Community Engagement

2016-2017 Series--Coming Together or Pulling Apart? Race, class and the common Good

Don Cooney and Tim Ready to Discuss Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo, Trinity Lutheran Church, July 12, 2017, Noon to 1:30, Trinity Lutheran Church, 504 S. Westnedge, Kalamazoo

Past Event -- The Death Gap: How Inequality Kills, with Dr. David Ansell, June 6 at 7 p.m.,  WMU Homer Stryker, M.D. School of Medicine Auditorium. Dr. Ansell is the Senior Vice President and Associate Provost for Community Health Equity, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago. He will draw on 40 years of experience as a physician serving Chicago’s south side as he discusses his new book, “The Death Gap: How Inequality Kills.” He will focus on the human consequences of structural violence caused by racial and class inequities and what we must do to make it right. This event is free and open to the public. Convenient parking is available in the lot located near the intersection of Portage and Lovell streets. This event is co-sponsored by Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo, the WMU Homer Stryker, M.D. School of Medicine, Organize West Michigan, ISAAC and YWCA Kalamazoo.

Past Event -- Gilda Jacobs, President of the Michigan League for Public Policy joined us for an informational session on what it takes to get equal opportunity and more broadly, shared prosperity in Kalamazoo and other Michigan cities. She shared the following:

Why Equity Matters

  • There is a common misconception that educational policies leading to greater racial equity are the same as those that increase equality.
  • To create equity, additional resources needed to overcome consistent, institutional barriers that children of color have faced in Michigan’s educational pipeline.
  • To achieve equity, state funding must recognize the higher costs associated with education children in high-poverty schools.
  • Total students in 2015-2016 school year: out of 1,540,005 students in Michigan, 46% were economically disadvantaged
  • Students of color much more likely to be economically disadvantaged
  • The teachers in Michigan public schools are less diverse than the student body. While only 67% of the student body is white, 91% of the teachers were white

The Barriers to Equity in Education

  • Lack of economic and educational opportunities for parents
  • Budget and public policies that don’t adequately address the costs associated with educating children in high-poverty schoolsInequitable discipline practices

The Consequences of Cumulative Educational Inequalities

  • Differences in achievement are evident by fourth grade
  • Fewer children of color are completing high school on time, cutting short their chances of a higher education or job leading to economic opportunities
  • Few youths of color are college-ready
  • Having faced inequities from the earliest years, few young adults of color in Michigan have access to the higher education needed to succeed.
  • Lower levels of employment and earnings

Policies Needed to Promote Equity in Education in Michigan

  • Michigan policymakers can make Michigan a leader through strategic investments that create educational equity
  • Create a two-generation educational agenda that addresses literacy levels and educational achievement for parents and children
  • Fully fund the stats At-Risk School Aid program and provide other funds needed to improve high-poverty schools
  • Invest in the earliest years if life
  • Adopt and enforce school disciplinary policies that reduce inequities in suspensions and expulsions, including policies for preschool-age children and restorative justice practices

Past Event -- Dennis Schrantz, Director of the Center for Justice Innovation of the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency provided an open forum titled, “Ending Mass Incarceration: A call to Justice and Action,” He highlight the following points:

National & State Perspectives

  • Of the seven million people currently under correctional control in the U.S., a disproportionate number comes from small subset neighborhoods in the major cities of each state
  • Black, Latino, and other poor citizens are the residents of these neighborhoods that are most likely to suffer from high rates of unemployment and poverty; homelessness; and sub-standard schools, healthcare, and other basic services
  • Also, these are the neighborhoods that the majority of people return to after being released from prison- nearly 4 million people are supervised by an army of parole officers
  • Consequences: a five-fold increase in size of penal system at social and financial cost to the country, producing a level of mass incarceration on a scale never experienced
  • This excessively punitive and racially charged system exacerbates injustice, breeds resentment, and undermines the legitimacy of the justice system itself
  • General agreement that the expansion of correctional control occurred not by accident, but resulted from deliberate policy choices that impose punitive sentences that increase both the number of people entering the system and how long they remain under correctional control


Michigan is leading the way

  • 1990: prison rate was 32%
  • Michigan launched the “Michigan Community Corrections Act” under the Office of Community Corrections
  • Reduced prison admission rate by 10%
  •  Lessons learned through the Community Corrections Act were adapted for the prisoner reentry initiative
  • National prison admission rate has increased, but Michigan has remained stable in the low to mid 20% range for 20 years
  • Community Corrections Act has saved billions of taxpayer dollars
  • 2013 data from Michigan Department of Corrections, under the Michigan Prisoner Reentry Initiative, the recidivism rate improved for studied cohorts of offenders by 38%
  • As a result of the improved outcomes of parolees, Michigan’s prison population declined over 12% in three years- continued to decline 17% in five years, resulting in the closure of 21 prisons
  • The steepest reduction in the shortest period of time any state in the history of the nation, saving an estimated $1 billion


The Michigan Collaborative to End Mass Incarceration (MI-CEMI)

A broad-based, statewide, non-partisan collaboration representing non-profit, faith-based, advocacy, grassroots, and service organizations united to end mass incarceration in Michigan. Believe that incarceration must be regarded as a measure of last resort for all criminal justice involved persons.

  • Objectives: achieve a major reduction in number of persons entering jail/prison, reducing length of stay when persons are imprisoned, ensuring conditions of confinement that are conducive to genuine rehabilitation and training, and increasing number of persons who are safely released from jail/prison facilities and preparation/support when entering communities again
  • Governance Structure:
    • its “self-governed” by members through a consensus decision-making process;
    •  decisions made during business meetings
    • work groups are tasked with completing projects that are brought before collaborative for review/revision/approval 


Race, Class and the Criminal Justice System

In the spring of 2015, the Walker Institute sponsored five community forums on race, class and the criminal justice system. Institute faculty, along with our partners in the university and community presented local and national research related to race, class and the criminal justice system, and best practices being implemented around the country to eliminate inequities in the system.

The five forums in 2015:

  • Police Violence, Racism and Social Justice Teach-In, January 22, 2015, at the Walker Institute.
  • James Forman, Jr., From Fear and Vengeance to Mercy and Forgiveness, March 30, 2015, at the Fetzer Center.
  • The Juvenile Justice System, Disrupting the Pipeline to Prison, April 14, 2015, Kalamazoo County Juvenile Home (hotlink to my powerpoint, “Race, Poverty and Risk of Involvement in Kalamazoo’s Juvenile Justice System.”
  • Challenges Facing Ex-Offenders Returning to the Community, April 28, 2015 at Bethany Reformed Church, Kalamazoo
  • Re-Imagining Kalamazoo with Justice for All, May 12, 2015 at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Kalamazoo

This work will continue through 2016 in collaboration with partners at WMU and in the Kalamazoo community.

Following are research presentations produced for the series.

Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo

Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo is a community collaborative initiated by the Kalamazoo City Commission to promote increased access to well-paying jobs, strong and economically secure families, and healthy growth, development and learning for all our kids.

Visit the website