Building the CASE for the Future: the CASE to Support the MCCC Millage

What does the future hold? While I may not have the exact answer, I do know that a better Monroe County Community College (MCCC) means a better Monroe County. You see, as Monroe County Community College goes, so goes Monroe County. Nelson Mandela said: “Education is the greatest weapon with which we can change the world.” MCCC is changing Monroe County.

MCCC is the only college in this county, and without MCCC, the level of educational attainment, diversity, cultural enrichment, and much more would be nowhere near what it is now. That is why, 52 years ago, the community saw fit to establish a college in this county. Since then, the impact of this college, which serves approximately 12,000 students annually (both credit and non-credit), has graduated over 15,000 students during that period, and has an annual economic impact of over $120 million a year, has been felt locally, regionally, and globally.

Monroe County’s associate degree attainment level is higher than that of the state and nation because of MCCC; many local and regional industries continue to benefit from workforce training provided by the College; cultural enrichment continues to be enhanced because of MCCC’s  Meyer Theater and  Diversity and Culture Series. Yes, MCCC continues to educate, edify, illuminate, and enhance the community. Enriching and transforming lives, that is our mission, and that is what we have continued to do for the last 52 years.

No doubt, Monroe County would not be the county that it is today economically, educationally, and culturally without this college. Over the last 52 years we have transformed and enriched the entire community, with community support. It is our intention to continue to do so for the next 52 years and more, with continued support from our community.

In November, MCCC will seek a millage of an additional .95 mills for a period of five (5) years. This will amount to $47.50 a year or $3.96 a month for any taxpayer who owns a $100,000 home. If one does not own a home or if one lives in an apartment or trailer, there is no additional tax.  The funds generated from this millage will be utilized solely for buildings, infrastructure and facilities. Over the course of the next few months, we will be “building the CASE “for the future – the next 52 plus years. The word CASE is an acronym for Competitive, Accessible, Safe/Secure, and Efficient. We want a community college that is competitive not only academically, but also physically and otherwise; we want a community college that is accessible to students and community members with disabilities; we want a community college which is safe and secure for all who step on this campus; we want a community college that is efficient and effective in how it does business and utilizes its scarce resources. This college cannot be all these things without additional community support. Additional community support will ensure an enhanced Monroe County and a better and brighter future for all its residents and their progeny as we continue to transform and enrich lives. An investment in Monroe County Community College is an investment in the future of Monroe County.



Professors Making a Difference

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending a dinner event at the Public House, a local eatery co-owned by one of our alumni, Jackie Coarser, who coincidentally, has just been selected as this year’s Alumnus of the Year. You should hear her story at Commencement.

I was invited to this event by Professor Alex Babycz, who after 28 years of diligently serving MCCC has decided to retire. Alex invited me to this event because it was a celebration of one his former students’  ‘ascension’ to the ranks of Licensed Architect. Others present at this event from MCCC were Professors Gary Wilson and Ted Vassar. Both Gary and Ted have served MCCC as art professors for 45 years (almost as long as I have been alive). Gary is retiring in a couple of months, and Ted will soon follow. Among the three of them, they have served MCCC for 118 years. But their length of service is not why I am writing this blog. I am writing because of their dedication and commitment over those years to motivating and inspiring students like Jonathon to aspire to the greatest heights.

When Jonathon made his heartfelt comments about the reasons for his success, the only individuals he mentioned by name were his family members, Alex, Ted, and Gary. He gave a wonderful testimonial of the impact that MCCC and those three in particular have had on his life.

Yes, transforming and enriching lives, that’s what Alex, Gary, and Ted have done for many who have attended MCCC. The best way to do that is to take a personal interest in students like Jonathon. That’s what Alex, Gary, Ted and many other faculty have done since MCCC was founded 52 years ago. I hope the next generation of faculty can do the same for the next generation of students.


Celebrating Diversity and Dr. King’s Legacy

We are all different, and we need to celebrate and be more accepting of those differences. Here are two little known facts about the month of April: it is Celebrate Diversity Month and also National Arab-American Month. Go figure!

