“Why launch the Urban Proximity Initiative?”

One of the biggest hurdles Urban Alliances faces in advancing opportunities for those we serve is how often those individuals are looked at as the someone who we have nothing in common with. We all know this is far from the truth, but despite our efforts, it is too common to see the differences instead of the similarities. I would even venture to say this goes beyond just our space and into most of the spaces out there. The truth is we all have more in common than many would like to admit, in fact. The belief that we are different is at the root of many of the injustices happening in this country today. 

One of the most constant things that happens at Urban Alliance is seeing things and people who do not fit within the larger societal stereotypes, and often it is easy to assume the individual is the anomaly. Yet maybe, the stereotype is the anomaly, maybe the broad brush was brought out too quickly in an effort to advance a certain view, or maybe it was simpler to use the broad brush in order to uphold our particular view of the world. In this country we have a long history of racial oppression, criminalization of substance use, and mass incarceration. Our ability to name what is at the root of much of the gross injustices in this country is the path forward. 

I love the fact individual people and stories can break these systemic stereotypes. It doesn’t take much, for me it was singular stories around substance use, incarceration, and race that told me that what I had believed was the convenient line to believe. If single stories, and the people who are brave enough to tell them are a key to shifting the narrative, we should work to create space to have those conversations. 

Proximity is just that, space to learn, space to grow, space to understand. Through those spaces we can begin to see what is shared, what is common, and together we can begin to build a world where each individual is in control of their own narrative.  

Urban Outreach Initiative Moment

Did you know that Urban Alliance (UA) does street Outreach every week in the three core neighborhoods of Kalamazoo? Neither did WMed medical student, Letty Thottathil. Letty found herself at UA as part of her Active Citizenship Program at WMed. The program is designed to better connect future doctors with the public they hope to serve, in a non-medical context. Like Urban Alliance, Letty is deeply committed to giving people a 2ndchance (and a third, and a fourth….) and was eager to learn what UA is all about.

Letty first volunteered to help decorate for our annual Thanksgiving Dinner, and then came and served at the meal itself. Her reaction? “I couldn’t believe how many volunteers were there!” The experience motivated her to try out weekly Outreach, and she’s become a fixture there. Director of Outreach, Esto Juarez, says of WMed volunteers, ‘They’re awesome. They’re so faithful! We need to do a story on them.’

Connecting with our friends on a personal level has impacted Letty greatly. While she continues to serve with the Urban Outreach Initiative team, her next experience at Urban Alliance will likely come as a Coach in our Momentum Urban Employment Initiative programming. We’re so excited that Letty is a part of our family and we can’t wait to see what’s next with her.

Momentum Urban Employment Initiative

When Dave first met Scottie, he didn’t really know what to expect. He was familiar with Momentum and its vision, and he was eager to join the ranks of Momentum ‘Coach,’ but now his preconceived notions were running headlong into reality. Scottie was working to escape the fires of life, and he’d brought another with him: his fiancé, Lacey. Only a few months before, Scottie and Lacey were living in the woods near a remote section of the railway near Jackson, Michigan. Homeless, hopeless and struggling with drug abuse, the couple knew they needed a change, and they decided to come to Kalamazoo to find it.

While helping Lacey enroll into a GED program, Scottie noticed a flyer for something called ‘Momentum’ that talked about job training and overcoming barriers. Scottie went to open enrollment, filled out an application, interviewed with staff and was admitted into the program. Looking back he admits he didn’t really know what he was getting himself into. ‘I didn’t realize they were going to have me look so deep inside myself.’ As part of the program, Scottie now found himself sitting across the table from his ‘Coach.’ A self-described private person, Scottie soon found himself confiding in Dave, sharing things he’d never shared before. He even remarked to Lacey, ‘I don’t even know why I was sharing that stuff. I never do that!’ 

All the while, Dave listened, without judgment, also growing in the process. His role was to encourage, and support and listen. Before long Dave, Scottie and Lacey were all meeting together because they quickly passed from the Coach/student relationship into a budding friendship. Everyone grew through the process. Scottie was hired by a wonderful local employer at a life sustaining wage. Lacey was growing in self-confidence each and every day. Dave was astounded by how much both Scottie and Lacey were overcoming. They were becoming different people, right before his eyes. And he was becoming a different person too. Less than a year removed from desperation, Scottie and Lacey secured stable housing in which to raise their soon-to-be-born child. Their story is a testimony that life transformation happens. Their story is an example of what happens when people are given another chance. Their story gives a glimpse into what can happen when we work together to demonstrate to people that they matter. As the passage goes, the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. Will you join us in our efforts? Will you believe in the power of belief? Will you take the risk to have your heart and mind forever changed?