Actor, Producer Return as Alumni to Screen ‘Grassland’

A celebrated actor fresh off his role as Magic Johnson in an HBO series and an up-and-coming movie producer, both alumni of Kalamazoo College, returned to campus last week, seeking a chance to change society’s views regarding marijuana incarceration policies.

Quincy Isaiah ’17—an actor known for Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty—and Producer Adam Edery ’19 met students for a conversation about social justice in the entertainment industry and screened their new independent movie, Grassland, with a discussion panel and a private audience at the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership.

Grassland is expected to premier at a variety of film festivals in 2024 with Isaiah, Edery and Consulting Producer Shon Powell ’18—a third K alumnus—among those in its credits. The movie, set in 2008 during the Great Recession, follows a single Latina mother whose illegal marijuana business is jeopardized when her son befriends new neighbors, a young white boy and his police officer grandfather. According to production research, Latino people were four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people at the time, while Black people were seven times more likely.

Actors Mía Maestro and Jeff Kober star alongside Isaiah, who plays Brandon. Maestro’s credits include the 2014–15 TV series The Strain and the 2012 film The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2. Kober’s credits include TV series such as The Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy and China Beach. His movie roles include a part in the 2016 film Sully

Edery was among the first to join the project with one of his jobs being to secure funding for it, a role he relished considering the film’s subject matter.

“For me, I feel like my participation in the creation of the film was because of my K experience,” Edery said. “I was an anthropology-sociology major, and even before I had anything to do with film, I wanted to go into social justice and activism. A lot of the early projects that I produced were comedy based or random opportunities. There was nothing that felt like, ‘Wow, this is the type of story I want to tell.’ And then I read the script for Grassland. It was like a light flipped on in my head. The passion to do this project was inspired by me coming to K.”

Edery had previously reached out to Isaiah to connect as both were in Los Angeles, both were in the entertainment industry, and both were K alumni. Isaiah didn’t have a lot of time to meet until his work with Winning Time had finished, but when they finally got together, their networking proved to be mutually beneficial.

“We met for lunch and Adam slid the script to me,” Isaiah said of Grassland. “I read it and I loved it. It was beautiful and it had a lot of heart to it. I think that’s what pulled me to it, and with the K connection, I think there’s a different expectation you feel about certain people. Just meeting with him and hearing his thoughts about social justice made me feel very comfortable to work with him. I felt a kinship.”

Edery never had a doubt that Isaiah would flourish in his role as Brandon, but the producer said watching Isaiah act in person was amazing.

“I was blown away while watching him on set,” Edery said. “I always knew that Quincy is a super nice, hard-working, super talented actor, but I had never been there before to see him physically act. I remember a graveyard scene where it felt like I was looking at a different person. I think that’s a testament to how great Quincy is as an actor and how he crushed the role by pouring himself into it. When we watch it on screen, it almost doesn’t register that I’m watching Quincy. It’s like me and Quincy are watching Brandon.”

Beyond the film’s acting talent, Edery hopes the film will be known for asking its audiences an important question: How did we get here?

“The movie takes place in 2008 and something Quincy and I talk about is that this film has no villain,” he said. “It doesn’t say the police officer is the villain or that Sophia, who is growing weed, is the villain. It points at the system in place. Then being in 2023, it forces us to ask, ‘What are the systems that allowed us to have 40,000 people in prison for something that’s legal in Michigan now?’”

Isaiah said the film’s importance, in his opinion, is about viewers seeing different perspectives while following characters on a journey of emotions.

Quincy Isaiah and Adam Edery at the Festival Playhouse before screening Grassland
Actor Quincy Isaiah ’17 (left) and Producer Adam Edery ’19 returned to Kalamazoo College to screen their independent film titled “Grassland.”
Actor Quincy Isaiah at the Festival Playhouse
Isaiah performed in plays such as “Raisin in the Sun” and “In the Heights” in his time at K.
Quincy Isaiah, Adam Edery and Emily Williams attend the "Grassland" screening
Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership Executive Director Emily Williams introduces Isaiah and Edery at the “Grassland” screening.
"Grassland" discussion panel
Edery, Isaiah and Williams were among the people who participated in the panel discussion after the “Grassland” screening.

“These are people you could pass on the street and never pay much attention to, but when you see their story on the big screen, it’s right in front of you,” he said. “You have to pay attention and care about them.”

With there being no villain in Grassland, Isaiah said any character could potentially resonate with any viewer at any time.

“Some might gravitate toward Brandon,” he said. “Some people will gravitate toward Sophia and John (a police officer) or even Sophia’s mom. She’s so good in it and it’s for such a short time, but there’s so much weight to her role. I think everybody will find some character they see themselves in and that’s what you want a movie to be. You want to see yourself represented on the screen.”

His own character, though, is somebody who feels stuck with few options for moving on.

“I don’t want to spoil the movie, but he’s just finding himself in tough position after tough position because of something he did as a child,” Isaiah said. “He’s looked at like a dog and that’s the story of so many people. I relate to Brandon because I want the freedom to mess up and not be reprimanded for life because of it. But as sad as his story is, there’s something in him that will allow him to have a second life. He just has to put in more effort than his counterparts, which is difficult, but it’s his reality and I think he’s strong enough to figure that out.”

