Well, once upon a time there was a man—
Es war einmal ein König, if it pleased him.
And he was right: there were no men to blame:
There was just a false note in the Tilbury tune—
A note that able-bodied men might sound
Hosannas on while Captain Craig lay quiet.
They might have made him sing by feeding him
Till he should march again, but probably
Such yielding would have jeopardized the rhythm;
They found it more melodious to shout
Right on, with unmolested adoration,
To keep the tune as it had always been,
To trust in God, and let the Captain starve.
For many people, growing up means changing one’s mind about prospective vocations. One day the plan is to become a policeman, the next day a doctor, the next year a teacher.
Others know from an early age exactly what work they want to do when they become adults. Caroline Barnett ’15 is such a person. Since she was in her teens she’s set her sights on one goal—becoming a pastor in the Presbyterian Church. In just a few more years she fully expects to be one.
While growing up in Prairie Village, Kansas (near Kansas City), Caroline became active in the church, particularly youth groups, where she spent “every free hour I had.”
When she attended high school her involvement “became more meaningful. I came to really respect our pastors. That’s when I decided I wanted to become one.”
Consistent with that goal, Barnett graduated from K with majors in religion and what she believes is a related field, anthropology and sociology.
Her passion has recently led her Washington D.C., where she has joined the Christian-based Sojourners internship program.
“We publish a magazine once a month and have an active website with articles,” Barnett explains. “I have written some on-line articles, but my position is editorial assistant, mostly as a fact-checker for other articles. I’ve never done much in journalism before, so this is a real learning experience for me.”
Sojourners began during the Vietnam War era. It encourages Christians to put their faith into action in pursuit of social justice, peace and environmental stewardship. The organization engages in advocacy on issues such as hunger, poverty and immigration. It is nondenominational, with a membership that is equal parts Evangelical, mainline Protestant and Catholic.
To assist in its efforts, Sojourners brings in an intern class of about 10 men and women each fall. They remain for a full year and work in one of several departments. The program, now in its 32nd year, offers a holistic integration of life and faith through professional development, spiritual guidance and intentional Christian community.
All of the interns live in a house provided by Sojourners, which also offers meals, healthcare, local transportation and a $100 monthly stipend.
“It’s been challenging, but I’ve enjoyed the experience,” Barnett says. “It’s a little bit like college in that there are always people around, ready to do fun things. But it’s easy to get burned out living with the people you also work with, so we’ve really made efforts to constantly check on how we are all doing. Do people need more time to themselves? Are they having a rough time at work and need to talk about it?”
When her year with Sojourners is complete Barnett intends to take the next step in her quest to become a minister: attending either a seminary or a school of divinity.
“Religious communities can be incredibly special places,” she says. “They can be systems of support during hard times, places of celebration during happy ones. They can act as instruments of change for social justice. Of course, churches can also be messy, full of interpersonal politics and resistant to change. It’s the reality of both of these versions that leads me to wanting to be a pastor.
“For me, the Presbyterian Church is my home. It’s shaped who I am.”
Some of that shaping took place during her time at K.
“My four years there went really well. I came to love the study of religion. All of my professors were fabulous. Carol Anderson was one of my favorites. So was Shreena Gandhi, who was my advisor for my SIP [Senior Individualized Project]. I can’t praise the department highly enough. I really never had a bad class.”
One aspect of campus life that Barnett credits for helping her grow as a person was the diversity of faiths she encountered. In Kansas many of the people she knew were Presbyterian, but at K she interacted with a wide spectrum of beliefs.
“I enjoy talking about religion, so I tend to bring it up in conversation.”
Some of those conversations took place at K’s chapel. “They had a program there that allowed me to interact with people with different beliefs. It helped me understand others, and myself, better.”
She then adds with a smile, “And it was nice that there were usually tea and cookies available.”
One of the persons who guided Caroline’s spiritual path at K was Elizabeth (Hakken) Candido ’00, the College’s chaplain and director of religious life.
“Caroline served as an elder and really helped invigorate our Christian group, which was great because it had sort of fizzled out in the years before she arrived,” Candido recalls.
“She was clearly smart enough to handle the academic challenges, but to pursue actual ordination one has to be a leader and know how to handle the tough issues. I helped her with some of that, such as public speaking. But Caroline is the sort of person who tackles a challenge head on, so she really grew as a person while she was here.
“She is just so kind and thoughtful,” Candido adds. “And she’s incredibly tolerant of other faiths. Some of that probably came from the fact that she’s from a mixed faith family. Her father is Jewish and her mother Presbyterian.
“Many of our students are tolerant; they’re at a point in life where they’re in transition; they’re deciding how much of their parents’ faith they want to stay with. When they hear others talk of their faiths, their reaction might be ‘That’s not at all what I want,’ but it also might be that they feel an attraction.”
Part of Candido’s role on campus is to provide what she describes as “pastoral services” to those in need. “I tell our students that if they see someone who seems to be having a rough time, maybe someone crying, don’t ignore them. Talk to them, or send them to me.”
Candido also helps connect K students to area churches. “We don’t do services at the Chapel, but we have connections with many churches. Some are close enough that the students can walk. If they’re further away the churches are usually able to provide transportation; they’re always thrilled to get a college student to attend.”
While Barnett’s fellow K students exposed her to different religious beliefs, that opportunity paled in comparison to what she experienced during her study abroad experience.
“I went to West Africa, to Dakar, Senegal. It’s 97 percent Muslim. I lived with a host family, which provided me with a wonderful opportunity for conversations about faith.
“I enjoyed my time there. It gave me a chance to improve my French. I liked going to the markets, although sometimes the merchants would raise their prices because they knew I was a visitor. Dakar is a huge city, with over a million people, and I liked exploring it. There were times, though, that I got some place, looked around and wondered, ‘What am I doing here? How is this a good idea?’
“Senegal is certainly the hottest place I’ve ever been. It was a great experience.”
The experience she hopes will be greater still is when she is finally ordained in the Presbyterian Church.
“While there are things about being a pastor that interest me—public speaking, for example, and the opportunity to study things I find interesting—at the core of my desire is to be a part of a community, and to teach and care for it.”
A few blocks down the hill from the Kalamazoo College campus, in an upstairs office, the headquarters of International Child Care (ICC) is located. ICC is a Christian health development organization that has been providing health services for children and families in Haiti and the Dominican Republic for half a century. Since 2012, it has sponsored a six-week summer internship for K students, and now it employs K alumna Suzanne Curtiss ’14 as its communications director. All describe the time they spent at ICC as life-changing.
Three of the interns, Roxann Lawrence ’14, Amy Jimenez ’14, and Zoe Beaudry ’14, spent their six weeks in Haiti; Avery Allman ’16 and Curtiss worked in the Kalamazoo office. From ICC, each says, they learned a new appreciation of the difficulties inherent in providing aid to severely challenged nations, as well as a new respect for the spirit, resilience, and creativity of the people who live in those countries. They also saw the principles of social justice and sustainability at work.
Lawrence and Jimenez interned together during the summer of 2012. Their experiences were based at Grace Children’s Hospital in Port-au-Prince. Grace, ICC’s flagship program, has been providing inpatient and outpatient care for Haitian children and families since 1967. Although its main inpatient building was destroyed in the earthquake of 2010, Grace continues to serve about 300 inpatients a year and more than 400 outpatients per day.
From the hospital Lawrence and Jimenez moved out into the communities, many of them still just tent cities since the quake, helping health teams that weighed babies, visited patients, and educated families about birth control, nutrition, and sanitation. The two also gave tours to visiting groups from North America and prepared a pre-orientation package for new visitors.
Lawrence is a native of Westmoreland, Jamaica, and she majored in anthropology/sociology and theatre arts. When she returned to Michigan from Haiti, she said, “Without a doubt, this has been the best summer of my life.”
Jimenez, an anthropology/sociology major from Compton, California, concurs. During her internship, she helped develop a program for children with disabilities. Because the cultures of Haiti and the Dominican Republic equate disability with shame, most of these children are hidden away by their families. The first challenge of ICC’s health care teams, therefore, is to find them; then they work with parents, teaching them to help their children maximize their functioning. Jimenez went to the tiny home of a single mother of a child who couldn’t use his hands. “He was such a happy child. He ate and wrote using his feet.” To Jimenez, the boy represented the spirit of the Haitian people. “They have experienced so many bad things, but they are a resilient people.” She also learned how important it is to do research when you’re trying to help, and “not to just impose your own style on other cultures.”
Zoe Beaudry spent her ICC internship in Haiti in 2013. The East Lansing (Mich.) native earned her K degree in studio art with a minor in sociology/anthropology, Beaudry is from East Lansing, Michigan. She job shadowed a sociologist at Grace, learning about his research into the mental health of people in Port-au-Prince. She also conducted art workshops for children at the hospital, compiling their drawings into a book titled “Waiting for Grace.”
Beaudry said, “Living in Port-au-Prince felt like a whirlwind of confusion and culture clash.” Like many people visiting Haiti for the first time, she found, “it was a new experience feeling so different from the rest of the people around me. It forced me to confront feelings of internalized racism and prejudice – which was a very valuable experience and an eye-opener.” She found that meeting Christian missionaries at the guest house where she stayed in Port-au-Prince, “led me to a strong interest in Christianity and religion in general.”
Both Allman and Curtiss did their ICC internships in Kalamazoo. A double major (business and Spanish language and literature), Allman used her internship to focus on marketing and development; she helped with grant writing, created marketing plans, wrote a history of ICC, and publicized its annual cycling fundraising event. She says that the experience had “an incredibly positive effect on me.”
Allman also believes that staying in Kalamazoo for those six summer weeks was a highlight. A native of Northville, Michigan, she took advantage of the opportunity to learn more about the Kalamazoo community and its nonprofit services.
A native of Saginaw, Michigan, Curtiss majored in English at K and became interested in public relations during her sophomore year. As a student, she worked in K’s Office of College Communication. Her own internship was structured to give her experiences in writing and event promotion. These experiences taught her how cultural differences can make it difficult to work internationally, she said, but they also greatly broadened her horizons. She learned firsthand how to generate publicity on a budget, as well as the ins-and-outs of working with local media.
She started her new job with ICC just one week after graduating from K, and she is now responsible for educating and engaging the public about the organization. Her job description includes not only public and media relations, but also planning encounter trips for North American groups who want to see ICC projects in the Caribbean.
Curtiss took her first trip to Haiti and the Dominican Republic a month after she started her new job. “You can’t begin to comprehend the level of need until you see it,” she said. “The people are so kind and joyful and have a strong sense of national pride.” She also was struck by the passion of the ICC staff in both countries (all in-country positions are staffed by nationals): “They love the work they do.”
Keith Mumma has been associated with ICC since 1989. After spending several years volunteering, he became a board member and, in 2005, he was named the U.S. national director. Mumma still does some professional photography (his previous career), with Kalamazoo College as one of his clients. It was this connection that led Mumma to develop the ICC internship position in 2012. It’s been a good match, he said. “Both organizations have the same philosophy on life.”
ICC offers interns a wide variety of experiences, ranging from social justice to economics, pre-med, anthropology, marketing , as well as French (the official language of Haiti) and Spanish (spoken in the Dominican Republic). Mumma says that K interns have been an important part of ICC staffing. “They’ve all been self-starters,” he says, “and we need people who are independent workers.” Several of the students had already studied abroad by the time they came to ICC, and the international experience they brought with them was invaluable.
Roxann Lawrence summarized her ICC internship. It helped her, she said, “to see social justice working through an international perspective, reinforcing the importance of community participatory service to community development and change.” Her experiences, she concluded, “will continue to have a positive impact on me as I passionately pursue a life dedicated to serving and working with marginalized groups.”
Suzanne Curtiss added, “The spirit of ICC flows into the integrity of K.”