What is your official title?
I am the Mayor of Kalamazoo and the Administrative Director for the Borgess Health Park.
What’s an average day in the ‘Zoo look like for you?
I classify my days typically using one word, and that’s everywhere. I wake up and head out to an early city event or program, then I head into the office at Borgess to work on our moving and occupancy plans for the Health Park as we move into the new facility, along with coordinating leaders and teams to make sure we’re prepared for when it opens.
After that, I’m heading out the door to a meeting at City Hall, and right now, I’m spending a lot of time talking to people on the phone about the election or maybe talking with a resident about a neighborhood issue.
From there, I’m wandering out for a late afternoon meeting, and hopefully finding something to eat somewhere between all of this. I rush home after a long day, maybe around 8:00 or 8:30, change into my Bronco gear, and rush off to Fourth Coast to complete my readings or papers. I’m getting my masters in Organizational Learning and Performance, so I have to fit homework in, which usually means late nights. Let me tell you, it’s never dull.
What kind of projects are you currently working on?
I’m very happy that we just completed the city managers search. It’s been one of the most important efforts that I’ve been working on. We just recently completed salary negotiations and are now at the point of signing a contract, so that’s exciting.
I’m working on Adult Literacy, which I am very passionate about. We received the City of Service grant that has allowed us to open at least two new neighborhood literacy centers, one in the Edison neighborhood, and the other is also on the North side.
Of course the financial challenges of the city is always something I’m working on and navigating through that, so I’m working with others to create economic development opportunities, which means working with companies like Arcadia, Ignertia, Maestro, among others, to open doors and create a path for job creation.
Any upcoming events that you’re particularly excited about?
I’m conducting lots of weddings right now, which has been really fun – I just love officiating. The Chamber Summit is coming up, the LISC National Meeting, and the NAACP Freedom Fund banquet is coming up. I just found out that yours truly has been named Humanitarian of the Year, which is a wonderful honor. We have a Value Veterans event, and I’m going to be on the panel about hiring vets and training them, and what the cities can do to be more involved; my dad and brother and sister in law are all vets, so it’s very close to my heart.
And we can’t forget November 5th is Election Day – people can vote absentee now at city hall in the Clerk’s office if you can not go to the polls on November 5th. I’ve also come to find that you can vote absentee as well on November 2nd, the Saturday before the election between 8:00am and 2:00pm at the clerk’s office at City Hall if you can’t make it out on Election Day.
What do you love most about Kalamazoo?
I’ve been using the hashtag #lovethiscity a lot recently, and I really do. I like that there are just such amazing things that are happening, and I think one of the challenges is that we don’t always know about them, or don’t realize how awesome they really are. Think about the live music scene, how you can pop into just about anywhere now and get that experience; we have more live music than we’ve ever had before. I love the dynamic of Kalamazoo being not too large and not too small. I love that we’re creating this fun, vibey, funky, place where all this stuff is happening. I love that we have entrepreneurs helping to create a culture people want to be around, with things like food trucks, coffee shops, microbreweries, and lets not forget the tech community that’s growing here.
I love our neighborhoods, a growing farmers market and amazing food COOP, I love our Broncos, Hornets and KVCC Cougars, I love our focus on education. When I think about some of the best times I’ve had as Mayor, it’s when I’m hanging out with young people, the little ones to the high school students to the Gen Y’s, just listening to the genius that we have growing in them here. We have a diversity of arts in the Kzoo, from WMU having their dance, vocal, theatrical and physical arts programs certified, to Wellsprings, to comedy happening in Kalamazoo, the Art Institute and their programs, Farmers Alley, the Civic – we’ve got talent here! We’ve got skills!
I love that we come together and collaborate, and that we have a lot of people working on the challenges that we are facing in this community who are working hard to make a positive impact. I’m glad that we haven’t taken the negative side of the economic challenges that the state of Michigan has experienced; we are one of the shining jewels in our great state. We are a community that has taken challenges on, but not letting them defeat us, and instead seeing them as opportunities. We are creating this beautiful tapestry in Kalamazoo, and there are so many different unique artists contributing to our masterpiece. We’re all about the possible, and what I mean by that is that we dive in, head first. Regardless of the intended course, if something else comes along, we roll with it, and we continue on our journey, because developing this community cannot be determined simply by following one road map – it’s taking the original plan and being accepting of the wonderful side trips that happen along the way.