Ultimately, Edery said the opportunity to screen the film at K felt obvious, especially after discussing the possibility with President Jorge G. Gonzalez and Associate Vice President for Development Andy Miller ’99 and connecting with Arcus Center Executive Director Emily Williams.

“Even when we were filming, Quincy and I were saying that we have to bring this film back to campus,” Edery said. “One of the reasons we made the film was the K connection, but this is a movie that people can engage with through debate and conversation, laughter and crying. I think K students are the perfect crowd for it because they’re thoughtful and they want to reflect. It was a no-brainer to bring it back to K.”

“I double down on that,” Isaiah added. “K students are thoughtful and open to conversation, and we’re alumni, so it’s like being back home. We met with some students and we were able to have some candid conversations about the film, about our roles and our jobs, and about their curiosity regarding us as people and professionals. There were some big questions, so it was an excellent experience. It’s so surreal to walk down that cobblestone road. Coming into K, I was a kid. When I left, I had the tools to figure myself out. I think the K influence is that I can be fully transparent and vulnerable on screen. That’s what I learned to do here: I learned how to be a man.”

With the movie complete, Edery and Isaiah will be among those teaming up to nominate Grassland for inclusion in film festivals such as Sundance while participating in social justice campaigns to advance its cause.

“We want to get it in front of as many people as possible whether it’s here at K, at film festivals or wherever,” Edery said. “I’m proud of it, and when people watch it, I hope it inspires them to change their hearts and minds. We’re also partnering with organizations like the Last Prisoner Project to support the work that they’re doing to get people out of prison or their sentences commuted if they’re in prison because of marijuana. If we could boil it down to one goal, I’d like us to focus on the people who are still locked up right now and push that charge to get people out.”

Isaiah hopes that one day he will hear stories about how the film changed people’s hearts and minds.

“Marijuana is everywhere now,” Isaiah said. “It’s not fair for people to be locked up for that and then be unable to find a job or feed themselves or their families because of a mistake they made 10 or 15 years ago when it wasn’t OK. If we can make a change for even one person, that would be cool because hearing their stories breaks my heart. I hope people will hit up their representatives, talk to a formerly incarcerated person, take a virtual prison tour or do whatever it is that the film inspires them to do to push for change.”

‘Winning Time’ Actor, Movie Producer to Screen Social Justice Drama

An actor known for playing Magic Johnson on HBO’s Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers’ Dynasty and a movie producer—both notable Kalamazoo College alumni—will present a private screening of their next film this week at the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership

Actor Quincy Isaiah ’17 and producer Adam Edery ’19 will present and discuss Grassland, a social justice drama about marijuana incarceration rates and the criminal justice system, at 7 p.m. Thursday, November 16.

A panel discussion featuring Kalamazoo-area residents including a former police officer, a former inmate and a cannabis industry professional, will immediately follow the film. 

Quincy Isaiah
Quincy Isaiah’ 17
Adam Edery, the producer of a social justice drama titled "Grassland."
Adam Edery ’19

Grassland is set in 2008 during the Great Recession. It follows a single Latina mother whose illegal marijuana business is jeopardized when her son befriends new neighbors, a young white boy and his police officer grandfather. According to production research, Latino people were four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people at the time, while Black people were seven times more likely.  

Actors Mía Maestro and Jeff Kober star alongside Isaiah. Maestro’s credits include the 2014–15 TV series The Strain and the 2012 film The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2. Kober’s credits include TV series such as The Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy and China Beach. His movie credits include the 2016 film Sully

The film is set to premiere in 2024, possibly at the Sundance Film Festival, giving the Kalamazoo community a special opportunity to view the production before the rest of world. The private screening is free with advance online registration.  

Human-Rights Fellow, Author Slated for Lectures

Two Kalamazoo College lectures open to the public this week will feature a Nicaraguan human-rights fellow and an author who examines an artistic, literary and scientific discourse around animals that evolved in the 19th century.

First, the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership will host a community reception at Arcus at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday followed by a lecture titled Resilience and Hope at 7 p.m. at Stetson Chapel featuring human-rights fellow Tamara Dávila.

Dávila has first-hand experience in the fight for fair, democratic rights and remaining resilient in the face of government-sanctioned violence and injustice. She will discuss the intersecting issues of wealth inequality in democratic societies, the fight for gender equity and human-rights infringements, while sharing her personal experience as a former political prisoner and activist. The lecture will inform attendees about the turbulent political situation in Nicaragua and its implications for human rights and democracy in the U.S.

Please RSVP in advance to attend the reception, the lecture or both. For information on a live stream option of the lecture, email

Then, at 4:10 p.m. Thursday in the Olmsted Room, the Department of English will welcome Antoine Traisnel, an associate professor of comparative literature and an associate professor of English language and literature at the University of Michigan.

Traisnel will discuss his latest book, Capture: American Pursuits and the Making of a New Animal Condition (2020, University of Minnesota Press). The publication offers a critical genealogy of the dominant representation of animals as elusive, precarious and endangered that began circulating in the 19th century. He argues that colonialism and the biocapitalist management of nonhuman and human populations demonstrate that the desire to capture animals in representation responded to and normalized the systemic disappearance of animals hurt by unprecedented changes in the land, the rise of mass slaughter, and an awareness of species extinction.

For more information on Traisnel’s lecture, call 269.337.7043.

Portrait of human-rights fellow Tamara Dávila
Human-rights fellow Tamara Dávila
Portrait of Antoine Traisnel
University of Michigan Associate Professor Antoine Traisnel

A Social Justice Warrior Fights for Your Health Care

If you’re a Michigander, a Kalamazoo College alumna is fighting for your health care.

A short time after graduating from K, Audrey Gerard ’19 delayed treating what could have been a simple health issue because she had no health insurance. By delaying care, she needed to be hospitalized for eight days. She recovered, but without insurance coverage, her medical bills amounted to more than $100,000.

Thankfully, an emergency Medicare program pared down her costs. Yet her experience prompts her goal today of making sure you can avoid similar issues. Gerard works to expand access to medical care and insurance coverage across the state as the Health Care for All Organizer at Michigan United, a coalition of labor, business, social-service and civil-rights groups that fight for homeowners, renters, immigrant families, students and a variety of underrepresented constituencies.

“Talking about our medical needs is sort of taboo,” Gerard said. “It’s not something you’re going to bring up at work or talk about at the dinner table because it’s not the most pleasant thing. But once people start opening up and sharing their stories, they commonly start thinking that they’ve been directly and negatively impacted by issues surrounding their health care and they want to speak out. We want to support them.”

Gerard’s efforts in this respect were recognized in January when she received the Justice Warrior Award presented by the Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit and Vicinity. The award is given to a community activist or organizer that led a community effort to bring about change on a local, county or statewide level. It was presented to Gerard for taking a risk, being courageous, and often conversing with people who disagreed with her about issues such as reproductive health and the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.

Gerard, Michigan United as a whole, and its volunteers were invited to a roundtable with Michigan Voices, a nonprofit organization that invests in grassroots campaigns to advance equity-seeking community efforts. The roundtable worked with the ACLU to write the legislation for Michigan’s Reproductive Freedom for All initiative, leading people such as Gerard to rally support by collecting signatures all across the state. Gerard helped collect 1,400 signatures in an area of the Upper Peninsula that has about 4,000 residents.

Eventually, the initiative was approved for the midterm election ballot last fall as Proposal 3, and its ultimate success has since amended the state’s constitution, providing individual rights to reproductive freedom, including the right to make and carry out pregnancy-related decisions. 

“We realized this was a health care issue and we should absolutely be fighting on behalf of it,” Gerard said. “I took a big risk being in an incredibly conservative, rural community, far away from where I grew up in Ann Arbor, to be bold and to fight on behalf of these policies. There was an outpouring of support, even from people we wouldn’t have guessed would support it. They attended a rally that I organized, and they said they didn’t want the government determining what they could or couldn’t do with their bodies. We talked to 2,800 people here and knocked on that many doors to convey our point and make sure the Upper Peninsula was included in these critical conversations about reproductive health.”

In her sophomore year in high school, Gerard decided to attend Early College Alliance at Eastern Michigan University where she found herself interested in advocacy work. While attending ECA, she landed a part-time job with the environmental advocacy group Clean Water Action where she found her passion and skill for civic engagement.

As a senior at K, Gerard worked with the Just Food Collective student organization to secure a hoop house on campus. She also began working for another organization as a volunteer on a local campaign seeking to keep an asylum seeker in Kalamazoo in 2019. In 2020, she joined Michigan United for a short-term position before staying on to begin her full-time career as the organization’s statewide healthcare organizer.

Her full-time position was based in Kalamazoo at first, but she recognized a move to the Upper Peninsula was necessary if she and Michigan United wanted to effectively target health care equity across the state. After connecting with and consulting Governor Gretchen Whitmer and then-state Rep. Darrin Camilleri ’14 on a COVID-19 health-care relief package, Gerard advocated for her relocation, and since, she has lived in rural Michigan, supporting health care efforts there and elsewhere across the state.

“We all have a health care story and a reason to fight for health care for all,” Gerard said. “One of the biggest successes, I think, that we’ve had in this past year is getting people from rural Michigan involved in this work, because often people living in rural Michigan are the last to be thought about when it comes to health care policies, but they’re also very directly impacted.”

In 2022, Gerard’s professional efforts started slowly when she invited about 50 people to help form a Michigan Community Health Care Committee.

“No one showed up,” Gerard said. “One person eventually came and they were late. That’s when it dawned on me that I wasn’t getting people in their gut to feel strongly about prioritizing their health over the crazy-high cost of insurance, making meds affordable, and why we need to fight to stop medication rationing and outrageous prescription costs.”

