Kalamazoo is the hometown of Derek Jeter, Western Michigan University and Upjohn. It’s a little bigger than Warren at 74,000; 44% of the population is African-American and one-third of high school students drop out before graduating.
Like Warren it has seen its population and industrial base shrink over the past decades but six years ago one or more anonymous benefactors promised that every Kalamazoo public high school graduate would have their college tuition to any Michigan public university or community college paid for regardless of their GPA or financial need.
This program is known as the Kalamazoo Promise and it is designed to develop the local economy from the bottom up. You can read more about it in a recent New York Times Magazine article. Not everyone thinks the Promise is that good an idea. For example, many experts think the money would be better spent on early childhood development and despite the promise only two-thirds of Kalamazoo’s students graduate from high school.
What is inarguable is that it is a pretty significant demonstration by one community’s leaders that they aren’t going down easy. Like Rocky, Kalamazoo is getting back up and fighting.
I was thinking about this Friday night while sitting in the 80%-empty Mollenkopf Stadium stands watching Harding go to 4-1 while demolishing Warrensville Heights 55-0. I never thought high school football was the most important thing in town but it was an easy thing over which everyone might come together. We don’t do that any more. What do we care about here? What will we fight for?