The Southwest Michigan Black Heritage Society

The Southwest Michigan Black Heritage Society

"The connection to yesterday"

The Southwest Michigan Black Heritage Society Racial Healing Initiative

The Racial Healing Initiative is grounded in a model called Transforming Historical Harms, developed and articulated by Amy Potter Czajkowski and David Anderson Hooker of the Center for Justice and Peace-building at Eastern Mennonite University. The premise of the Transforming Historical Harms strategy is that effective work to confront and remedy the lingering legacy of historical injustices must be addressed through Facing History; Making Connections; Healing Wounds; and Taking Action. The Initiative offers


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Beverly Coleman (Retreat Facilitator)

Beverly Coleman is a consultant and experienced facilitator for the Center for Courage and Renewal in Seattle WA. She currently serves as a facilitator for the Center's Diversity Task Force and is a past member of the Center's Leadership Team for Facilitator Preparation. She has facilitated "Courage to Lead" Formation Retreats, the "Courage to Teach" two-year retreat series at the Fetzer Institute and various local and national retreats for the National Drug Courts Association. She is a licensed social worker and served for more than 25 years as a public school social worker. She holds a B.A. in education and psychology from Wilmington College in Wilmington, Ohio and an M.A. in Social Work from Western Michigan University.


Caren Dybek (Retreat Facilitator)

Caren Dybek is a facilitator prepared by the Center for Courage and Renewal in Seattle. She has collaborated in designing the innovative Courage To Lead: Nurturing the Heart of the Leader Retreat Series which draws together leaders if the educational, non-profit and civic realms. She has worked for eleven years in retreat and staff development settings with K-12 and university educators, non-profit and civic leaders. She holds degrees in English and educational psychology from Loyola University, Chicago and the University of Iowa. Caren has taught on the elementary, middle school, high school and university levels in private and public schools in the inner-city of Chicago, the Virgin Islands, Iowa City and Kalamazoo.


Esther Gray, PhD (Presenter and Consultant)

Esther Gray is Associate Professor of Literacy Studies at Western Michigan University. She received her B.A. in Sociology from Kansas State University, an M.S. in Family and Child Development from Kansas State University, and a Ph.D. in Language Education at Indiana University. Her background includes teaching and supervisory positions in Education and Language Education and Family and Child Development. She has published several articles on education and consulted on literacy projects in Illinois, Indiana, and Kansas. Esther has made an extensive study of children and adolescent literature that deals with historical and contemporary issues of race, oppression and reconciliation


Mitch Kachun, PhD (Presenter and Consultant)

Mitch Kachun is associate professor of History at Western Michigan University. He received a B.A. in Anthropology from Pennsylvania State University, an M.S. in History from Illinois State University, and an M.A. and PhD in History from Cornell University. He has written numerous articles and made many presentations on African American history and was co-editor of The Curse of Caste; or the Slave Bride a Rediscovered African American Novel by Julia C. Collins, winner of a 2007 Outstanding Academic Title. He is author of Festivals of Freedom: Memory and Meaning in African American Emancipation Celebrations, 1808-1915, (Massachusetts 2003). Dr. Kachun has received the 2007 WMU Emerging Scholar Award and is a member of the American Historical Association, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, and the Organization of American Historians.


Tierra Marshall (Presenter and Facilitator)

Tierra L Marshall holds a B.S. in Psychology and African American Studies and an M.A. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from Western Michigan University and is pursuing a Master of Divinity degree from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. She was part of the design and organizing team for Everyone Counts, a diversity program that seeks to develop faculty and staff in implementing diversity into the curriculum or departmental programming. She is currently program coordinator for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, which includes planning, management and assessment of institutional efforts, and developing educational programming around diversity. She was co-chair of the 2012 MLK, Jr. Celebration Committee and chair of the annual Excellence in Diversity Awards Committee. Tierra also develops and facilitates the Real Talk Diversity Series at WMU.


Donna Odom (Presenter and Project Director)

Donna Odom is Executive Director of the Southwest Michigan Black Heritage Society. She holds a B.A. from Kalamazoo College and an M.A. from Loyola University of Chicago. She served as a member of the Steering Committee of the RACE Exhibit Initiative, project co-coordinator for the "Telling the Kalamazoo Community RACE Story, project coordinator for the History Detectives oral history program, and project coordinator for the two-day Inheriting the Trade program in 2010. She researches and speaks on regional African American history, oral history, and the Underground Railroad. She serves on the boards of the Kalamazoo County Historical Society, the Historical Society of Michigan and the Michigan Oral History Association.


Cheree Thomas (Presenter and Facilitator)

Cheree Thomas holds a B.A from the University of Toledo. She is currently Program Director for Hallmark Impact: Racial Justice/Women's Economic Empowerment at the YWCA of Kalamazoo. She has been a consultant/facilitator for diversity and cultural competence and domestic and sexual violence since 2008. Cheree is a former Program Manager at the Michigan Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. She is a member of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Women of Color Network, and the Michigan Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.


Kristina Wirtz, PhD (Presenter and Consultant)

Kristina Wirtz is associate professor of Anthropology at Western Michigan University. She received her B.A. in Neurobiology and Behavior and M.S. in Education at Cornell University and her PhD in Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. She has published numerous scholarly articles and two books on cultural and linguistic anthropology. Dr. Wirtz's research and teaching applies ethnographic and discourse analysis methods to examine the dynamics of community identity, religion, race, and racism in the many societies in the Americas shaped by the Atlantic slave trade and African diaspora, focusing on the experiences of African-descended people in Latin America and the Caribbean. It was under her leadership that the American Anthropological Association's Race Exhibit was brought to Kalamazoo in 2010 and she served as the original project coordinator.

For a fee schedule, send an email request to

For more information or scheduling contact Donna Odom, Project Director, 269/873-2327