Health Care Organizer Audrey Gerard '19, holding an award, and Michigan United Executive Director Ken Whitaker at a church
Audrey Gerard ’19 and Michigan United Executive Director Ken Whitaker celebrate Gerard receiving the Justice Warrior Award presented by the Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit and Vicinity.
Audrey Gerard and several award honorees
Audrey Gerard ’19 (third from left) celebrates with other honorees when she receives the Justice Warrior Award presented by the Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit and Vicinity.

Health Care and the World Day of Social Justice

Kalamazoo College is featuring Audrey Gerard ’19 on February 20, the World Day of Social Justice, for her work seeking health care equity across Michigan.

The United Nations first celebrated the World Day of Social Justice in 2009, when member states were invited to devote it to the promotion of national activities in accordance with the objectives and goals of the World Summit for Social Development.

As recognized by the World Summit, social development aims at social justice, solidarity, harmony and equality within and among countries and social justice, equality and equity constitute the fundamental values of all societies. To achieve “a society for all” governments made a commitment to the creation of a framework for action to promote social justice at national, regional and international levels. They also pledged to promote the equitable distribution of income and greater access to resources through equity and equality and opportunity for all. 

The solution entailed hitting the road to talk with 405 Michiganders from across the state about their experiences with health care.

“I realized I needed to have direct, one-on-one conversations with people in Michigan about their health care stories, because every single person, no matter who it is, has one,” Gerard said.

As she started, one conversation led to another as each interviewee referred Gerard to her next conversation.

“Slowly, as I did that, I was able to tell people about their skin in the game,” Gerard said. “People started coming to the meetings. We ended up having more than 400 people from around the state join the committee, which was comprised of people from Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Flint, Detroit, and more recently, the Upper Peninsula.”

Such work means Gerard and Michigan United can work directly with lawmakers and legislators through movement politics that accomplish social goals and continue fighting for health care efforts in the state. And as a result, you can expect Gerard and her colleagues to continue fighting for you.

“I give my biggest thanks to Ken Whitaker, the executive director of Michigan United,” Gerard said. “When he started, he was a volunteer just like I was. He went through the hoops of becoming a leader, becoming active in his community, and inspiring people through his vision. Between him and his wife, Shanay Watson-Whitaker, who was the deputy director of the Reproductive Freedom for All campaign, I’ve developed as a professional in more ways than I could express. I’m also grateful for my parents because they were so chill with me, letting their teenage daughter knock on doors in Southeast Michigan on school nights for a year. That’s built up my career and there’s plenty of opportunity in Michigan to do some amazing work.”

K Alumna, Humanitarian Promotes Social Justice Around the World

If you need an antidote to the disappointment you may feel while watching world news, take heart that a Kalamazoo College alumna is doing what she can to stand up for international human rights and social justice as a humanitarian.

Sarah Fuhrman ’07 is working as the director of humanitarian policy at InterAction, an alliance of non-governmental organizations and partners in the United States mobilizing its members to serve the world’s most poor and vulnerable citizens while making the world a more prosperous place.

With InterAction and other non-governmental organizations, Fuhrman recently has traveled to South Sudan, where she embarked on a U.N. peer-to-peer mission to recommend improvements to the humanitarian response. She spent October in a similar capacity, traveling between Washington, D.C; Geneva, Switzerland, and Rome, Italy, to advocate for improvements to the humanitarian system. She is also part of a group that is producing practical measures to help armed actors mitigate conflict-induced food insecurity.

“We’ve been having a lot of conversations in the sector around decolonizing aid, power shifting and privilege,” Fuhrman said. “I ask myself, every day, whether it still makes sense for me as a white woman from the global north to work in this field. The answer so far is still yes, that as a U.S. citizen, it’s important that I push my government—the world’s largest humanitarian donor—to do better. But I’m also open to the possibility that at some point the answer might change and this might no longer be the place where I can make the most difference.”

Her push to make that difference began at K when she recognized that the world and all of us as citizens are more connected than we might think.

“I ended up at K because I wanted to go on study abroad,” Fuhrman said. “I went to India for six months and then wrote my SIP in southern Thailand. Those experiences showed me how small the world is and it fostered my love for the international community.”

After graduating and spending a year in AmeriCorps, Fuhrman attended Western Michigan University’s Cooley Law School in Lansing, where she found a passion for international human rights and humanitarian law. That love led Fuhrman to pursue a Master of Laws, or LLM, at University College London.

“I originally thought I would go on to do a Ph.D. and spend my career in academia,” Fuhrman said. “But I realized while I was in London that none of my professors and none of the other students in my cohort had ever worked for a government. I thought that if I were going to spend my career criticizing U.S. foreign policy, I should work for the U.S. government first and see what it was like on the inside. And I wanted to see whether international law really mattered for people when they needed it.”

With those goals in mind, Fuhrman and her partner—Brennan McBride ’07—packed up and moved to Washington, D.C., sight unseen. Fuhrman was hired into USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, where she worked as a senior information officer for nearly four years, until 2019.

