Education advocates host first annual Kalamazoo schools year end celebration

Food, entertainment and an opportunity for “kids to be kids”

About 100 students and their parents were greeted by community leaders, volunteers and members of Social Economic & Educational (SEE) Change and Justyce Against Bullying in Schools (JABS) at the Kalamazoo Metropolitan Branch NAACP for their 1st Annual Expect Respect And Safe Education (ERASE) End of School Year Celebration. Participants took part in activities such as face painting, table crafts, hula hooping and  a water balloon challenge.

“As we continue to pursue equity and justice for our youth to ensure they are successful and Promise ready,” said Dr. Strick Strickland, Kalamazoo NAACP’s interim President, “we must strive as a community to celebrate the accomplishments of all of our youth completing a year of school. NAACP is proud to support SEE Change and stands in JABS corner as Sponsor of JABS Awareness Month”

“Every year, students in Kalamazoo Public Schools are denied their right to education because of ineffective and harmful school discipline policies.” said Elisheva T Johnson of Michigan United. “When they fail to recognize and address the trauma caused by unjust, biased, and broken social systems, our kids are effectively ‘pushed out’ of public education. That needs to end.”

Community member and environmentalist, Chris Wahmhoff also answered questions as many of the curious youth enjoyed time playing with baby ducks. “For Michigan, for us, I think Environmental Justice is one of the most important struggles we face” Wahmhoff said.

Criminal Justice Advocates hold Prosecutor Kym Worthy Accountable (UPDATED w/video)

Lack of restorative justice and excessive prosecutions tearing community apart

A coalition of criminal justice reform organizations says that Wayne County Prosecutor, Kym Worthy’s tough on crime posture has been tough on the community. Rather than seek justice, they say Worthy has been going after the low hanging fruit to pad her conviction numbers. Victims of false and excessive prosecutions stood with organizers with Michigan United and Just Leadership USA to hold Worthy accountable for her practices and call for reform in her office.

30 years ago, when Bishop Herman Starks was 17, he wasn’t in school because he was recovering from a gunshot wound he suffered in the rough neighborhood where he grew up. When an acquaintance of his decided to rob and possibly kill someone, Starks intervened. Even though the victim testified that Starks saved his life, the prosecutor’s office at the time chose to charge him with the crime anyway, hoping to compel him to turn in the perpetrator. Instead of disclosing the robber’s name and risk getting shot again, Starks took his chances with a justice system that he didn’t understand and a public defender who was no help.

Now, Starks says Worthy is continuing this practice of intimidation and he wants her to change before another young life has to spend the next 15 years needlessly behind bars. “Let’s have a conversation about what needs to be done. You need to do better. You need to act like you have some compassion in your heart. You need to act like you love where you came from.” Starks said. “We on the beat to make sure that our young brothers stop being incarcerated, stop being punished for things they didn’t do. That school to prison pipeline needs to end and needs to end now!”

One such young man who narrowly avoided the pipeline was Marcus Allen Weldon, also known as the “Santa Claus Shooter”. A heating/cooling repair man moonlighting as Santa Claus at a company party in 2014, Weldon was defending a stranded woman from two hostile men when one of them appeared to draw a gun. Weldon was carrying a lawfully registered weapon and shot one of the two assailants in self-defense. Police, he said, did a sloppy job of investigating and Worthy seemed more interested in getting a conviction than getting to the truth. Weldon was found not guilty after more than a year of house arrest and $50,000 of legal expenses, including unencrypting the video tape that exonerated him. But his fate was not so certain when he entered the courtroom. “Stories like DaVonte Sanford, (he) was released right during the time I was walking into trial. I thought to myself, that could have easily been me.” Weldon said. “I have an 8 year old daughter and facing 30 years, you figure I would have missed her entire life.”

The group blames overreaching prosecutorial practices like these for creating hardships , job losses, and destabilizing communities and families. Instead, they want Worthy to be dedicated to creating safe communities that use methods other than mass incarceration. They point to the growing use of restorative justice practices which seek to confront the root causes of crime without dooming a young people to a life of joblessness.

