An Interview with John McKnight

On March 15, 2012 about 70 people gathered at Transformations Spirituality Center in Kalamazoo for the 3rd Building a Community of Belonging: A Forum of The Arcadia Institute and Its Partners. (At the end of this blog you can see the complete list of our Partners, Supporters and Sponsors.) John McKnight was our guest facilitator for the afternoon portion of the Forum. John guided us through four questions that lead us to look at the personal gifts, talents and contributions each person brought to the Forum:

What are your gifts? What were you born doing well?

What skills are you good at doing that you have learned?

What are you passionate about?

What do you know well enough to teach?

Groups shared and our Blog for March 20 was a word cloud of those gifts. We will use this information as our Network moves forward in 2012.

On March 21, Allison Hammond interviewed John about his impressions of Kalamazoo and the work we are doing to make Kalamazoo a Place Where All People Belong.

A: What was your overall impression of Kalamazoo?

J: Since I stayed downtown in Kalamazoo I didn’t see the whole area, but I was pleased to see that Kalamazoo’s downtown area seems to be active and alive. I don’t always find this is the case in other towns the size of Kalamazoo.

A: What did you think of the work we are doing with the Network?

J: I think that the approach The Arcadia Institute and its partner organizations is using is smart. Engaging important not for profit organizations to change the culture of Kalamazoo into a place where people are welcome and included is a wonderful approach.

A: What would you suggest as next steps for the Network when we meet again?

J: I have two suggestions. First, I encourage all of the organizations who were involved to use the questions I asked at the Forum. It is a new way of working toward an organization’s mission. Instead of looking at a strategic plan as how to get people in the organization to do work toward the mission, ask the people another question. How do your gifts, skills, passions and teachables contribute to the organization’s work toward the mission? You can completely change the conversations in an organization to talk about contributions rather than how to get people to do things.

Second, the not for profit organizations that provide community programming typically invite people to join them and partake in whatever is offered. I think that is inviting people into the organization’s “agenda.” Another approach is to invite people to join by asking them what gifts, skills, passions and teachables the invitee can bring to the organization. For example, The Nature Center could invite people to join and share their mission and their programs, but the third part of the invitation is to ask people what they would like to contribute to the Nature Center so that all mutually benefit.

When an organization knows what its members’ gifts are, they can also let other organizations know about them. In this way, the Nature Center as well as people who participate there begin to connect more broadly to the whole community.

Real relationships are friendships built when people are doing things together that meaningfully impact the community. You cannot “find friends” for people, but you can help them make friends by offering as many opportunities for people to engage with one another. For example, I have twenty-four faculty that are my colleagues, but I would only call five or six real friends. We need to offer people who are marginalized as many opportunities as possible to spend time with people who have like interests in making meaningful contributions.

A: Thank you so much for coming to spend time with us in Kalamazoo.

J: I appreciate being there and I am interested in knowing what your group does next.

For more information about John McKnight you can visit The Asset-Based Community Development Institute or

For more information about The Arcadia Institute you can visit

Building a Community of Belonging Forum Partners The Arcadia Institute YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo Kalamazoo Nature Center Boys and Girls Club of Greater Kalamazoo Southwest Michigan Council of Boy Scouts The Portage District Library

Advocacy Groups ARC of Kent County ARC of Michigan ARC of Western Wayne County Disability Network of Southwest Michigan

Sponsors Kalamazoo Community Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services Center for Disability Services Residential Opportunities, Inc. Family & Children Services

Supporters Julie Pell Prevention Works USA Tae Kwan Do YMCA Sherman Lake Kingdom Sports Air Zoo

Additional Funding Connections Council Support for this forum was provided by a grant from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation.