Kalamazoo's National Night Out goes all out in six neighborhoods

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Kalamazoo series.

Dajanick Barlow wanted to see children Tuesday night at National Night Out.

During the event held Tuesday evening in Kalamazoo’s Northside Neighborhood, she also wanted them to see her.

“It’s important for me to be here because a lot of the kids that are here look like me when I was their age,” said Barlow, a young African-American woman who is a community policing officer for the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety.

Why is that important?

Standing adjacent to tents staffed by professionals in health care, education, banking, business, and other services, she said, “They need to see what they can aspire to be.”

Speaking specifically of public safety, she said, “They need to see the fun and silly interactive side of law enforcement — outside of driving fast cars, arresting people, showing up with guns, and doing bad things. We do a lot of good things in the community.”

A police officer interacts with families during National Night Out, held Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023 in Frays Park in Kalamazoo’s Westwood Neighborhood.Building better connections between police and the communities they serve is the long-time mission of National Night Out. The community-building event, which features family-friendly games, food, music, and information, is held annually across the nation on the first Tuesday of August. In Kalamazoo, they were held this year in the Northside, Vine, Arcadia, Eastside, Douglas, and Westwood neighborhoods.

Tuesday’s gathering in the Douglas Neighborhood, held at Adda Dilts Peace Park, was the neighborhood's first National Night Out event in several years. The Douglas Neighborhood Association was formed last summer. Along with food, music, and games, the Westwood Neighborhood Association presented a draft of its proposed neighborhood plan during its event at Frays Park. 

The event in Kalamazoo’s Northside Neighborhood was held adjacent to the NACD’s offices at 612 N. Park St.

Mattie Jordan-Woods, executive director of the Northside Association for Community Development, enjoys the neighborhood’s annual National Night Out, held Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023.Mattie Jordan-Woods, executive director of the Northside Association for Community Development, said, “The mission of National Nation out is “bringing the community together with resources.”

“Our theme was ‘Healthy, Wealthy, Wise,’” she said. “You have Bronson (Methodist) Hospital which was giving free diabetes (and) blood-pressure checks. You have two credit unions (Lake Michigan CU and Advia CU) who have some new programs for people with moderately low credit scores.”

The programs are intended to help them progress toward home ownership. 
Among other organizations and services providing information were Kalamazoo Valley Community College, the City of Kalamazoo, KRESA (the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency), YOU (Youth Opportunities, Inc.), The Kalamazoo Promise, Community Homeworks, and Justice Against Bullying@School.

Park Street Market provided food and there were drawings held to give away new bicycles to young children.

Along with a fire truck, Kalamazoo Public Safety put its remotely-controlled F-6 robotic device on display at the Northside event. It is used to analyze suspicious packages and defuse bombs. KDPS also displayed one of its aerial drones, a remotely-controlled robotic reconnaissance device, and its new transportable, solar-powered camera system.

The camera system can be used to do surveillance in large areas, including those that are gathering places for unwanted traffic and where crime is suspected of happening.

“Most people want the camera system,” Jordan-Woods said. “They feel that if people aren’t doing crimes, then they won’t have to worry.”

The Vine Neighborhood event included a special community engagement activity for residents to re-imagine the Vine Central Plaza parking lot as a shared space for neighborhood events and ice cream. The Arcadia Neighborhood event, held at Arcadia Elementary School, invited families to enjoy games and ice cream. The Kalamazoo Eastside Neighborhood Association hosted its event at Rockwell Park featuring food and games for families.   

Officer Barlow, one of many public safety officers at various Night Out locations on Tuesday, handed out plastic fire helmets, color-changing cups, pencils, straws, and stickers.

“We want to see them happy,” she said of young people. “We want to see them smile. We want them to aspire to be us because we want to reach them at this level. So we’ve got to start here.”

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Read more articles by Al Jones.

Al Jones is a freelance writer who has worked for many years as a reporter, editor, and columnist. He is the Project Editor for On the Ground Kalamazoo.