Statement from Mayor Hopewell and Comm. Cooney regarding Fountain of the Pioneers

Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby J. Hopewell and City Commissioner Don Cooney have released the following statement regarding the recent decision by the Kalamazoo City Commission to remove the Fountain of the Pioneers from Bronson Park:


The Fountain of the Pioneers has been the center point of Bronson Park for nearly 80 years. It is the basis of fond memories, a painful reminder, an artistic achievement, a place to cool off, or a lesson in history, depending on who you ask. It has been a source of controversy for its entire existence, long before this City Commission and City Administration, and it would likely continue to be long after.

Early in the morning of March 6 the Kalamazoo City Commission made the difficult decision to remove the Fountain of the Pioneers from Bronson Park. We made this decision immediately following five hours of public comment at one of the longest City Commission meetings in memory, but this was just the latest installment of a discussion that has been going on for decades. We voted knowing that no matter what the outcome, many would be angry, disappointed or frustrated. Like many public issues, there was no simple or easy solution.

This vote was not to erase history, destroy art or deprive our community of a beloved feature of Bronson Park. It is important to remember and learn from our past, and there are places all over the world where we can reflect on the darker moments of human history. That is why we didn’t vote to destroy the fountain, but to preserve the artistic elements for display elsewhere. This vote recognizes that there is a place for this type of reflection, but one of our most public areas is not that place.

This vote also recognizes the past and outlook on this issue. After nearly 80 years, the controversy remains. With the originally planned investment of more than $1 million into the restoration of the Fountain of the Pioneers, do we want to be investing this amount of resources into this fountain? What does this say about our values as a community? What are we telling the many voices from our city that say this is inappropriate, hurtful and unwelcoming? The fountain may ultimately be removed anyway- it is the third fountain in Bronson Park. While this decision to remove the fountain is not without its own cost, it is expected to be approximately $200,000 and we are pursuing outside resources to offset these costs.

This vote will not immediately resolve all of the racial issues that we face in our City and our region, but it is a recognition that symbols matter. It is a step towards healing. It is consistent with the recently completed Imagine Kalamazoo 2025 Strategic Vision and other efforts to promote racial equity such as the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation and Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo initiatives.  It is also consistent with our City Charter, which is enacted in part to “…to conserve and utilize public values for public benefit and to promote our common welfare…”

The City Commission is elected to represent all of Kalamazoo, a diverse city with diverse viewpoints. With 75,000 perspectives, we are not all going to agree on every decision. We made a difficult choice, but it was the best choice for our City as a whole.

Michigan Department of Civil Rights Receives Grant to Advance Racial Equity in Kalamazoo

The Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE) has awarded the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) a $20,000 grant to advance racial equity in the city of Kalamazoo. MDCR will partner with the city to strengthen community partnerships and develop a racial equity lens to better analyze and address the issue of fair housing in the city.

“There has been growing concern from Kalamazoo residents about issues related to housing, including quality and affordability, as well as high rates of homelessness,” said Agustin Arbulu, Executive Director, Michigan Department of Civil Rights. “Looking at this concern through a racial equity lens, we see low rates of home ownership for people of color, high rates of concentrated poverty in neighborhoods where African Americans and Latinos live, and the legacy of redlining and segregation. This grant award enables us to bring together multiple efforts in a comprehensive and sustained way to help foster actionable change.”

Racial equity is the systemic fair treatment of all races that produces equitable opportunities and outcomes for all people. Using a racial equity lens in analyzing societal problems allows communities to focus on the ways in which race and ethnicity shape experiences with power, access to resources and opportunity, and helps them find solutions that advance racial equity.

The GARE grant is designed to provide flexible resources for local government to seed projects that are focused on eliminating structural racism. The grant will support the work of MDCR to:

  • Build and deepen partnerships between the City of Kalamazoo, MDCR and community-based organizations focused on advancing racial equity;
  • Connect government entities to the community-based process and emerging infrastructure of the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation (TRHT) process in Kalamazoo and nationally;
  • Assist the City of Kalamazoo to adopt a racial equity framework in both its internal and external operations, including the implementation of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) framework. Efforts will focus on, but will not be limited to, the Edison, Northside and Eastside neighborhoods. The results of this work will be incorporated into the City of Kalamazoo’s required Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Consolidated Plan for 2019-2024.

Along with MDCR and the city of Kalamazoo, other partners in the effort include the Fair Housing Center of Southwest Michigan, the Interfaith Strategy for Advocacy and Action in the Community (ISAAC), the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, and Eliminating Racism and Claiming/Celebrating Equity (ERACCE).

“GARE’s Implementation and Innovation Fund offers the prospect of building cross-sector collaboration with partners who have extensive reach and influence in the community,” said Arbulu. “It’s also an opportunity to bring together state and city government, as well as philanthropic and community-based organizations to work collaboratively in advancing racial equity. We’re excited about the promise this project represents.”

"The City of Kalamazoo is honored and excited to participate as a collaborative partner in the Government Alliance on Race and Equity Implementation and Innovation fund," said Dorla Bonner, Community Development Manager for the City of Kalamazoo. "The goal of collaborating with community organizations to work toward equity in fair housing is directly in support of the City of Kalamazoo’s Shared Prosperity Kalamazoo initiative as well as the Imagine Kalamazoo Master Plan and Strategic Vision. We see this as the beginning of how we as a community combine efforts and resources to improve the lives of all Kalamazoo residents."

For more information on the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and its work, visit www.michigan.gov/mdcr. To learn more about GARE, visit www.racialequityalliance.org.

The Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE) has awarded the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) a $20,000 grant to advance racial equity in the city of Kalamazoo. MDCR will partner with the city to strengthen community partnerships and develop a racial equity lens to better analyze and address the issue of fair housing in the city.
“There has been growing concern from Kalamazoo residents about issues related to housing, including quality and affordability, as well as high rates of homelessness,” said Agustin Arbulu, Executive Director, Michigan Department of Civil Rights. “Looking at this concern through a racial equity lens, we see low rates of home ownership for people of color, high rates of concentrated poverty in neighborhoods where African Americans and Latinos live, and the legacy of redlining and segregation. This grant award enables us to bring together multiple efforts in a comprehensive and sustained way to help foster actionable change.”
Racial equity is the systemic fair treatment of all races that produces equitable opportunities and outcomes for all people. Using a racial equity lens in analyzing societal problems allows communities to focus on the ways in which race and ethnicity shape experiences with power, access to resources and opportunity, and helps them find solutions that advance racial equity.
The GARE grant is designed to provide flexible resources for local government to seed projects that are focused on eliminating structural racism. The grant will support the work of MDCR to:
o Build and deepen partnerships between the City of Kalamazoo, MDCR and community-based organizations focused on advancing racial equity;
o Connect government entities to the community-based process and emerging infrastructure of the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation (TRHT) process in Kalamazoo and nationally;
o Assist the City of Kalamazoo to adopt a racial equity framework in both its internal and external operations, including the implementation of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) framework.
Efforts will focus on, but will not be limited to, the Edison, Northside and Eastside neighborhoods. The results of
this work will be incorporated into the City of Kalamazoo’s required Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
Consolidated Plan for 2019-2024.
Along with MDCR and the city of Kalamazoo, other partners in the effort include the Fair Housing Center of
Southwest Michigan, the Interfaith Strategy for Advocacy and Action in the Community (ISAAC), the Kalamazoo
Community Foundation, and Eliminating Racism and Claiming/Celebrating Equity (ERACCE).
“GARE’s Implementation and Innovation Fund offers the prospect of building cross-sector collaboration with
partners who have extensive reach and influence in the community,” said Arbulu. “It’s also an opportunity to
bring together state and city government, as well as philanthropic and community-based organizations to work
collaboratively in advancing racial equity. We’re excited about the promise this project represents.”
For more information on the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and its work, visit www.michigan.gov/mdcr.
To learn more about GARE, visit www.racialequityalliance.org.

City Commission to Consider Recommendation for Fountain of the Pioneers in Bronson Park

At their March 5 meeting, the Kalamazoo City Commission will consider a recommendation from City Manager Jim Ritsema regarding the Fountain of the Pioneers in Bronson Park. City Manager Ritsema and the administration of the City of Kalamazoo will recommend that the fountain and its pools be removed from the park, and that the artistically significant pieces be stored until a more suitable venue is found for display. Lawn panels will be installed in the spring as options for these spaces are considered.

Full Statement from City Manager Jim Ritsema:

Since the approval of the Bronson Park Master Plan in 2016, we have carefully listened to the many voices sharing their perspectives about Bronson Park’s fountain (often referred to as the Fountain of the Pioneers) – its meaning, its history, and what it represents. The passion with which so many have spoken or written makes it clear how important this issue is to our community.

Many see the fountain as an important piece of 20th century art capturing a dark chapter of our country’s history. Others view it is a painful reminder of injustice and a symbol of inequality or supremacy.

Works of art invite interpretation. They often challenge our thinking and explore uncomfortable ideas or topics. Each of us may experience them differently. While this can make a work of art powerful and moving, it also means that not all works of art are suited for display in all public spaces, for all times.

Bronson Park is often referred to as Kalamazoo’s front porch. Our front porch must be a place where everyone feels welcome, comfortable, and included.

Therefore, City of Kalamazoo staff recommends the removal of the fountain and its pools from Bronson Park, and that a new plan be developed for the space it currently inhabits.

We believe this recommendation closely aligns with our Shared Prosperity efforts as well as our community’s aspirations of racial healing and equity. This proposal also underscores Kalamazoo’s commitment to a positive future for everyone.

If this recommendation is approved by the City Commission on March 5, the fountain and pools will be removed from Bronson Park this year. The installment’s significant artistic pieces will be placed in storage until a suitable venue is identified.

The remaining recommendations of the Bronson Park Master Plan can proceed, with the newly open area available for possible future amenities such as a new fountain, children’s play area, expanded seating for the stage, or other possibilities to be developed with community input. Staff will continue to partner with the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians and other Native Americans in the region to ensure their history is accurately portrayed in the Park and other educational venues.

Current Bronson Park 21st Century Capital Campaign donors will be contacted to explain this new course of action, solicit their continued support, and ensure donations are handled appropriately.

This recommendation is not made lightly and we understand that not everyone will agree. Our position is that Bronson Park and the entire City of Kalamazoo must be a welcoming place for everyone – and our front porch is open to all.

City of Kalamazoo

Home to the Kalamazoo Promise, three institutions of higher education, two nationally recognized healthcare systems, cutting-edge medical research, world-class brewing and dining, outstanding parks, and an extensive variety of music, art, theatre, and cultural attractions.

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     Kalamazoo, MI 49007

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