Hold Prosecutor Kym Worthy Accountable from Michigan United on Vimeo.

Members of WOMEN group protest outside of congressman’s office ahead of CHOICE Act vote

Protesters swarmed a local congressman’s office Thursday carrying a big green check along with petitions.

After the James Comey hearing, the other big story out of Washington is the passing of the CHOICE Act.

With the help of a yes vote by Midland Congressman John Moolenaar, the legislation passed late Thursday afternoon in the House.

But not before some of Moolenaar’s constituents protested outside his Midland office.

The protesters are upset with the CHOICE Act, that would roll back regulations created after the 2007 financial crisis.

The House of Representatives voted yes, largely along party lines, with Republicans driving the legislation.

Members of the Women of Michigan Action Network, delivered petitions by voters who are against the CHOICE Act to Congressman Moolenaar’s office Thursday.

They claim he’s for it because he’s been given $200,000 from big banks and other Wall Street companies it would benefit.

Moolenaar didn’t respond to requests for a comment.

But a Northwood University professor, himself a former home lender, feels the home act will benefit consumers.

But opponents feel the CHOICE Act will strip the authority of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

It would also make things easier for payday loan companies.

According to several news outlets, the bill will face a much tougher challenge in the Senate, where it would need Democratic support to pass.

Congressman Moolenaar released this statement on the passing of the Financial CHOICE Act:

The Financial Choice Act benefits everyday Americans by reining in Washington bureaucrats and freeing up money to invest in hometown projects. Wall Street banks that benefited during the Obama Administration oppose today’s bill because they enjoy advantages the status quo provides them over Michigan community banks and credit unions.”

Capitol Day 2017 features grassroots protests around Lansing

Activists demand support for teachers,
clean air for residents of 48217

Senate Majority Leader, Arlan Mekhoff found his office filled with protesters opposed to his plan to take away teachers’ pensions in Michigan. Representatives of Michigan United say the move would not only deter good teachers from coming to the state but students would also suffer a shortage of professionals able to deal with childhood behavior issues and an increase in criminalization of it.

Bazsa Miller credits quality teachers for pushing him to succeed. “I came to a point in my life where I had to choose between success and failure “ said Miller. “My teachers were there to make sure I made the right choice at a time when I couldn’t see the path myself.”

“Teachers have an important influence over children of single family homes.” says Arthur Howard who graduated from 9th grade to juvenile detention to adult prison by the age of 16. They are not just educators,” said Howard. “They are character makers.”

When they left the Capitol building, the crowd of hundreds moved on to the nearby offices of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) where they held a rally outside accusing the watchdog of giving Marathon Petroleum permission to spew toxic pollution into their neighborhood near the refinery in Southwest Detroit.

Wendy Kyles grew up in the 48217 neighborhood, the most polluted in the state. She watched her mother suffer from a cirrhotic liver even though she never drank alcohol and ultimately die of lung cancer even though she never smoked cigarettes. “Countless MDEQ rubber stamp hearings merely let us know what atrocities are on the way.” Kyles was hopeful in 2010 when Marathon announced they would offer relief to their “neighbors”. But sadly her optimism was misplaced. “Imagine my OUTRAGE to learn that they were only buying out the handful of white people who comprised 48217. Our black subdivision, squarely situated in front of and downwind of their facility, was curiously and conveniently left out of that process. We weren’t considered their neighbors;”

Michigan United announces launch of Universal Family Care campaign at Capitol Day

Rep. Jon Hoadley presents Long Term Care Study bill to lay groundwork to support families

With new chapters springing up around the state, Michigan United and the Michigan People’s Campaign welcomed record numbers at their annual Capitol Day Event Tuesday in Lansing. The grassroots organizations scheduled dozens of meetings with state representatives and senators to discuss immigration, the environment and family care.

