Uniting for Social Change
Leaders from several Kalamazoo nonprofits have been given a unique opportunity to look beyond immediate needs and work for long-term change through the Arcus Foundation’s Michigan Racial and Economic Justice Initiative, a three-year pilot program that has brought together disparate organizations to work collaboratively for social and economic justice.
Ramon Berlanga-Rodriguez of the Hispanic American Council is deeply committed to social and economic justice. But, like many nonprofit executives, his focus is on meeting his clients’ immediate needs – in this case, helping Kalamazoo-area Hispanics with education, health and housing issues. “I concentrate on putting out fires,” he says.
He and leaders from several other Kalamazoo nonprofits have been given a unique opportunity to look beyond immediate needs and work for long-term change through the Arcus Foundation’s Michigan Racial and Economic Justice Initiative, a three-year pilot program that has brought together disparate organizations to work collaboratively for social and economic justice.
The nonprofits participating in the collaborative represent a cross-section of Kalamazoo’s diverse populations and needs, and include faith-based organizations, a community development association, youth-oriented agencies, and organizations representing the African American, Hispanic and homeless populations.
Each nonprofit applied for a capacity-building grant to strengthen their ability to work for structural and policy change, both individually and on collaborative projects designed to promote racial and economic justice.
For many members of the collaborative, simply getting to know one another has been a big reward. For some, the capacity grants provided basic office resources, without which getting anything accomplished can be a challenge. Several organizations were able to hire additional staff, enhance programming and increase services. The result has become a strong foundation for real collaboration in Kalamazoo.
Three collaborative initiative projects are:
➊ The Institute for New Leadership, to prepare the next generation of leaders by providing leadership and community organizing training to young people from low-income neighborhoods who have “aged out” of traditional youth programming.
➋ A Workers’ Rights Center, with Northside and Eastside locations, to combat wage theft, advocate for hard-to-employ workers, support expungement of criminal records and work for less-restrictive employment laws for ex-offenders.
➌ Edison United, also known as “Ordinary People for Extraordinary Change,” to teach organizing skills and empower young residents to work for social and economic change in their own neighborhood.
Organizations participating in the Michigan Racial and Economic Justice Initiative:
• Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kalamazoo
• Douglass Community Association
• ERAC/CE (Eliminating Racism and Claiming /Celebrating Equality)
• Hispanic American Council
• ISAAC (Interfaith Strategy for Advocacy & Action in the Community)
• Michigan Organizing Project
• Michigan People’s Action
• New Latino Visions
• Northside Association for Community Development