Today, is April 4, 2016. Does that date have any historical significance?  Yes, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on this day in 1968. Dr. King has been dead now for almost 50 years, but his legacy lives on.  Just last week, our Board approved the designation of Dr. King’s birthday as a College Holiday. It’s been a long time coming. Dr. King’s birthday was declared a national holiday in 1983 – that is 33 years ago. It is important to note that while MCCC’s campus has not closed on Dr. King’s birthday, we have celebrated it as a Day of Diversity. Our intention now is to celebrate that entire week as a Diversity Week and that particular Monday as a Day of Service – a “Day on” where we engage in various voluntary community/campus activities.

As I always say, the United States is the greatest country in the world because of our diversity. Dr. King’s birthday is the only national holiday that represents that diversity in this nation of ours. Dr. King’s dream applied to all people, not just African-Americans. He espoused, fought, and died for justice and equality for everyone. Let’s respect and honor that.

So, as we remember Dr. King’s death and legacy today and celebrate Diversity and Arab-American Month, let’s keep in mind that this great nation is a nation of immigrants and that is what has sustained this nation since its founding. All of us, regardless of background (ethnic, religious, or otherwise) are part of this equation. Join us as we celebrate our differences throughout this month and beyond.

Refugees are People Too

The world continues to explode, and I mean that literally. There are bombings all over the world, almost on a daily basis, of course the ones in the Western nations get the most media attention.  These are difficult times in this world, especially for those who have to flee from their homes.

Last night I was privileged to have participated on a panel with Professor Dan Shaw, Zeina Hamade of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, and Faisal Al Rawashada, who is a refugee from Syria.  The panel was organized by our Agora Newspaper students and moderated by two of the students, Evan Kutz and Jacob Adams. I joined the panel only because I was unable to get any of the actual African refugees I know to travel from Grand Rapids for this discussion. Faisal is a real Syrian refugee who fled Syria because of the violence there. He now lives in Dearborn and is attempting to start over. You see, starting over is what refugees have to do, if they ever get the chance to do so.

For over five years, I served as President of the Board of the African Community Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We helped resettle and provide assistance to African refugees.  There were numerous challenges for these refugees, including, but not limited to: financial, language, health, academic, cultural, etc. We provided translation services, housing, social integration, tutoring, legal services, mentoring, and much more.  Individuals who have to flee their homes essentially have their whole lives turned upside down, and it takes time to adjust, especially in a strange land. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that there were 60 million displaced people (including refugees) in 2014; it’s higher now. Of the top 10 nations producing refugees, five are in Africa. Even as the Syrian refugee crisis escalates, the African crisis has not abated.  Worldwide, matters continue to get worse, the number of refugees continues to increase and the backlash against refugees is gaining momentum. Even as this occurs, let us remember that over 50 percent of refugees are children– the most vulnerable of our society.

The United States of America is the greatest nation in the world because of our diversity.  The United States is a nation of immigrants. We are all different and all of us (with the exception of American Indians) either came here from somewhere else or our ancestors did. As a result we must learn to more tolerant and understanding and not buy into the political fear-mongering and xenophobia. Refugees are people too and deserve the same opportunities that many of us have been given.


Motivating and Inspiring Students to Succeed

Research shows that the number one reason why students remain in school is because someone at the institution knows them and cares about them. Many of our students here need someone to engage them and show them that we care. As I have always said, the most important work we do at institutions such as MCCC is inspiring, motivating and getting students to believe in themselves. It’s worth taking the time to get to know some of our students and hear their personal stories. Sometimes it is cathartic for them to just vent to somebody who cares. We are then able to refer them to the appropriate professionals if necessary.

Here are a few anonymous ones that I am familiar with based on my personal interactions and conversations with students. The stories have been slightly changed to protect the students’ anonymity.

Student A was leaving class one day when I ran into her in the hallway of her classroom building. I asked how her classes were going, as I normally do when I have time to talk to students. Her response was that she was rushing after class to care for her two year old niece who was orphaned because both of the child’s parents had died from a drug overdose. Unfortunately, we have a drug epidemic in our county and that is negatively impacting some of our students.

Student B is a student who had already earned a certificate in a technical area and was working on obtaining an associate degree. I ran into him off campus while he was working for a local company. I inquired about his classes. He proceeded to tell me that he was no longer in school because he had found employment which had provided him with an additional $9.00 an hour, a cell phone, and a brand new truck! It appears students are not coming back to school because of external enticements.