At a rally held at Central United Methodist Church, they announced plans to work with Caring Across Generations and other coalition partners, holding listening sessions over the summer to build out policy details this fall that will ensure the care of all Michigan family members and to help those who care for them. Benchmarks include:

  • Universal childcare up to age 4
  • Long term in home care for seniors
  • Protections for home care workers
  • A stipend for stay at home family caregivers
  • Paid family leave for workers who need time off to care for loved ones.

Many families are in the “sandwich generation:” providing care for young children at the same time they’re providing care for their parents. Sandwich generation families deal with two unaffordable systems, where the people who require care have significant and rapidly changing needs.

Michelle George, an advanced practice registered nurse is one such person. She has a 97 year old aunt with two broken hips. Although she has good health insurance, she won’t be eligible for a new wheelchair to help her get to much needed appointments. “Many families are stretched thin, have to cut back on work, or quit a job to care for aging family members.” said George. “We need better solutions, and the time is now for us to research and fight for them.

Rep. Jon Hoadley also announced that he would introduce his Long Term Care Study bill later that afternoon as the first step in this campaign.

May Day Rallies Held in 7 Michigan Cities, 200 Across Nation

Solidarity with immigrants, refugees and workers of all backgrounds

Justice advocates across the state made a great show of strength and solidarity for May Day 2017. Activists, immigrant and refugee families, labor movement leaders, faith leaders and people of widely diverse backgrounds turned out in the hundreds in seven cities throughout Michigan. Detroit, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Kalamazoo, Rochester Hills, Pontiac and Battle Creek were all sites of events that ranged from marchers to meals to uphold the American ideals of family unity, sanctuary for those seeking safety and support for workers. While these values are commonsense, they have been under attack by the Trump administration that’s inspired a big jump in hate crimes. Michigan families are pushing back.

Detroit’s #RiseUP May Day took place in Clark Park and the labor movement showed up in solidarity with immigrant families and workers.  

“SEIU members across the country are standing up for our families and our communities. I’m proud my union fights for healthcare, fair wages, and immigrant communities,” said Henrietta Ivey, home care worker and SEIU member.  “We are holding elected officials accountable — we won’t let the current administration take away the rights we’ve fought so hard for. We will continue to build a society that works for all working families.”

SAM_0703“It’s only when we stand together, native born with immigrant and refugee, people of every gender expression, color and faith that we can beat back bigotry,” said Adonis Flores of Michigan United. “As a gay Latino that has benefited from reforms of the Obama administration, I have gained strength from the constant show of resistance to the Trump administration’s racism.”

Grand Rapid’s Micah organized “A Day Without an Immigrant” that display the power of immigrant families by their stepping away from normal activities for the day.

Gema Lowe of the Micah Center stressed the supportive nature of the Grand Rapids area. “We’ve continually fought for the dignity and respect of every member of our community for years, and the policies that we’ve seen come down from this administration have only energized us. This movement will not stop demonstrating for the rights of the undocumented, the rights of our workers or the rights of any of our neighbors. Today demonstrates our resolve.”

MI Latinx Info Cluster organized Lansing’s May Day event in conjunction with the Movement for Black Lives and ACLU Lansing. It took place on the steps of the State Capitol Building fresh on the heels of Lansing taking the step to stand with immigrant families and declare itself a sanctuary city.

Ed Montemayor, the event’s organizer and Cofounder of MI Latinx Info Cluster, noted that the turnout for Lansing was heartening. “For over 100 days, the capital city has been dealing with the effects of Trump’s blundering, xenophobic policies. Seeing this many participants here on the heels of Lansing openly declaring itself a Sanctuary City gives us hope. We the people are indeed indivisible. Our coordinated actions of resistance will protect families at risk of the administration’s dangerous actions.”

Sergio Martinez, a Michigan United board member and speaker at the event, agreed. “We’re going to continue fighting the awful measures that have been such a burden to our communities, whether in the courts, in local government or in the streets. It’s the least we can do for our immigrant and Muslim neighbors.”

IMG_1178Kalamazoo’s “Day Without an Immigrant” activity held in Bronson Park focused on the needs of children and their families.

