Since I learned we would be moving there, I haven’t gotten tired of saying “Kalamazoo.” It might be the best named city in the world. My partner and I arrived a little over a year ago from our home state of Maryland, and I quickly learned there was a lot more charm to the city than just the name.
In fact, our first year in Michigan has been filled with charming experiences – family fun activities in the fall, hiking in the spring and summer, days by the lake and small-town parades with local ice cream. Winter was a bit longer than I’m used to (snow in April!), but even that season had its charms. And even though we’ve only been in Michigan for a year, I feel lucky to have met so many generous people during our time here.
To me, people are why public policy is important. At the start of college, I knew I wanted to go into something that could improve the lives of people but was unsure what direction to take. During my freshman year I started volunteering with Health Leads, a program that trains college students to work with people to get them connected to the resources they need to live healthier lives. Working with patients in Baltimore as their assigned “advocate,” I helped navigate applications and communicate with caseworkers. Through this experience I saw the transformative impact that improved access to affordable healthcare, food, childcare, and housing can have on a person’s spirit. Policy change was also underway, and the Affordable Care Act resulted in some of my clients having reliable, affordable access to health care for the first time in their lives. I’ll never forget the sigh of relief from one of my clients after I told him he was covered.
While some policies were improving lives, I also saw how other policies made it harder for some to access services, get a job, or stay healthy. I listened to Baltimoreans about being “Too Poor for Pop Culture,” and how a legacy of policy decisions had left their communities unable to thrive and barely able to survive. I also saw how residents of the city rose up after decades of injustice to put forward new demands to improve their communities.
Absorbing all of this stirred my passion for policy. I began to want to take my “advocate” role further – by using data and evidence to push for needed change. In class I started researching the issues that hit home the most for me and the clients I had worked with. Outside of class, I got involved in grassroots campaigns, canvassing for earned sick leave in Maryland and the creation of an affordable housing trust fund in Baltimore. These experiences taught me the power of organizing, community-driven policy and coalition building. Along the way I found out that participating in these efforts can be a great way to make new friends, too!
When my partner found out she was accepted to a Ph.D. program in Kalamazoo, we knew we would be making a big transition. Being so far from our friends and family was daunting at times, but getting involved with activism here in Michigan was a great way to make connections. And I quickly learned there was a lot of work to do just like back home. From Baltimore (nicknamed Charm City) to charming Kalamazoo, people are still being left out and left behind by policymakers. Communities are building, rising, and saying enough is enough.
As the Kids Count Research Associate, I am ready to use my knowledge of data and passion for policy to equip local organizations with the tools to advocate for Michigan’s children. Across this state, as in others, more needs to be done to make sure children can thrive. I’m happy to now call Michigan home, and ready to get to work to make it better.