“The challenge of inequity is not solved by one promise, but by a collective commitment to witness one another every day, leaving no voice unheard.”

This timely, fundamental proclamation is included in the mission statement of Read and Write Kalamazoo (RAWK), a nonprofit association that has championed the cause since 2012. And their method of achieving social justice and inclusion is unique: they celebrate and amplify youth voices.

What started as a space for youth to write and share stories has become a significant force in Kalamazoo’s schools and throughout the community. Founders Anne Hensley and Emily Kastner, the board of directors, staff, volunteers, and the youth they serve, are committed to valuing diversity and equity at every level.

According to executive director Nicki Poer, this past year has brought new challenges, of course, but Read and Write Kalamazoo pivoted from in-person programs to supporting students and teachers virtually online.

Last fall, the organization released the first volume of its Quarantine Anthology Project: “Shelter in Place: Stories and Words from the Socially Distant Front Lines of Home.” Subsequently, via Facebook, area youth were invited to “Get dreamy and poetic and then share it with the world!” and to submit additional works to be published in another Quarantine Anthology.

Online, RAWK makes writing kits available, including writing prompt videos, live and virtual writing workshops, and numerous literacy resources.

Other programs include RAWK Readers’ Rooms, field trips, thematic workshops, and more.

In partnership with Kalamazoo Public Schools, the RAWK Readers’ Rooms at Lincoln School for International Studies and Northeastern Elementary School provide support for classroom teachers and students in their homework, reading, and creative writing, with small groups and 1:1 sessions led by trained volunteers.

Storytelling and bookmaking field trips at the literacy center enable students to work together to create a story and publish a book in one morning session.  – Kay, somehow this paragraph is in here twice. Delete the first version.

One example of an outstanding event was last fall’s partnering with Rootead, a nonprofit community enrichment center. Participants explored and shared the cultural storytelling methods of traditional West African drumming and dancing with a Swahili story.

Weekend thematic workshops offer various exciting themes throughout the year for pre-K through high school students. Partnering with numerous other organizations and local artisans, the two- to three-hour workshops always intertwine with reading and writing to connect to the full scope of literacy.

Volunteers are always welcome and receive extensive training on topics such as trauma-informed learning, poverty-informed learning, social-emotional learning, antiracism, implicit bias, cultural agility, holistic education, and how to truly listen to students so that their voices are heard in a deep and meaningful way.

The website is filled with powerful, enlightening mantras such as “Being an antiracist educator is a daily practice and act of love,” and visuals showing how owning power is like lighting one candle from another. “You can light up a child’s power without extinguishing your own.”

All RAWK programs are cost-free to participating students and their families. In-kind and financial donations are welcome online or via USPS.


Read and Write Kalamazoo (RAWK)
802 S Westnedge Avenue, Kalamazoo 49008
(269) 743-7005 / ReadandWriteKZoo.com