Christine Lewis of Michigan United specifically noted the event’s focus on Kalamazoo-area schools. “The ugly policies that we’ve seen from our federal government in the last 100 days specifically affect the children of this city, too. Today Kalamazoo demonstrated that we will stand up in defense of the most vulnerable of this city: children, the undocumented and the workers who make our neighborhoods run. This community is undivided, and we will not stand for this erosion of our rights and dignities.”

At least 250 events took place in more than 200 cities. Together, they called for an end to the Trump Administration’s ramped up deportations, an end to the Muslim ban, and no money for the border wall. Instead, organizers expressed support for an inclusive democracy.

New Christian, Muslim Coalition Launches with March

Coalition to focus on American traditions of diversity and religious freedom
Faith leaders and congregants from local Christian and Muslim communities took to the streets Sunday in a display of unity to uplift basic human dignity and counter recent attacks on refugees, Muslims and immigrants. “Neighbors Building Bridges” launched its campaign for interfaith and intercultural understanding with a march that began in Southwest Detroit at St. Gabriel’s Church, included the American Muslim Society in East Dearborn and ended at UAW Local 600.

Mario Hernandez hero“The Muslims of East Dearborn and the Christians of Southwest Detroit are neighbors who face many of the same challenges since the presidential election,” said Mario Hernandez, an immigrant parent fighting to stop his deportation. “But, working together with like-minded allies, we can strengthen our communities and work to overcome the racism and xenophobia that are ever present. We are people of faith who want to keep immigrant families like mine together and we see our adherence to faith as a way to combat bigotry and prejudice.”

The group, made of many people from different faiths and backgrounds, sees itself as being rooted in the great American traditions of diversity and religious freedom.

“When we look at the diversity of the people who make up our communities, we should be reminded that this nation was founded by immigrants many of whom were seeking the right to worship without persecution,” said Khalid Turaani, President of the American Muslim Leadership Council. “We are following the examples set in our respective faith traditions of welcoming the stranger and providing a place of refuge for those in need. It just so happens those are core American values as well. We want to be clear that refugees, immigrants and people of all faiths are welcome here.”
Photo courtesy Chloe Michaels

Faith-Based Communities Grant Sanctuary to Endangered Immigrant Families

Announce major unity march between Latino Christian and Arab-American, Muslim communities
Jewish, Christian and Muslim faith leaders stepped forward at a press conference today to say they will be on the frontlines of protection for immigrant families threatened with deportation. The event at Central United Methodist Church featured faith leaders of six Metro area congregations taking action against the increased raids and targeting of immigrant families by the Trump administration.
“We believe that breaking families apart is wrong. Donald Trump’s indiscriminate raids and deportations are a moral outrage, and we cannot be silent,” said Rev. Jill Zundell, pastor of Central United Methodist Church in Detroit. “We will give comfort to the afflicted and shelter to those who suffer. No one will live in fear while under the protection of our church.”
Some faith leaders cited not only the increased raids but the overall rise in hate crimes and Trump’s second attempt at a Muslim Ban as creating a xenophobic atmosphere that has to be fought.
17310200_1431008380263031_2431266359802486085_o“These dreadful policies are against the spirit of America’s most sacred beliefs and cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged,” said Imam Almasmari of the Michigan Muslim Community Council. “Moreover, the attacks on immigrants and refugees, Muslims, and recent violence against the Jewish community all branch from the same hateful root. We support sanctuary both to help families, but also to stand up for the America we believe in: a strong, vibrant, multi-cultural democracy where everyone has the opportunity to flourish.”
Organizers also announced a major unity march between the Latino Christian community of Southwest Detroit and the Arab-American and Muslim community of Dearborn. The march will convene at St. Gabriel’s Church on Vernor Highway on April 2nd at 3:30 PM.


‘Sanctuary churches’ pledge to house scared immigrants

Michigan United partnering with churches in several cities to create safe havens

MARCH 14, 2017

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — A Michigan organization is working to protect immigrants who fear deportation by housing them in churches.

Michigan United has partnered with a dozen or so Calhoun and Kalamazoo County churches — some in secret — that have agreed to act as safe havens for people concerned they may be at risk of deportation.