Student C works full-time while carrying a full load of courses. His employer continues to provide him with overtime opportunities, which of course augment his income. As he has continued to avail himself of these opportunities, his grades have suffered, he has decided to drop two of his classes, but not before the point of no return. He ended up with a terrible GPA and could not enroll this semester because he is on academic probation. Some of our students are floundering because they are not able to find that school/work balance.

Student D appears to be a dedicated and committed student who takes her classes very seriously. She has however, been on a variety of medications since elementary school.  She knows about our Learning Assistance Laboratory, has utilized it on occasion but not consistently. She knows she is sinking, but is not sure how to ask for help. Sometimes we have to ask them how we can help them, because they may not know how to ask for help.

Student E is a multitalented older student. He has attended other colleges but was unsuccessful at any of them. He has been a drug addict and alcoholic at times in his life and now appears to be clean.  While he is in college, he is unsure about what he wants to study and simply needs direction. Some of our students have no clue what to do and need to be inspired, motivated and pointed in the right direction.

Ladies and gents, believe me when I tell you that there are students like these all over our campus. Sometimes all it takes are a few words of encouragement and they can be “saved”. Nelson Mandela said “education is the greatest weapon with which we can change the world”, we have this weapon, let’s use it to change this world one student at a time.



Presidential Election and Community Colleges

This morning, we had a presidential candidate, Governor John Kasich of Ohio on campus. It was a standing room only event with over 500 individuals in attendance. This is the largest single political event we have had on campus in my almost three years here. It takes a significant amount of work to bring such events to fruition, and I would like to thank all those who made it a reality.

First, Rep. Jason Sheppard and his aide, Jacob McLaughlin. Rep. Sheppard’s office initiated the contacts to bring Governor Kasich here. Second, Trustee, Joe Bellino, who was contacted by Sheppard for an appropriate venue to host Governor Kasich. Bellino then contacted me to book the La-Z-Boy Atrium.  Finally, as always, behind the scenes are our own Tom Ryder, Mary Lyons, Casey Watterworth, Josh Myers, and our stalwart maintenance crew who ensured that all the appropriate arrangements were made.

After meeting and listening to Governor Kasich, I was truly impressed. He was pleasant, amicable, amiable, down-to-earth, and humorous. I cannot think of any points he made with which I disagreed. I very much appreciated his very first comments, which focused on keeping college debt low by first attending community college prior to going to a four-year institution. Of course, he could do no wrong after that comment. He compared the cost of attending MCCC ($3,000 a year) to attending a four-year institution, which is in many instances, ten times that.  Come to think of it, I do not know any of the presidential candidates who have not embraced community colleges and the bargain that we provide in a day when college debt has exceeded credit card debt on the national level. Depending on who wins the elections, the attempt at “America’s College Promise” (Free Community College) will continue. We at MCCC do not have to wait for that, we have our own version. With our revamped Trustee Scholarships, MCCC can be free for many students. Throw in Pell Grants and other forms of financial aid and students can definitely attend MCCC for FREE. Wow, a life transforming and enriching experience at little or no cost! Incredible!

We are proud to have hosted Governor Kasich on our campus today to help us better inform, illuminate, edify, and educate our community. We wish him the best of luck in his presidential aspirations.

Black History, My History

Black History Month ended in February, or did it? The answer to that is an unequivocal no! While it is important to set aside a month to celebrate and acknowledge the Black experience and achievements, those achievements should be celebrated every month of the year. Every month should be Black History Month, because Black history is world history.  As I reflected on Black history, I thought about my personal experiences and connections with historical events in Black/African-American history – from Africa to Alabama and beyond.

We are who and what we are. We are shaped by our backgrounds, experiences, and values. No doubt all of that has influenced and defined who and what I am today. Simply put, my values entail approaching all situations with humility and treating all people with dignity and respect. To begin, I was born in Ghana (formerly known as the Gold Coast), which is the first Sub-Saharan African nation with which Europeans made contact. That was the Portuguese in 1471. Ghana was also the first African nation to gain independence from a colonial power – England in 1957.  After independence, the Gold Coast changed its name to Ghana, which had been one of the great pre-colonial African empires. The current nation of Ghana has the dubious distinction of having more slave castles/forts than any other nation. I have had the non-pleasure of visiting a Dutch fort in Ghana and seen the trail that snakes from that fort many miles to the coast where the slaves were loaded on ships to be sent to the New World. Near the fort were plantations where the slaves worked to produce various products, after the export of slaves was banned. Ghana is the only nation that I know where tribal leaders who perpetrated slavery, have apologized to other tribal leaders and to the African diaspora who were victimized by the sale of humans.

