The Sins of Kalamazoo

In the spring of 1962 I was a graduate student in English at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. We all know Kalamazoo if we know the poet Carl Sandburg.

The sins of Kalamazoo are neither scarlet nor crimson.
The sins of Kalamazoo are a convict gray, a dishwater
drab.
And the people who sin the sins of Kalamazoo are neither
scarlet nor crimson.
The run to drabs and grays–and some of them sing
they shall be washed whiter than snow–and some: We
should worry.

Well, I wasn’t sinning in Kalamazoo! (We never sinned back in the early Sixties.) I was a grad student and I had just been selected to go to Ethiopia. A country I couldn’t at first find on a map of Africa. (Oh, there it is!) I wasn’t the only Western student joining the Peace Corps in 1962. Bill Donohoe, a history major at Western, also had been selected for the first group to Ethiopia. And Richard Joyce, our friend, who was on the literary magazine with me, was going to the Philippines that summer. There were other graduates from the college responded to Kennedy’s Call. One of the women (actually Donohoe’s cute college girlfriend) was selected for the very first group in 1961 to Nigeria. She and I had taken the Peace Corps examination together early in the year at the Kalamazoo Post Office and she had whispered over to me as she filled out the questionnaire: “Is asks if I’m afraid of snakes. I hate snakes!” (I told her to lie. Sorry, Sarge.) A year after us, another one of our ‘literary gang’ at Western, Lee Reno, would head off to Liberia.

We had no idea what we were doing, joining the Peace Corps, going to countries we couldn’t find on the map.  But we were doing it. We were Kennedy’s Kids. We were joining this new  Peace Corps. We were getting the hell out of Kalamazoo!

Times have changed. We came home. We grew up. After our years, a brighter and more sophisticated group of college graduates from Western began to join the Peace Corps. But some things haven’t changed. Take Dick Joyce!

Dick Joyce, a brilliant undergraduate, returned from the Philippines to Kalamazoo and earned more degrees and spent his career teaching at Western. Recently retired, he now has organized the RPCVs of Southwest Michigan.

This last week he sent me an email that tells how these RPCVs in Western Michigan are still actively involved in change, but now here at home. It is a great example, I think, of what other groups of RPCVs could be doing across the country, and I do realize many of these groups are doing just that!

Here’s what Dick had to say recently to his RPCVs.

September 9, 2017

To the Peace Corps Association of Southwest Michigan

Dear Group,

  1. In an indirect way I found out about the current Peace Corps Prep program at WMU.  If you know a potential PCV who is at Western Michigan University or who might go to Western, let them know about it: https://www.wmich.edu/healthprograms/peace-corps-prep-minor .  As far as I know Western also still has a Peace Corps option in its graduate program in development administration, run by our group member Paul Clements (Gambia, 85-87).  Paul, you probably know, is running for Congress again, and seeking support.
  2. I went to the rally in downtown Kalamazoo Tuesday night in opposition to President Trump’s suspension of the DACA program.  I was surprised to see our group member Paul Haag (Guatemala, 99-01) among the protestors who chose to be arrested to dramatize their views.  (Larry Provancher, who attended a couple of our RPCV meetings at Mike Quinn’s Shamrock School was another choosing to be arrested.)  News of the demonstration is at http://www.mlive.com/news/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2017/09/arrested_demonstrators_used_wh.html?ath=e45d41bfe800a8620109501f19d12d52#cmpid=nsltr_strybutton .  Paul wrote the following message for our group:I’d love to see more Kalamazoo area RPCV’s involved in activism, particularly with the detrimental actions of the current administration coming at us on an almost daily basis.  Folks should realize the assaults are wide ranging, from anti-immigrant, to public education, to environmental, to economics, and so many other areas, including of course, likely cuts to Peace Corps.A message I’d like to send to our RPCV community is simply, don’t let your activism end with your service.  For any interested, there is ample opportunity to get involved with any number of local organizations, to help add voices to those standing up for what many of us believe are true American values of diversity and equality. Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC), ProKzoo, Michigan United, and Cosecha Kzoo are just a few I’d suggest connecting with, along with any area churches involved in local activism.

    In my case, I made a decision to use my white privilege to lend voice to those who may not be able to safely speak out.

  3. Another cause RPCVs might be interested in is the International Day of Peace, coming up on September 21.  To learn more about it, go to http://internationaldayofpeace.org/ .
  4. And, as long as I am so full of ideas at 8 a.m. on a Saturday, here is a link to a series of ethics lectures at Western Michigan University:  https://www.wmich.edu/sites/default/files/attachments/u497/2017/Fall%202017%20Series%20Flier%20.pdf .

Best wishes,

Dick Joyce (Philippines, 62-64)

 

 

 

 

 

One Comment

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  • Fun reading, John, and Dick. Yes, I agree fully. And I’m board using my white privilege as best I can, in blogging too, and writing. Just finished my book on Nigerian customs and what they can teach us about living in community. Hope to publish with Peace Corps Writers, who published my memoir 3 years ago.

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