The three hundred people at the ISAAC Public Meeting at Mt. Zion Baptist Church on Thursday evening October 6, cheered enthusiastically for the new strategies ISAAC has chosen and the new community partners who have joined the work on Anti-Racism, Early Childhood & Education, and Youth Violence Prevention.
“Once again, the Public Meeting was amazing,” said Steve Barber, member of St. Martin of Tours Episcopal Church and the ISAAC Leadership Board. “ I was amazed at the turn-out and the support. People keep showing up. Then it hit me, it’s hope. They believe that ISAAC offers hope from all that is sad in our county, and hope that the best can happen. They believe in ISAAC.”
The Anti-Racism Task Force gave the first presentation: “According to the Census Bureau, people of color will be the majority population in the US by the year 2043. Who will be your customers? Who will be your boss?” “Today’s children, the majority of which are children of color, will drive economic growth in the future. The shared economic future of our community depends on racial equity.” “ISAAC will be hosting an all-day workshop specifically for employers, Examining Racial Disparities in Employment: Critical Cultural Competency, on May 25th. The Upjohn Institute has helped us identify several major employers interested in this workshop. Will all of you also ask your employer to send people to this training?”
Childhood trauma was the focus of the Early Childhood & Education Task Force. Mollie Peterson described the series of traumatic stresses she experienced as a child. Long-time preschool teacher Ginny Middleton described how her teaching has been transformed by the Raising of America videos ISAAC is showing about the impact of traumatic stress on children. “Instead of disciplining, I ask, ‘What happened to this child?’ Instead of saying, ‘Don’t hit!’ I say, ‘You need to help me keep you and the others safe.’ That registers with the children, and it sure makes my life as a teacher easier.”
Cara Weiler from the Children’s Trauma Assessment Center (CTAC) showed slides of a normally developing child’s brain contrasted with the brain of a child who has experienced chronic stress—whose brain activity focused on the part of the brain where fight/flight/freeze survival instincts reside, while the brain’s capacity to develop was significantly reduced in other areas related to higher order thinking, problem solving, and emotional and behavioral regulation.
Regena Nelson, Department Chair in the College of Education and Development at WMU, and co-chair of the task force, described the growing collaboration called Raising Kalamazoo County that is leading the work to reduce the negative impact of traumatic stress and build resiliency in young children. KRESA Superintendent David Campbell responded, listing seven school districts in Kalamazoo County that have agreed to participate in this endeavor and another district that has already received training in addressing trauma, with good results.
The Youth Violence Prevention Task Force focused first on its “Future Leaders for Peace” program for 8th-12th grade youth, birthed out of a series of youth roundtables on bullying. Co-chair Venessa Collins-Smith quoted: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” – Barack Obama. She invited everyone to help recruit youth for an expanded Future Leaders for Peace program to “empower our youth to speak up for themselves and what they believe in, while speaking out against injustice and voicing their needs for a safe, just, and united community.”
Then the Youth Violence Prevention task force shifted its focus. “Did you know that in Michigan it can take less time to purchase a gun than to qualify for food assistance?” “Did you know that no safety training is required to purchase a long gun in Michigan?” “Did you know that in Michigan you must wait three days to acquire a marriage certificate but there is no wailing period to purchase a long gun?” “Did you know that the State of Michigan does not require a permit to purchase a rifle or a shotgun? Nor do these firearms need to be registered?” “Did you know that in Kalamazoo County death by gun suicide accounts for 70% of the total gun related deaths in the county, with white men committing the vast majority of these suicides?” “Did you know that in the last 6 years there have been 66 homicides in Kalamazoo County and over half of those involved the use of a firearm?” “Did you know that universal background checks are supported by 70-90% of US citizens, including NRA members?” “Did you know that between 2008 and 2013 there were just over 900 traffic fatalities, but 1,121 gun deaths in Michigan?”
ISAAC asked the state elected officials and candidates present, ”Will you ask the Senate or House Majority Leader to have an up or down vote on legislation to require the private sale of firearms to be subject to background checks, much like the sale of handguns from licensed dealers, modeled on House Bills 4590, 4591, and 4592, within the first 100 days of session?” State Representative Jon Hoadley, who is a co-sponsor of those bills, and candidate for the State House John Fisher, and Green Party candidate John Anthony La Pietra pledged strong support.
Dr. Charlae Davis, Executive Director of ISAAC, ended by quoting Joshua 1:9, “Do not be frightened. Do not be dismayed. Your God will be with you wherever you go.” Everyone joined her in the words of ISAAC President Pastor Doug King: “We are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Unitarians, and non-religious. We are black, Hispanic, Asian, Indigenous, Middle Eastern and White. We are immigrants. We are suburban, inner-city and rural. We are haves, have-nots and have-a-little-want-mores. We are bold, tenacious and we don’t back down. We are agents of change. We are Kalamazoo County!”
Joyful drumming by Calvin Green and the national anthem sung by Minister Dorla Bonner began the meeting, then a procession of banners from the twenty congregations and three organizations that are members of ISAAC. Talented singers from many ISAAC congregations closed the meeting with soaring solos from “What the world needs now is love, sweet love.”
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– Tobi Hanna-Davies, VP for Communications