Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Kalamazoo series. If you have a story of how the community is responding to the movement to support equity and remembrance of those killed by police violence please let us know here.
Kalamazoo's Corianna McDowell wants young people to know they have a voice, and to never be afraid to use it.
“I want to let them know that it’s OK to get up in front of the world and tell them exactly how you feel about topics that most people cannot address or are afraid to address,” says McDowell, a single mother of two.
The confidence that comes with speaking up – along with knowing they have been heard – is what she hopes will result from the rally and march she is spearheading in downtown Kalamazoo this Saturday, July 11.
The “Let Your Voice Be Heard”
rally is expected to continue to call for positive change in the wake of the May 25 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and a long list of police killings of other unarmed black and brown men and women in recent years. The rally is to start at 2 p.m. at Bronson Park, and include a march that heads out onto area streets, then returns to the park.
The event will bring two close friends of George Floyd to Kalamazoo. Former National Basketball Association player Stephen Jackson and Milton “Po Boy” Carney are to be featured speakers at the event.
Carney is a lifelong friend of Floyd who lived with him for a short time in Houston, Texas, and considered him to be a brother. Jackson, who was fond of calling Floyd his twin because of their resemblance to one another, was a longtime friend who knew Floyd while growing up in Texas. Jackson may be well-known to Detroit Pistons fans from his 14-year career in the NBA, playing on teams that included the Indiana Pacers.
Seen at Arcadia Creek Festival Place
Others invited to appear include Al Harrington, a former NBA teammate of Jackson, and T.J. Duckett, a Kalamazoo native and former National Football League star. Members of the 8th Grade basketball team from Maple Street Magnet School for Arts are expected to participate in the rally and help lead the march. Kandace “DC” Lavender, an educator, poet, lyricist and vocalist, will perform. Music will be provided by DJ Conscious and the Misunderstood Brothers Band. The event is scheduled to end at 6 p.m. Participants are encouraged to wear face masks and observe social distancing during the event.
Speaking of Jackson, whose presence may bring national attention to the rally, McDowell says, “It’s a huge thing for Kalamazoo -- to see that he can go to any other city he wants to, any other platform, because of who he is outside of George Floyd’s passing.”
Since Floyd’s death, Jackson has spoken at social justice and Black Lives Matter rallies in Minneapolis and various other large cities. He and Carney became acquainted with McDowell online after McDowell tagged reports and posts about them on social media. She says she broached the idea of them speaking in Kalamazoo if they were ever in the area. They took her up on the offer and worked out the details over time.
But McDowell, who works for a financial institution, says she’s no event planner and is not a part of any organization or political campaign. “I’m solely a mother raising two young black children in Kalamazoo County,” she says.
As word of Saturday’s event circulates, “People keep asking, ‘Who is Corianna McDowell?’” she says with a little chuckle. “I am a citizen of Kalamazoo.”
McDowell is a 37-year-old single mother who describes herself, her 14-year-old son and her 10-year-old daughter as biracial. McDowell’s parents were African-American and Caucasian. Her children’s fathers were African-American and African-American/Native American.
She says she has attended other rallies and events but of all the calls for change that have been made since Floyd’s death, she says, “We’re not seeing changes at the highest level of policies.” She knows that takes time, voting, and other action steps, but she says, “I don’t think that they’re really listening.” “They” is a reference to people in power and people in elected office. She says they need to understand that change is needed to improve the lives of young people.
Stephen Jackson has a passion to show that everyone is equal and that he has that love for all people, she says. In conversations about the rally, she says he has been keen on reaching out to young people.
Kalamazoo City Commissioner Eric Cunningham, who connected McDowell to people and resources she needed to plan Saturday’s event, says he’s excited to see her and others get involved.
“She was born and raised here in Kalamazoo. She’s not normally in a place and space of organizing in this capacity,” Cunningham says. “So for somebody to step up and take a role, especially of this magnitude, I really want to be supportive in that space.”
He says, “She has focused it (the rally) around youth and providing a voice to our youth. So that’s what I really look forward to.” But he also says he is excited to see the friends of George Floyd come to Kalamazoo.
Asked what he hopes the outcome will be, he says, “I want more pressure, not just with KDPS (the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety), not just with the city of Kalamazoo, not just with governmental entities, but as it pertains to our educational system, as it pertains to the businesses in our community. There’s not too many systematic pieces within our communities where we don’t see negative impacts as it pertains to African-Americans.”
He says the more people get involved and the more energy that is brought to the table, “That’s what I want to see continue.”
Of any national attention Saturday’s event brings to Kalamazoo, he said, “Above all, I hope they see we’re a loving community and that we stand in agreement with the family of George Floyd in seeking justice for his murder.” Of efforts to push for positive change, he says he hopes people see, “We are a community that is loving and respectful. We work together to figure out where we need to go.”
McDowell says, “With the rallies and with my rally this Saturday, every child should know that they’re safe. Within Kalamazoo County, for sure they should not be afraid of police officers … or the Department of Public Safety. They should know that those are the people they can go to for help.”
She says she’s hoping young people who attend Saturday’s rally leave with more self-confidence.
“If they come down there leery of being themselves and speaking up for themselves, my hope is that they can leave with that feeling that I am somebody who can speak up,” she says. “And there are people in the community that they can go to that support them 100 percent. And it’s all races. It’s all financial and home backgrounds."