The W.K. Kellogg Foundation kicked off its first ever convening of the foundation's Michigan grantees on Aug. 23 in Traverse City, Mich. Called “Communities in Action: Lifting Up Michigan’s Most Vulnerable Children,” the conference is a two-day event designed to help Michigan grantees build relationships with one another and cultivate an atmosphere of learning and collaboration. The goal of the grantees' collective work is to develop educated kids, healthy kids and secure families by engaging all Michigan stakeholders – through a racial equity and community voice lens – to raise their voices and take action on important issues that will propel the state's most vulnerable children to success.
Day One opened with a ceremonial tribal blessing to receive permission for gathering on the traditional territories of the Chippewa and Ottawa Nations. The blessing, performed by local tribal representatives and their families, set the tone for the inclusive, spirited atmosphere where grantees shared their stories and ideas for creating a better Michigan.
Jim McHale, the Kellogg Foundation's chief of staff and program lead for its Michigan work, began the meeting with a reminder of Will Keith Kellogg's original intent: "Do as you please, as long as it supports the health, happiness and well-being of the child." Throughout the day, attendees learned more about the strategic framework of the foundation, and its work to ensure Michigan children are born healthy, are well educated and come from economically secure families.
Foundation consultants led a lively discussion on social networks and social media tools. Participants shared their ideas and successes in harnessing the power of networks for social impact. They were also encouraged to visit the conference's Social Networking Lounge and join a Twitter discussion using #WKKFMI.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder contributed a video address for the attendees, and Sterling K. Speirn, president and chief executive officer of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, delivered the final keynote of the first day. Speaking of the foundation's work in Michigan, Speirn said, "We have a place. We have an integrated focus. We now need to build a place-based constellation of partners. We have to connect our grantees -- our stars -- who all care about Michigan's vulnerable children."
The evening came to a dramatic end with an interactive exercise in which Gabriel Giron and Kirk Latimer of Kinetic Affect performed a moving poem celebrating the challenges and strengths of Michigan, a state that produces "children with piston-powered minds and Red Wings so that one day they can teach their own children how to fly."
Grantees were asked to complete the following sentence: "I believe in a Michigan where..." as part of Kinetic Affect’s evening performance. The performance group helped kick-off the second day of the conference by sharing grantees’ aspirational responses. One of several poignant hopes shared at the morning session: "I believe in a Michigan where children and all people are valued, respected and seen as gifts to our communities and state. And because of that, we lead the country in what it means to really have racial equality, to fully know success, and for families to be our truest asset -- the seedlings of a nation reborn."
Day Two continued with a series of educational sessions that illustrated the ongoing themes of building relationships, networking and impacting the community. Throughout the day, participants organized into groups aligned with the foundation's work in Battle Creek, Detroit, Grand Rapids and Michigan statewide to identify opportunities for local collaboration. In addition, attendees shared the personal experiences and challenges that defined and solidified their commitment to improve the lives of vulnerable children in the state.
Next, W. K. Kellogg Foundation director, Reggie LaGrand, and Public Policy Assoc.'s Paul Elam led a discussion on Collective Impact. Grantees were encouraged to connect with one another and make immediate plans to re-engage following the convening.
LaGrand shared a quote from Margaret Mead on the strength of collective work: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
The convening closed with a closing blessing from the Chippewa and Ottawa Nations.
One participant claimed, "I believe in a Michigan where we know the best days are ahead of us." In the hands of the committed grantees, government officials, community leaders and foundations in attendance at this convening, that vision seems highly possible.
*Updated Aug. 24, 2011 at 10p.m.