Western Michigan University has recently partnered with the city of Kalamazoo in a new city initiative, Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo (SPK), to fight poverty and encourage more broadly spread prosperity among Kalamazoo’s residents.

WMU President Edward Montgomery and Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell signed a memorandum of understanding July 9, placing WMU’s Lewis Walker Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnic Relations in charge of coordinating the University’s involvement in the project.

While Kalamazoo has a high poverty rate among all races and ethnicities, it is primarily African American and Hispanic residents who are affected, said Dr. Tim Ready, director of the Walker Institute.

“Poverty is not just a number or a statistic or an abstract concept,” Ready said. “It’s something that matters and affects people’s lives.”

SPK will work to reduce these inequalities in Kalamazoo by focusing on three goals: to “promote the healthy growth, development and learning of children, increase access to good jobs and promote strong families,” according to SPK’s official action plan.

Bob Miller, WMU associate vice president for community outreach, said WMU faculty and students will play an important role in the success of the initiative, as several different departments and faculty members across campus have been contacted and made aware of how they may contribute to the initiative, including the office of the Vice President for research, Dr. Terri Kinzy.

“I think that our students and our faculty have enormous resources that are useful to the community,” Dr. Don Cooney, Kalamazoo City Commissioner, said, “I think we’ve got something to share.”

Students will have the opportunity to work on the SPK initiative through service learning, internships and WMU’s Signature program, a program dedicated to engaging students in out-of-class learning experiences that will be reflected on their diploma.

“[School] shouldn’t just be about abstract stuff, it’s about best practices, how can we use this to help our people,” Cooney said. “I think that’s very helpful to the community.”

SPK’s first guest speaker, Melody Barnes, director of President Obama’s Domestic Policy Council (2009-2012), will be presenting on the effect of changing demographics and economic insecurity on democracy Thursday, Sept. 20, at 6:30 p.m. in WMU’s Bernhard Center.

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