Founded in 2012, Read and Write Kalamazoo, or RAWK, is devoted to nurturing intellectual and creative confidence in youth in Kalamazoo County.
It does that through creative writing workshops, summer camps, in-school programs, after-school tutoring, and community partnerships. Recently, RAWK brought on a new executive director: Kandace Lavender.
“I got my undergraduate degree at Western Michigan University,” Lavender says. “I started at KVCC, actually, wanting to go into pediatrics. Somewhere along the way at KVCC, I found out that I was a pretty decent writer.”
About that time, Lavender’s brother earned his degree and started a recording studio. He invited his sister to write lyrics, and she developed yet another interest as a hip-hop lyricist.
“I began to see the deficits in writing skills and reading skills among students of color,” Lavender says. “We would go to different neighborhoods and have these hip-hop writing workshops, and students were struggling with grammar and spelling, that sort of thing. That’s when I saw that hip-hop and writing can really spark interest in students wanting to improve their skills.”
Lavender changed her educational focus, earning her Bachelor of Arts Degree and Master of Special Education Degree from WMU. She is currently a candidate in the Doctor of Educational Leadership program at Michigan State University. She has built a career as an internationally known poet, vocalist, and hip-hop lyricist using her creative talents to connect with students and encourage them to find and use their voice.
Speaking about the RAWK students now under her care, Lavender says, “To see them thrive, be seen and noticed, to be acknowledged and affirmed, that’s the greatest success for me with these students.”
Read and Write Kalamazoo is an independent nonprofit organization that exists to celebrate and amplify youth voices through the cultivation of reading and writing skills with joy, creativity, equity, and access.
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