Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series.
Elizabeth Garcia’s new role with Battle Creek Coalition for Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation (BCTRHT) will be behind the scenes, but the impact of her work as the organization’s Program Director will be seen and felt, she says.
“I’ll be supporting, organizing connecting, and providing other people with opportunities to have this involvement in TRHT,” Garcia says. “There is an understanding that TRHT is not the program. Our foundation is really about relationship building with our community and centering people so they have the resources and network to do the work themselves. We have so many organizations already doing that work. How do we support that work?”
Elizabeth Garcia, the new Battle Creek Coalition for Truth, Racial Healing Program Director
As the newly appointed Program Director, Garcia will play a pivotal role in advancing the organization’s mission through strategic planning, new program development, implementation, and continuous improvement, according to a press release.
“With her leadership, BCTRHT aims to strengthen programming in the areas of racial healing, narrative change, and advancing racial equity in housing, health, and education,” says Rosemary Linares, BCTRHT Coordinator. “Her expertise and passion will undoubtedly guide the organization to new heights. With her dedicated commitment to the work of BCTRHT, Elizabeth will serve in new and meaningful ways to strengthen the organization as we collectively work to catalyze a movement for racial equity in Battle Creek, where all can flourish.”
Before joining BCTRHT as a staff member Garcia was hired as a Program Development Coach for the Kalamazoo Youth Development Network
and was the organization’s Equitable Assessment Manager when she left. In her four years there, she worked with organizations including the Burma Center
, 21st Century Programs
, the Kalamazoo Nature Center
, and Wellspring Cory Terry and Dancers
With KYD Net, she did observations, provided feedback, and supported realistic goals through coaching, training, and implementing with the staff of the organizations she worked with to support realistic goals and ways to reach those goals.
“I also did a lot of work around social and emotional learning with youth and adults,” she says.
There also was a focus on youth leadership governance and voice and what this looks like with youth councils and advisory boards that were created. All of this was built on a foundation of equitable programs and recruiting and retaining staff who would be able to provide high-quality programming, Garcia says.
During her time with KYD Net, she was also working for BCTRHT as a contract worker, a job she took on while working for VOCES
before going to KYD Net, first as a volunteer and not long after as an employee.
A native of Miami, Florida, Garcia moved to Battle Creek in 2016 to be nearer her sister who is a pediatrician with Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo.
“I felt like I was just a speck in the grandness of the city,” she says of Miami where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Education with a minor in Philosophy and an endorsement in English as a Second Language from the University of South Florida.
With that degree in hand, she taught in Florida and then traveled to South Korea where she spent three years teaching English as a Foreign Language to children and adults. She was diagnosed with thyroid cancer before coming back to the United States and had her thyroid removed in 2020.
Having grown up in a family where she had close connections to everyone, including aunts and uncles, Garcia says she knew from a very young age that if her sister had children, she wanted to be there for them as her uncles and aunts had been there for her.
Her sister suggested that she volunteer with VOCES. Not long after the former leader of VOCES organization asked if she’d be interested in coming to work there as the Education Program Manager.
Pre-COVID she created a curriculum that was used at Post Franklin in the Battle Creek Public Schools system and Prairieview Elementary in the Lakeview School District.
“I met with students twice a week for 90 minutes at a time after school,” Garcia says. “The program partnered with different organizations around town like the Substance Abuse Council and Sexual Assault Services who educated the students on various issues. I was deep in the Latinx community here and also was certified as an interpreter.”
In Florida, she had relationships with the families of students outside of school and often was asked to help them get connected to teachers or administrators. She also found herself doing similar work at VOCES where her work came to the attention of BCTRHT leadership. In 2018, she was invited to be a part of BCTRHT's Youth Leadership Summit to assist with youth programs.
In her contract position, while still with KYD Net, she worked with community members to train teams of Racial Healing Practitioners and coordinated various community events like the National Day of Racial Healing
In the interim, discussions had been underway to begin using the Alliance for a Just Society
(AJS) rather than the Battle Creek Community Foundation
as BCTRHT’s fiscal sponsor to hold the money they receive from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation
. The Coalition of Battle Creek for Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation was established in 2017 as part of a nationwide initiative by the WKKF to address the historical and contemporary impacts of racism and drive transformational change in Battle Creek.
Garcia says partnering with AJS enables organizations to hire staff and compensate them for their work, in addition to providing benefits like health insurance which Garcia, a cancer survivor, depends on.
“Because their vision and mission is supporting Black-led movements around the nation, (AJS) recognizes the need to compensate people doing the work,” she says. “We are wanting to expand the scope of our work with them because AJS focuses on work similar to what we’re doing at BCTRHT.”
Because of her existing relationships with community organizations, Garcia says she hasn’t started her job from ground zero but also is not the face of TRHT because “we are representing a movement which should be really reflective of the community as a whole.”
She uses the concept of an iceberg when describing BCTRHT.
“At the top and what is visible is our National Day of Racial Healing. The rest of it is an underwater ecosystem that is Calhoun County and the City of Battle Creek. Our role is figuring out how we can best support the city and county with policy changes leading to long-lasting community change."