Kalamazoo Promise separates from Southwest Michigan First over Chatfield hire

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek
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KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Another organization in Kalamazoo is cutting ties with Southwest Michigan First over the hiring of its new CEO, citing diversity and inclusion concerns.

The Kalamazoo Promise made the announcement Friday, one week after former Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield was hired by the economic group.

An undated photo provided by Southwest Michigan First shows the organization’s new CEO, former House Speaker Lee Chatfield.

Chatfield’s hiring has drawn some pushback because of his past comments on inclusion and the LGBTQ community.

The Promise joins the Kalamazoo City Commission in severing ties, after the commission unanimously voted remove itself from SWMF on Feb. 15.

The Promise’s statement regarding the separation notes that Chatfield’s leadership “brings to question the level of value that SWMF places on diversity, equity and inclusion.”

The Kalamazoo County Commission also discussed pulling its support for SWMF Tuesday night, along with $75,000 in annual pay for economic development services. The commission did not vote on the proposal but will revisit it at its next meeting. 

Chatfield says he’ll work with local leaders and believes the organization can build cooperation.

Below is The Kalamazoo Promise’s full statement on the separation:

“The Kalamazoo Promise celebrates and learns from the diversity of our staff, our students, their families, and our community. Given the recent hire of Southwest Michigan First’s CEO, and the positions he’s held in regard to matters of diversity, equity and inclusion, The Kalamazoo Promise has decided to separate ties from the SWMF Board of Directors.

The Kalamazoo Promise did not participate in the selection or hiring of the new CEO and believes that this new leadership brings to question the level of value that SWMF places on diversity, equity and inclusion. This underscores their misalignment with the work we do and more importantly goes against The Promise’s values. We know that to strengthen the local economy it requires intentional focus toward the work of education and economic development especially with communities that have been systemically left out.

We are reminded in these times how important our work is in transforming our community. We are committed to leaning into hard conversations and working with partners (public, private, and non-profit) to breakdown the policies and biases that perpetuate inequities.   

As our team continues to identify ways to address inequities, we know this work requires perseverance. We will be persistent, but we will not be patient. The time is now to address the injustice and lack of equity in our community.”

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