“I was deployed about 50% of the time. For example, I worked on the U.S. government’s Iraq humanitarian response during the campaign to retake the city of Mosul from ISIS and then worked on regional responses in eastern and central Africa,” Fuhrman said. “I worked on the Yemen humanitarian response and responded to an earthquake in Mexico. I got to see what it looks like when the U.S. government uses its power responsibly and what it looks like when it makes mistakes.”

In 2020, Fuhrman moved on to roles as a humanitarian policy specialist and then the senior manager of humanitarian policy and advocacy with CARE, an organization that fights poverty and achieves social justice by empowering women and girls.

“I started at CARE right before the pandemic and was just getting my feet under me,” Fuhrman said. “All of a sudden, COVID was dominating the news. My boss called me right before the World Health Organization declared a pandemic and said, ‘Sarah, I think that COVID is going to be terrible for women and girls living in humanitarian settings. We should say something about it.’”

Within three days, Fuhrman and her boss had written and published the first paper on how COVID-19 would affect women and girls in crisis contexts. That later turned into a full scholarly article published in the BMJ Global Health journal with policy and programming recommendations.

Sarah Fuhrman ’07 visits Roman ruins while performing humanitarian work in northern Jordan
Sarah Fuhrman ’07 visits the Roman ruins in northern Jordan, while working on the Yemen response for the U.S. government in 2019. Fuhrman said she and her colleagues weren’t allowed in Yemen as the U.S. had no embassy there.
Sarah Fuhrman reading on a helicopter during a social justice mission
Fuhrman reads in 2022 on a helicopter between South Sudan’s Bentiu town and the capital city, Juba. She is accompanied by members of a Ghanaian peacekeeping troop.
Sarah Fuhrman looks over the Namibia landscape
Fuhrman looks over the Namibia landscape after performing humanitarian work through a deployment to USAID/OFDA’s regional office in Nairobi in 2018.
Sarah Fuhrman planting a tree with two others while performing humanitarian work in Kenya
Fuhrman and a colleague from USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) join a Kenyan Red Cross representative in planting a tree near a USAID-funded water-treatment plant in 2019.

In the summer of 2021, CARE sent Fuhrman to Afghanistan ahead of the U.S. withdrawal, anticipating that humanitarian needs would escalate, but underestimating the speed with which the Afghan government would collapse. She admitted to enduring some tense moments.

“We knew that the U.S. was pulling out its troops,” she said. “We knew that it was not going to go well. I was there to figure out how to help CARE scale up its humanitarian response, going all around Kabul, meeting with colleagues within CARE and others within the sector. What stands out to me is that no one thought the Taliban takeover was going to happen that fast. We were all talking in terms of months, and then it ended up being a matter of days. It was a hard time, because I had colleagues and friends in Afghanistan who were concerned about what would happen to them and their families. Many of those concerns came true.”

Before leaving CARE, Fuhrman became a part-time adjunct professor at Columbia University in New York. Today, she continues teaching while also working for InterAction. Through her years of service in the humanitarian sector, she recognizes that it’s easy to get discouraged by the frailty of international law, yet she believes there is reason for hope.

“I still wonder whether international law matters because I have seen governments and parties to conflicts violate international law on grand scales,” she said. “What is the point of international law if governments don’t abide by it, and more importantly, if we don’t have good mechanisms to enforce it? It’s technically against international humanitarian law for governments to prohibit humanitarians from accessing people in need and providing them with assistance, yet humanitarian access is one of the biggest challenges that I see in my work.”

However, she said we still can hold U.S. leaders accountable and seek to make change for the better.

We’re at a unique moment where everything the U.S. government does has the potential to have an outsized impact. It could have an outsized impact in a negative way, entrenching inequalities and making things worse for generations to come. Or, we can help change the world’s course and meet needs more effectively, so there are fewer humanitarian needs tomorrow,” Fuhrman said. “It’s up to us how we how we choose to use this moment.”

Film Depicting Indigenous Struggles Has U.S. Premier at K

Movie Poster for Minga Voices of Resistance Film Premier
The documentary film “Minga” Voices of Resistance” had its U.S. premier at K’s
Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership.

A documentary film that had its U.S. premier at Kalamazoo College’s Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership is illuminating the struggles of indigenous people from Patagonia to Mexico.

Tony Nelson, the assistant director of student engagement in the Center for International Programs, hosted the showing last month of Minga: Voices of Resistance, an international production by Pauline Dutron and Damien Charles. Together, the acclaimed co-directors help denounce the destruction of indigenous territories, spotlight cultural heritage and show how indigenous peoples are organizing themselves to inspire solutions.

The film, Nelson said, does an excellent job of raising awareness around two issues: the strategic and patterned violence perpetrated against indigenous peoples throughout the Americas and worldwide, and the resistance of those peoples, while calling for others worldwide to take up the fight against it.

“Sometimes intentionally, and sometimes accidentally, we don’t hear enough from people who have been marginalized historically and economically,” he said. “The more we can give amplification to the voices of folks who are being strategically ignored, censored or silenced, the better, in my opinion. I hope documentaries like this, as well as testimonies from students, can make those voices louder so more people are aware and more people get involved.”