Up the West African Coast, a few countries from Ghana is Senegal, the capital of which is Dakar. Off the coast of Dakar is Goree Island. Goree Island is now a tourist resort. Goree’s claim to fame is that it was the last stop on the journey before slaves were shipped to the New World. I spent 19 months in Senegal as a teenager and visited Goree on at least two occasions. The Island has a huge castle/fort with winding underground tunnels and dungeons that were used to hold slaves. The shackles and chains from those years are still present in the dungeons. Goree is not that different from any of the other castles/forts, with its chains, shackles and dungeons – they are all reminders of the ignominy that was slavery.  Like at other slave castles in places such as Elmina and Cape Coast, both in Ghana, many Africans in the diaspora who visit these venues come away emotional and tearful. It is an unpleasant sight to behold (that’s extreme euphemism).

On to the United States. Baltimore Maryland, my “home”, where I spent many of my formative years in and after college. Baltimore is where Frederick Douglass, the great black orator and abolitionist, escaped from slavery. The population of the city of Baltimore is predominantly African-American and the unemployment rate is approximately twice that of the state average. While it is a thriving city for some, it is not as great for many others. I spent my college years in a rough and tumble inner city neighborhood in Baltimore.

I left Baltimore in 1984 and moved to Mississippi to attend graduate school at Mississippi State University. You see, it was the least expensive institution to which I was admitted. Purdue, Iowa State, and the University of Florida were just too expensive without financial aid. All this in spite of the fact that I had earned summa cum laude undergraduate honors and a 4.0 GPA at the master’s level. So, I spent almost three years in Mississippi, where I heard it all (you know what I mean) and experienced discrimination in many forms. Mississippi was the place where Emmitt Till and many other blacks were lynched and killed.

I left Mississippi in 1987, Ph.D. in hand, moved back to Baltimore, but went back to the Deep South for more of the southern experience. I spent eleven years of my life in a place called Talladega Alabama. This was ironically one of the best places I have ever lived. Talladega College, a Historically Black College/University (HBCU) was founded by the American Missionary Society to educate and train freed slaves. The first building on campus, Swayne Hall, was built by slave labor. The Amistad (Slave Mutiny) murals are located in Savery Library at Talladega College. While at Talladega, I had the opportunity to visit many other historically significant venues. These included the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham Alabama – I spoke at this place, which in 1963 had been bombed by white supremacists, killing four innocent black girls. I spent time in Anniston Alabama, one of the places where many Freedom Riders were physically attacked and beaten. I also once worshipped at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, where both Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his father had served as pastors. I had a chance to meet all of Dr. King’s children on different occasions. Many a time, I visited Montgomery and Selma, and crossed over the Edmund Pettus (Selma) Bridge. Also while at Talladega, I had the honor of working with Mr. Harold Franklin, the first Black to integrate Auburn University. Franklin’s office was directly across from mine, he taught history, and I taught economics. Needless to say, I heard many horror stories. I also spent time at Tuskegee University ( I visited, lectured and was recruited to teach there), in Alabama, founded by Booker T. Washington, and interviewed at and was offered a position (which I did not accept) at Fisk University, in Tennessee, W.E. B. Dubois’ alma mater.

After I left Alabama, I took a position at Lincoln University. Another HBCU named for the great president who issued the Emancipation Proclamation. It was at Lincoln that I learned about Juneteenth. You see, the Emancipation Proclamation did not free all the slaves. There were slaves being held in Galveston Texas (been there) until two years after the Proclamation. It was not until June 19, 1865 that they learned that they were free.  By the way, it is worth noting that Lincoln University is an 1890 Land Grant Institution founded by the 62nd and 65th Colored Infantries, “Buffalo Soldiers” who after returning from the Civil War, founded an institution to educate themselves and their progeny.

So, after recounting much of my “Black History” experiences, I end this educational, and hopefully edifying and illuminating lesson with a statement about the importance of education. Indeed, much progress has been made by African-Americans since the days of slavery and the Civil Rights Movement. Invariably, the only way forward is through education in all its forms. That is why I am so proud to be in this great profession of education that transforms and enriches lives, regardless of one’s background, nationality, ethnicity or color.