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An April Shower of Opportunities - in May

Wow! So many reflections on what it means to be a citizen diplomat in Kalamazoo, over our first 50 years, in this great piece by Second Wave Media. Thank you Leeanne Seaver, Betty Lee Ongley, Tom Kostrzewa and Jerry Potratz for sharing your stories. Also, so excited to hand off our Taste of the World event to Merze Tate Explorers and WoteSawa (more on that below). You will find all of this and more in this great article as we move toward our new name and our next 50 years!! Thanks Mark Wedel for this in depth piece.

Taste of the World Benefit - Merze Tate Explorers and Wotesawa


Once upon a time, we used to host Taste of the World at the Kalamazoo Expo Center, bringing flavors and sounds and people together. What a difference three years makes! While the Kalamazoo Expo Center has spent the past several months as a vaccination site, this week, the Merze Tate Explorers are hosting Taste of the World Virtual, as you will read in this release. They are collaborating with WoteSawa and Angela Benedicto in Tanzania, who came to Kalamazoo as an #IVLP visitor in 2013 and again as an alumna in 2020. #ExchangeMatters

“We have been so thrilled to partner with Merze Tate Explorers through the years, connecting these amazing young Kalamazoo women with people from around the world in exchange,” said Jodi Michaels, executive director of Colleagues International. “We are excited to see where the Explorers take Taste of the World, an event we hosted for several years at the Expo Center. Seeing Wotesawa in Tanzania and the Explorers work together for scholarships on both sides of the ocean is an inspiration and we are honored to have brought them together!”

Please join the silent auction and bid to your heart’s content.


Bidding open through May 14th!



So much amazing virtual engagement!


April was a busy month for us! We participated in two IVLP alumni salon series (climate action, and youth and civic engagement) where distinguished alumni were invited to return virtually and engage in dialogue and deliberation. Sessions included a climate keynote with Denise Keele, Stephanie Williams sharing her impassioned work engaging youth as part of a panel, Moises Hernandez sharing his work on authentic service learning experiences for Kalamazoo College students, and, in a Citizen Exchange Circle, visitors from Bangladesh, Bolivia, Guyana, India, Kenya, Tanzania and Venezuela were able to explore in depth, with Kalamazoo residents and activists, what climate justice could look like in a more equitable future.


#Strategies4ClimateAction: A Salon Series


Two individuals in bubbles smiling, information regarding the program.
Session banner for the climate salon series keynote, hosted together with National Program Agency partner FHI360

Timed to kick off Earth Week, we participated, together with FHI360, in the opening of a speaker series focused on the climate crisis. The “salon series”, a new alumni concept in the IVLP space, provided an opportunity for leaders to join in a series of sessions on various topics relating to the climate crisis. The goal of the project was to “discuss priority areas for international cooperation among public, private, academic, and community groups to develop environmental resilience, maintain biodiversity, and support vulnerable populations.” Alumni participants in this series came from a wide variety of countries and even wider variety of backgrounds and fields, albeit focused in some way on addressing the climate crisis.


Dr. Denise Keele from Western Michigan University and the Kalamazoo Climate Crisis Coalition kicked-off the program providing a broad view of the national political landscape surrounding climate action in the United States and opportunities presented by the Biden Administration’s re-affirmation of the Paris Accords. She also delved into the President’s climate agenda that was actively being announced during Earth Week.


Dr. Keele was also joined by master of ceremonies Robert Bradley of the NDC Partnership, an international organization rooted in the Paris Climate Accords and designed to help countries meet their “Nationally Determined Contributions”. With Dr. Keele’s domestic lens and Mr. Bradley’s international perspective, participants were treated to a survey of the challenges and opportunities presented by climate change and plans for addressing it.


Citizen Exchange Circle: What might climate justice look like?

Representing a totally different scope relative to the keynote address, we hosted a “Citizen Exchange Circle” (CEC), an innovative virtual program we adapted that allows for deep and meaningful conversations between international visitors and local activists in related fields. International visitors who were attending the climate crisis salon series were joined by Chris Dilley of the People’s Food Co-op, David Benac of Western Michigan University, Mary Ann Renz of the Kalamazoo chapter of the Citizen Climate Lobby, and Sharon Dever of the city’s Environmental Concerns Committee. Building off topics discussed during the series, the circle’s discussion focused on climate justice, what it means, and what it could look like in the future.


Some themes took up a singular chunk of discussion time such as urban greening and the importance of greenspace. Other themes arose again and again, exploring and recognizing the critical role of indigenous peoples in conserving and protecting the lands (planet earth) that they have stewarded for generations, the importance of considering challenges posed by future climate refugees (once this term is defined), and the enforcement (or lack thereof) of existing environmental law.


Critical to the purpose of a CEC, all participants (from Bangladesh, Bolivia, Guyana, India, Kenya, Tanzania, Venezuela and the US) reported that they found a meaningful exchange of ideas as well as similarities in issues across their countries.


Youth Civic and Political Engagement: A Salon Series

We also participated in a separate #IVLP alumni salon series (hosted by Meridian International Center) focused on ways to encourage and develop youth engagement in civil society and the political landscape. We were happy to have Stephanie Williams, former Kalamazoo City and County Commissioner and leader from local organization, Mothers of Hope, join a panel of speakers to showcase the strategies she used to reach young people regarding the 2020 Census, the 2020 election cycle, via an initiative called “Black Voters Matter”, and critically, vaccination clinics hosted both at Mothers of Hope and elsewhere in the community.


Participants were interested in ways to use new and old media, alongside innovative technologies, to empower people to advocate for themselves and together toward both policy goals and acquiring services in their community to thrive. Toward the end of the session, Stephanie shared a video created for the local chapter of the Black Voters Matter campaign (screenshot above) to encourage Black residents to vote in the upcoming election and participants were especially energized by the video, its message, and the youth that helped make it possible.


Combining Service Learning and Civic Engagement

Kalamazoo has so much to offer when it comes to youth civic and political engagement that we participated in a second session as part of this salon series! Joining us for this session was Moises Hernandez (pictured at bottom, above), Assistant Director of the Mary Jane Underwood Stryker Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) at Kalamazoo College. He is also a recent alumnus of K College, with a BA in Critical Ethnic Studies. Moises, alongside Kate Huckaby, a senior high school student from Tulsa, OK and Adam Seaman, the program director of the Youth Philanthropy Initiative, also in Tulsa, discussed ways to connect learning objectives to civic engagement in order to foster youth voice and youth power in shaping their world on issues they care about, via philanthropy and volunteerism.


50th Anniversary sneak peaks keep coming - the ripple effect of exchange


As we gear up for our 50th anniversary celebrations, we continue conducting interviews with volunteers, hosts, and visitors who have spent time with us in Kalamazoo. Jerry Potratz, who has served in almost every possible role in the organization, including executive director, board president, host, and (current and always) volunteer, joined communications and program associate Ian Magnuson for a brief interview on his experience engaging with the organization over the past three decades. He shared some of his favorite stories with visitors and what citizen diplomacy means to him. A brief excerpt is below with a teaser video available here.

An excerpt from the interview:


“Say we have 100 professional guests a year and this is our 50th anniversary. So we've got 50 years, times 100 people, times 1,001 people influenced by each visitor, that's five million five thousand thoughts, perceptions, influenced by this tiny little office in Kalamazoo, and I don't think that's a stretch of anybody's imagination, given the level of people that we host. So that's the math that I do in my head. That is citizen diplomacy and the power of it, leveraging citizen diplomacy, and that's what we do.”


Thank you so much for reading, and do feel welcome to make an investment in citizen diplomacy in Kalamazoo here...



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