For seven and a half years, Nelson ran a study abroad program in Chiapas, Mexico, where he met the filmmakers.

“They were in San Cristobal for a particular event called the National Indigenous Congress, so I got to meet them when they stayed at my friend’s house,” he said. “They had traveled from Belgium all the way to the southern tip of Chile and South America via sailboat by volunteering to work the sailboat, and then traveled only by bus all the way up to Mexico.”

Nelson said that while he was skeptical at first of the filmmakers’ intentions, he’s impressed with the end product.

“I was nervous about them accessing indigenous communities in a way that might feel exploitive, but I stayed in contact with them,” he said. “They spent a year transcribing all of their interviews, and then a year translating all the different languages into Spanish and English. I saw the film and I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh. They really did this. They did an amazing job.’ They did all these travels, and stayed focused on the voices of the communities in a way that centered voices that don’t get amplified often.”

The film is now available to anyone through a Creative Commons license, which allows it to be shown for free, although it was special to have the premier at K.

“The film is moving and well done,” Nelson said. “Regardless of my involvement or even knowing the filmmakers, I would have been speaking to people about it to raise awareness. They’re activists in Belgium, and they have a long-term goal of trying to inspire more people to resist and stand up for what’s right.”

Co-director Charles, speaking from his home in Belgium, said he wanted to share something important in the world through Minga, a film that took more than six years from concept to completion.

“When I came in contact with these communities, I saw their point of view,” Charles said. “It’s not just the idea, ‘We have this territory we depend on and if someone wants to destroy it, we want to defend it.’ Of course, they want to defend it, but it’s much deeper than that. It also talks about how the Western world imposes its views of ‘development’ on communities that have other projects for their diverse societies. These deeper goals really impacted me and made me question a lot of things about our way of life, about our society and about the way we see the world around us. I wanted to share that experience of being in contact with people who actually have a different vision of their place in the world. I think being in contact with something so different makes you understand yourself better.”

Nelson hopes many will see the film, understand themselves better and be inspired to act alongside voices that are traditionally marginalized or silenced.

“In my opinion, change can only come with serious pushback and pressure,” Nelson said. “That’s why, I think, they’re highlighting the communities they are. I hope people draw motivation from this and see that these incredibly repressed communities have found a way to fight, stand up with dignity and stick up for their rights, even if it means going up against a Goliath like Chevron or Coca-Cola. These companies are picking fights and threatening these people’s livelihoods; threatening their way of life. If they can stand up for themselves, we can definitely fight against the XL Pipeline or communities being redlined. There are many struggles we can join with in fighting the systems that are threatening us, our neighbors, and loved ones.”

Henrietta Lacks Traveling Museum Spotlights Medical Breakthroughs, Bioethics

Henrietta Lacks
A traveling museum coming to Kalamazoo College will spotlight Henrietta Lacks
whose cells have led to multiple medical breakthroughs.

A traveling museum and lecture dedicated to the history and legacy of a Black woman who has been key to multiple medical breakthroughs is coming to Kalamazoo College on Thursday, February 17. 

Jermaine Jackson, Henrietta Lacks’ great-nephew and a Kalamazoo resident, will provide a lecture and question-and-answer session exhibiting the Henrietta Lacks Traveling Museum from 6–8 p.m. at the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership.  

Johns Hopkins Hospital was treating Lacks for cervical cancer in 1951 when her cells were sent to a nearby tissue lab without her consent. At that lab, doctors found her cells to be unlike anyone’s they had ever seen. Instead of dying, her cells—later called HeLa cells—doubled every 20 to 24 hours. 

Although Lacks died of cancer on October 4, 1951, at age 31, her cells continue to benefit the world. HeLa cells are used to study the effects of toxins, drugs, hormones and viruses on the growth of cancer cells without experimenting on humans. They’ve also been used to test the effects of radiation and poisons, to study the human genome and learn more about how viruses work, playing a crucial role in the development of the polio and COVID-19 vaccines. 

Lacks’ story speaks to issues such as global health, scientific research, bioethics, patient rights and equity. The event is free and open to the public. 

Humanities Grant Boosts Experiential Learning Project

Portrait of Humanities Project Leader Shanna Salinas
Associate Professor of English Shanna Salinas

A major grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will provide new learning opportunities for Kalamazoo College students and faculty seeking solutions to societal problems and promote the critical role of the humanities in social justice work.

The $1.297 million three-year grant will provide funding for the College’s Humanities Integrated Locational Learning (HILL) project, which is building student coursework rooted in K’s commitment to experiential learning and social justice to address issues such as racism, border policing, economic inequities, homelessness and global warming, while examining history, how humans share land, and the dislocations that bring people to a communal space.

The project was envisioned by Associate Professor of English Shanna Salinas (Co-PI), Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership Assistant Professor of Sociology Francisco Villegas (Co-PI) and Professor of English Bruce Mills. HILL will invite K faculty to build curricula that foreground how power structures produce destabilizing dynamics and the collective response(s) of affected communities through the development of course materials, collaborative faculty-student research and community engagement, the development of program assessments and the sharing of oral histories tied to partnering projects and organizations.

