1627 W. Main St
Kalamazoo, Michigan 49008
Yvonne Davis retired in 2008 from a career as an elementary teacher and educational administrator, but rejoined the workforce in 2010 with Lift Up Through Literacy, a program of Kalamazoo Public Schools. Since she has always had a focus on family, she considers her executive directorship a dream job, allowing her to connect with parents and children through the program.
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
Lift Up Through Literacy Executive Director Yvonne Davis
: As a leader, I’m looking to empower people, so that they understand what the vision is and can be proactive. For example, my coaches are coming to me with ideas of how to attract and bring in more parents. It’s crucial to be a good listener, taking in all the information and energy you can from your team; at the same time, you have to know when it’s time to say, “That’s not going to work,” and keep everyone on the same track. A good leader is someone who can turn negatives into positives, and build on the strengths of their team while minimizing weaknesses.
What is your dream for kids?
I just want them to be successful and fulfill their dreams, but more importantly, I want kids to have
dreams. Many of their parents didn’t have certain opportunities, and children may not even realize what kinds of dreams they’re entitled to. It’s also my hope that kids really understand the significance of the Kalamazoo Promise [which gives free college tuition for KPS high school graduates] and take advantage of it. Not all kids will want to do a four-year program, and that’s okay, but regardless,
A good leader is someone who can turn negatives into positives, and build on the strengths of their team while minimizing weaknesses.
they should take advantage of the opportunities provided them. I dream that we can continue to touch more lives, and transform from a culture that says “we can’t” to one that says “we can.”
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
Making sure that education is available for all. The work that we do begins at age zero to pre-school; we have to start there to build the skills kids need. We need consistency from the government so that programs can stay in place; many times, programs tend to be cut before they have a chance to gain ground or be proven effective. Lastly, we need to provide support to families in need.
How do you know you’re making progress?
The fact that we have grown from four sessions to twelve; that we can see the enthusiasm in parents’ faces when they interact with their children; and that we have volunteers asking to be involved because they know it will make a difference.
We want Kalamazoo to be a literate community -- a college-going community. We have the Kalamazoo Promise, but if parents don’t understand why it’s important, and students are not equipped with college-level skills, they often drop out. Part of our progress is in helping parents understand the value of these skills and the long-term benefits they can provide.
What are you most proud of?
I want kids to have dreams. Many of their parents didn't have certain opportunities, and children may not even realize what kinds of dreams they're entitled to.
As we are looking at our surveys, not only from administration, but from parents, coaches and kids, I think we’ve made a lot of gains as we continue to grow. We have additional sites contacting us asking if they can get on board. Everyone involved feels that we are making a positive difference in the community. I’m proud when I hear people talk about the impact we’ve made, and when I see that parents are getting it.
In speaking with younger people who are interested in careers in the social sector, what advice would you give?
We’ve pulled a lot of young people from our childcare program to become coaches. I try to make sure there is structure and expectations that they are aware of. What I would tell them in general is to make sure you’re looking at the big picture; completing your education and looking at your goals for the future. Many young people sit around and just think things will fall into place. After you’ve completed school, you’re responsible. So often, younger people make commitments with no follow-through. Be open and communicate; if you’re struggling, seek support or advice. It’s important to know who you are in life.