“We’re here today to say with a united voice that we stand with the immigrant and refugee families here in Kalamazoo,” Pastor Nathan Dannison said Tuesday at a press conference at First Congregational Church in downtown Kalamazoo.

Organizers of the so-called “resistance” effort handed out a 2011 memo in which U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it would not perform planned operations or arrests at churches or other sensitive sites barring extraordinary circumstances.

Leaders told stories of undocumented immigrants who are afraid to go outside, afraid their families will be torn apart because of President Donald Trump’s stricter stance on immigration.

“They won’t even go to Wal-Mart. They’re just terrified to go to the store,” Milwood United Methodist Church Pastor Kim Clark said.

But is the fear of ICE coming to people’s homes justified?

“I have heard that it has happened in Michigan. I have not particularly heard that it has happened in Kalamazoo,” Michigan United volunteer Nelly Fuentes said. “ICE is in Kalamazoo regularly picking up people with warrants. I have not heard anything about massive raids.”

And while Pastor Clark said he had heard anecdotes of ICE arrests, he said he didn’t know any families that had experienced one.

Regardless, Fuentes said the Trump administration has increased “hatred against people who are brown.”

“We just keep getting pounded and pounded with this administration,” she added.

She said immigrants come to the U.S. fleeing terrible conditions.

“People are leaving their homes because they absolutely have to. They must otherwise they will perish,” she said. “I am grateful that this (the sanctuary church effort) is here but it should not be needed.”

Michigan United is a statewide group that advocates for immigration reform, among other things. It says it will help anyone from the West Michigan area and hopes to get some grand Rapids-area churches on board. It is also organizing similar efforts in other cities, including Detroit.

Those looking to benefit from the sanctuary churches can contact Michigan United online.

Parents push Kalamazoo school board to take new approach to bullying, discipline

Groups call for end of segregation and medication

Social Economic and Educational Change (SEE Change), a parent advocate group affiliated with Michigan United and Justice Against Bullying at School (JABS) attended Thursday’s Kalamazoo public school board meeting to express concerns about students bullying their children and staff using excessive force to physically restrain them, resulting in cuts, bruises, muscle strains and in one case, a concussion.  

Parents were also concern about the use of alternative schools to segregate minority students and the excessive medication of students with disabilities. Earl Moore described how he saw his son’s behavior change after being bullied. Rather than dealing with the bullying, the school responded to the behavior change with physical restraint. Ultimately, his son was suspended from school for more 30 days.  “The school refused to allow my son to come back to school unless he took medication” Moore said. Kalamazoo keeps records of its students in a School Wide Information System (SWIS) Moore said the SWIS report on his son describes his behavior in criminal terms, a characterization that will follow him wherever he goes.

Gwendolyn Hooker told the school board how her granddaughter, Justyce suffered  multiple brutal attacks. She said the district showed a lack of concern in addressing the issue of bullying and how it affected students like Justyce.

Tammie Woods  spoke of her son’s battles with depression and anxiety after multiple restraints resulted in a concussion, cuts, and his arm being twisted. Woods described the Specific Learning Disabilities reading program (SLD Read) at Western Michigan University where she sought help for her son. Woods feels Kalamazoo school should provide since her child does not qualify for SLD Read services.

George White, lead advocate with SEE Change said bullying and the effects of bullying can lead to depression, withdrawal, low self esteem, poor grades, poor peer relationships, increases the dropout ratio and in rare cases can lead to death. White also commented on the need for the Restorative Justice models gaining traction all around the country in addressing student bullying. White also recommended Trauma Informed Care practices in classrooms to improve student, parent, teacher relationships.  

White said SEE Change will return to each school board meeting with more parents until they get the results that the parents seek. SEE Change plans further conversations in the community about policy reform needed to reduce bullying, expulsions, suspensions, restraint and medication dependence. The goal is to return all children to mainstream classrooms.

School board member, Lauren Freedman expressed an interest in working with SEE Change to resolve some of the issues. Dr. Rice also indicated a willingness to meet with the group.