Portrait of Humanities Project Leader Francisco Villegas
Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership Assistant Professor of
Sociology Francisco Villegas

Each class within the curriculum will fit into one of two cluster programs: the first focuses on hubs outside of Kalamazoo such as New Orleans, St. Louis and San Diego; the second looks within Kalamazoo with themes relevant to the city such as prison reform and abolition, and migrants and refugees. Both cluster programs will contribute to a digital humanities initiative for publishing, archiving and assessing coursework and partnerships. Each will provide opportunities for immersing students in local heritage, cultures, landscapes, opportunities and experiences.

Salinas and Villegas will co-direct the HILL initiative. The three sites outside Kalamazoo—New Orleans, St. Louis and San Diego—were chosen for their current or historical dispersion of people from their homeland, as well as dislocated communities with strong histories of social justice movements. About 15 to 20 students at a time will go to those cities to further their experiential learning. Salinas added that faculty and students will first put in research and legwork related to their collaborative partnerships with a year of concentrated work. Then, by about December 2022, they will be ready to conduct in-person learning, first in New Orleans.

Portrait of Bruce Mills
Professor of English Bruce Mills

In addition to co-directing the project, Salinas will also serve as the curriculum coordinator for New Orleans. “We hope that students will develop an understanding of place as a living entity with a storied history and people who are a part of that location,” Salinas said. “We want students to learn what it means to be a part of a particular place. We want them to contend with histories, and meet the residents and people who inhabit the spaces we study with a real sense of generosity and purpose. We want to change students’ understanding about how they approach space and operate within it.”

Villegas plans to build on his strong connections within Kalamazoo County in leading the cluster focused on issues inside Kalamazoo. As a member of an exploratory taskforce (and now advisory board chair), he helped Kalamazoo County launch a community ID program in 2018, allowing residents, including those otherwise unable to get a state ID, to obtain a county ID.

“I think the grant speaks to the Mellon Foundation seeing promise in the kind of work we are imagining,” Villegas said. “It’s encouraging that they are willing to invest so greatly in such a project. They’re also recognizing the ethics of the project. They’re trusting that we’re going to engage with cities, including our home city, with a sense of respect and with a recognition of furthering community agendas already in place rather than imposing our understandings to other spaces. Most importantly, we’re invested in thinking about how students can consider the humanities in these projects as a way of producing nuanced understandings toward addressing very big problems.”

Mills will lead the digital humanities portion of the initiative. He noted that one measure of success for participating faculty will be how HILL shows the enduring dimensions of its partnerships with the digital project playing a large role.

“When you create classes, writing projects, oral histories or collaborate on community projects, these efforts often get lost when they just go into a file or a paper or are not passed along in local memory,” Mills said. “The digital humanities hub is an essential part of this initiative because faculty, students and city partners will have a site for a collective work to be published or presented. Community members will have access to it. That means the work being done will not disappear.”

Beau Bothwell tenure
Associate Professor of Music
Beau Bothwell
Portrait of Esplencia Baptiste
Associate Professor of
Anthropology and Sociology
Espelencia Baptiste
Portrait of Christine Hahn
Professor of Art and Art History
Christine Hahn

In addition to Salinas, Villegas and Mills, Associate Professor of Music Beau Bothwell and Professor of Art and Art History Christine Hahn will be curriculum coordinators for St. Louis and San Diego respectively. The first four courses that will be offered in the HILL project are Advanced Literary Studies (Salinas, English); Missionaries to Pilgrims: Diasporic Returns (Associate Professor Espelencia Baptiste, Anthropology and Sociology); The World Through New Orleans (Bothwell, Music); and Architecture Urbanism Identity (Hahn, Art and Art History).

The Mellon Foundation’s grant to K is one of 12 being issued to liberal arts colleges as a part of the organization’s Humanities for All Times initiative, which was created to support curriculum that demonstrates real-world applications to social justice pursuits and objectives.

“Kalamazoo College’s commitment to social justice is most profoundly realized through students’ opportunities to connect the theoretical with hands-on work happening in our communities,” Kalamazoo College President Jorge G. Gonzalez said. “We’re grateful for the Mellon Foundation’s generous support, which will enable us to build on our foundation of experiential education and demonstrate to our students how the humanities have a practical role in fostering positive social change.”

The Mellon Foundation notes that humanities thought and scholarship efforts influence developments in the social world. However, there’s been a sharp decline in undergraduate humanities study and degree recipients nationwide over the past decade despite students’ marked interest in social justice issues. The initiative targets higher student participation in the humanities and social justice while building their skills in diagnosing cultural conditions that impede a just and equitable society.

“The Humanities for All Times initiative underscores that it’s not only critical to show students that the humanities improve the quality of their everyday lives, but also that they are a crucial tool in efforts to bring about meaningful progressive change in the world,” said Phillip Brian Harper, the Mellon Foundation’s higher learning program director. “We are thrilled to support this work at liberal arts colleges across the country. Given their unequivocal commitment to humanities-based knowledge, and their close ties to the local communities in which such knowledge can be put to immediate productive use, we know that these schools are perfectly positioned to take on this important work.”

