Kalamazoo Russian Cultural Association (formerly the Kalamazoo-Pushkin Partnership)
What is the Kalamazoo Russian Cultural Association?
When it was created in the early 1990s, the Kalamazoo-Russian Partnership was a humanitarian organization. It sent medical supplies from Kalamazoo to health professionals in Pushkin, Russia during the difficult time there after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 2012, the Kalamazoo-Pushkin Partnership changed names to become the Kalamazoo Russian Cultural Association (KRCA) when it gained status as a nonprofit 501(c)(3). The new name reflects a broadening of its goals and more clearly represents it activities both in Pushkin and in the Kalamazoo community.
Anyone with an interest in Russian culture can join in the activities of the Association. There is no formal membership process or membership fee. The KRCA consists of both people born in the United States and people who have immigrated here from Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia. Once a month, the KRCA hosts a shared potluck meal, where some of our interested parties enjoy good company, and a presentation on some aspect of Russian culture. There is also an annual Russian Festival, ongoing education classes for children, academic and cultural exchange initiatives, and other community programming events for the local Russian community.
How did the Partnership get started? Why was the city of Pushkin chosen?
In the early 1990's Janet Ferguson, then director of WMU's Council of International Programs (now Colleagues International) attended a conference in St. Petersburg, Russia at which she met some officials from the city of Pushkin, one of whom said, “everyone comes here and says that we have great potential now that the old order is ending, and they promise to help us make changes to reorganize our lives, but they never do.” Resolved to follow up, Ferguson arranged an invitation for these men from Pushkin to come to Kalamazoo and meet with city leaders here.
Soon after, Marie Stoline and Dr. David Flagler of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) received word about The Russian Project, PSR's effort to meet the immediate needs of health professionals in Russia who were working under difficult conditions as the Soviet supply chains collapsed. Because of the previous contact with Pushkin, the local chapter of PSR requested that their 40 ft. shipping container of supplies collected from the local medical community be sent to that city.
A 12-member delegation, which included Flagler and Stoline as well as Mark Ott (then City Manager of Kalamazoo), met the container in Pushkin. While there, these delegates created friendships with their counterparts at the Semashko Hospital, the Turner Institute for Orthopedic Surgery, and in Pushkin's city government. Many of these friendships continue to this day despite major changes in the economic situations of both nations and turn-over of personnel in the city administrations.
How many people are involved in the partnership? What percentage (roughly) are Russian natives?
There are no dues and no membership cards in the Kalamazoo-Pushkin Partnership, so there are also no membership rolls, per se. Attendance at monthly pot-lucks ranges from 20-50 people, approximately one-third of whom are immigrants to the United States. Over the last fifteen years, however, many people have joined the Partnership for specific projects, professional exchanges, or travel to Russia. We estimate that several hundred members of the Kalamazoo community have been involved in the Kalamazoo-Pushkin Partnership.
How does the Kalamazoo-Pushkin Partnership benefit the city of Pushkin?
After the initial success of the first shipping container, several more containers were sent including winter clothing, non-perishable food, and school supplies as well as medical supplies. Now that consumer goods are readily available in Russia and Russians can make international purchases themselves, the Partnership makes donations in cash to AIST (the local home for troubled youngsters), the School for the Deaf and a home for retired artists and sends general medical supplies to a medical clinic.
How does the Kalamazoo-Pushkin Partnership benefit the city of Kalamazoo?
The Kalamazoo-Pushkin Partnership's activities and its annual Kalamazoo Russian Festival shows the care and appreciation that Americans have for other people's culture and their compassion for the problems of the world. The Partnership and the Festival are unique in that neither is wholly an ethnic club or an ethnic event - quite the opposite! Americans from all over the Midwest, as well as current residents of Russia and former residents of the USSR, attend or perform at the Festival. For more than 10 years Russian Embassy delegates and students and teachers at the Embassy school in Washington, D.C. participated in the Festival. It highlights the uniqueness of the city of Kalamazoo and helps to reinforce its reputation as an International City.
As the KRCA moves into the future, the benefits to Kalamazoo will be cultivate in many new ways, largely as a community resource for our local Russian culture.