What has been one of your biggest learning moments?
I think one of the things is that in this role as Mayor, I’ve learned that if we are to create greatness here we have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. I think there is very little we have in our lives that we really want that didn’t come from some state of uncomfort. I’ve learned that even though there are push backs and naysayers and people who don’t agree with you, that you can’t be defeated, and use the obstacles as opportunities to grow and strengthen – you can’t let the fog prevent you from seeing the lighthouse.
I’ve learned that it’s sometimes hard to get people to think innovatively. I learned that I can be an advocate for it, but I’m still learning how to nurture innovative thinking and how to move it forward. I’ve learned that not everybody loves me, and that’s OK. I’m not everyone’s favorite person, but over time I’ve learned that if you lead from your heart and soul, then you’ll be alright.
What have you been jammin’ to recently? What’s on the iPod?
Oh everything. If I pull my my iTunes right now the first one that pops up is Nelly, and my most recent ones, or most played would be some Motown, Phillip Phillips, Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Gavin Degraw, Usher, Coldplay, of course, both Justin’s – yes that would be Timberlake and Bieber, Owl City, and I can’t forget my friend, Matt Giraud. So I guess you could say my music is pretty eclectic.
How do you take your coffee?…or do you?
I drink tea, a tropical green tea from Fourth Coast is my favorite. I like the Jasmine Green Tea at Waterstreet, and their Cocoa del Sol is spiced hot chocolate – everyone’s gotta have a Cocoa del Sol – everyone!
I was a paramedic for 13 years, and there was coffee around me all the time, but I just never got into it.
What is your favorite app to use?
I really like my police scanner app – it’s my nerdy app – I like to know what’s going on. I use the Remote app for my Apple TV, my Camera app, and Hootsuite; it just makes things easier. However, my iThought app helps me figure out my universe so that would make it my favorite.
Do you have a “go to” spot in Kalamazoo?
Downtown is my favorite place, because of all the energy and vibe going on. You can have an amazing meal at a place like Rustica, or literally hang out at Climb Kalamazoo, wander over to shoot Nerf Guns with the Maestronauts, and to top it off, have some amazing wings on a Sunday at Bell’s and while play some Trivial Pursuit. There’s so much life going on downtown, so I think the whole area is my favorite.
Are there any community affiliations or passions that you have?
My fortress of solitude is Pretty Lake Vacation Camp. I was a camper, I worked there, I volunteer there; I just have so many memories, and it’s a place I hold near and dear to my heart. It’s been there for 98 years, and we are building a new facility at the camp this year, which is just awesome.
I’m also really proud of the work that we are doing with the Literacy Council, and these literacy centers we’ve created. I’m an advocate of the Loaves and Fishes and everything they’re doing – just another example of creating the amazing and bringing the possible every day. I’m about to be a stronger leader on poverty in this community. My team and I are working on poverty reduction initiatives right now, so it’s very much on my radar. I am also a part of the Douglass Community Association Advisory Board, and have been working with the Executive Director to raise money and help stabilize the organization.
Oh and I can’t forget the startup community – Startup Zoo is doing so much to promote entrepreneurial efforts and development in this city. I have a passion for the volunteer work this community does, and how Kalamazoo has step up and give time and resources to making this a better place for us all.
If you could bring any national or global event to Kzoo (infrastructure aside), what would it be?
There are two things that I would love to have the ability to do. One is to have a mainstream music artist in this community every six weeks. The other is I would like to have an emerging YouTube artist festival. Wouldn’t it be interesting to have a three or four day festival using different venues, and bring artists who are doing amazing things, but haven’t crossed into being mainstream yet. Maybe at the end of the weekend we could do some video stuff, get Rhino involved, and put together a video collage, get the artists to team up, put on some workshops of how they got started and show off their uniquenesses, or even work with some young people. And of course at the end we would have a great celebration of the amazing talent present. How cool would that be?
When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I was involved with the Kalamazoo Fire Department Explorer Post, which is what created my interest in EMS. My dream when I was little wasn’t to be the Mayor – that wasn’t in my plan whatsoever, but life leads you down many pathways, and here I am! My dream when I was little was always around service of some kind.