School Psychologists Group Honors K Alumna

School Psychologists Group Honors Zoe Barnes
Zoe Barnes ’18 is being honored by
the National Association for School Psychologists.

A Kalamazoo College alumna, inspired by her experiences in diversity at K, has earned a special honor from the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP).

Zoe Barnes ’18, now a graduate student at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville (SIUE), has received the 2021 Student Leader Champion Award for her efforts in advancing social justice throughout her university, in the community and through her chosen profession.

“I’m very excited because it’s a wonderful honor,” Barnes said. “Social justice is a buzzword to some, but it’s a constant, ongoing process of challenging what we know and checking our own biases. In school psychology, social justice is important because if you look at a school and see who the teachers and staff are, you will often see groups dominated by white staff members. They don’t reflect the increasing diversity of students, especially in public schools. Social justice can help us challenge the status quo.”

Several students at SIUE, including Barnes, expressed their interest in social justice to faculty last summer. The professors sensed an opportunity to connect them all, leading to the formation of the Graduate Students for Social Justice, a group that talked about injustices on campus and developed ideas for addressing social justice within their respective programs.

Barnes is a member of that group and also recently served as the social justice chair of the Graduate Organization for Child and Adolescent Psychology Students (GOCAPS) at SIUE. Her service led a faculty member to nominate Barnes for the NASP honors.

Barnes said the K community helped her develop an interest in diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice after she arrived from a predominantly white community in Grand Rapids, Michigan. At that point, Barnes started seeing more peers who looked like her. Students of color provided an energizing space where she could discuss the discrimination and microaggressions she experienced on campus with others who could relate.

“Being at K, and just being surrounded by people who look like me and had similar experiences really helped me,” Barnes said. “Talking helped put a name to the discomfort.”

Barnes double majored in Spanish and psychology and minored in anthropology-sociology at K. After a gap year, Barnes looked for help in determining her career path. At that point, she talked with Suzie Gonzalez ’83, spouse of K President Jorge G. Gonzalez.

“I went down this route to school psychology because of Suzie Gonzalez,” Barnes said. “I was thinking about what I wanted to do with my life when I met up with her. She was a school psychologist and she definitely inspired me.”

Barnes earned her master’s degree through SIUE in December and now is seeking a clinical child and school psychology specialist degree with an expected graduation date of May 2022. She will be honored at NASP’s 2022 annual convention in February.

“I would love to make an impact however I can as a school psychologist,” Barnes said. “When I picture my career, I want to be firmly planted in a school district. I want to walk down the halls and recognize all the students and know their educational history. Early intervention is a huge part of school psychology and I would love to support them from the very beginning.”

Social Justice, International Sports Expert to Visit K

A world-renowned expert on social justice and its role in international sports will visit Stetson Chapel at Kalamazoo College on Monday, Nov. 4.

Social Justice and International Sports Expert Richard Lapchick
Social justice and international sports expert Richard Lapchick will visit Kalamazoo College on Monday, Nov. 4.

Richard Lapchick, the endowed chair and director of the DeVos Sports Business Management Program at the University of Central Florida and the president of the Institute for Sport and Social Justice (ISSJ), will conduct a conversation about sports, justice and activism with Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership Director Lisa Brock. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. before the event, “Just Sport: A Conversation on Sports, Justice and Activism with Dr. Richard Lapchick,” begins at 7:30 p.m.

Lapchick founded the Center for the Study of Sport in Society in 1984 at Northeastern University. He served as its director for 17 years and is now its director emeritus. The center has attracted national attention to its efforts ensuring the education of athletes from junior high school through the professional ranks. The center’s Project TEAMWORK was called “America’s most successful violence prevention program” by public opinion analyst Lou Harris. The project won the Peter F. Drucker Foundation Award as the nation’s most innovative nonprofit program and was named by the Clinton Administration as a model for violence prevention.

Lapchick also helped form the National Consortium for Academics and Sport, which is now the ISSJ, in 1985. Nationally, ISSJ athletes have worked with nearly 19.9 million young people in the school-outreach and community-service program, which focused on teaching youths how to improve race relations, develop conflict-resolution skills, prevent gender violence and avoid drug and alcohol abuse.  They collectively donated more than 22 million hours of service while member colleges donated more than $300 million in tuition assistance.

Lapchick has authored 17 books, received 10 honorary doctorates, and is a regular columnist for and The Sports Business Journal. He has written more than 600 articles, has given more than 2,900 public speeches, and has appeared several times on Good Morning America, Face the Nation, The Today Show, ABC World News, NBC Nightly News, The CBS Evening News, CNN and ESPN. From the sports boycott against apartheid to exposing the connection between sports and human trafficking, he has spoken before Congress, and at the United Nations, the European Parliament and the Vatican.

For more information on the event, please call 269.337.7398 or visit the Arcus Center on Facebook.