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Washtenaw United: Ypsilanti District Library fosters community on MLK Day

Ypsilanti District Library community relations coordinator Sam Killian
Ypsilanti District Library
Ypsilanti District Library community relations coordinator Sam Killian


Sam Killian is the Community Relations Coordinator for the Ypsilanti District Library, where he creates press releases, flyers, and other informational tools that share library news. Previously, he was a reporter for a small paper in Wisconsin where he wrote articles, took pictures, and did page layouts. He has a bachelor's degree in English Writing/Communication and a master’s degree in Integrated Marketing Communication.


David Fair: Today is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Now, there are a number of events taking place throughout the community, but it's also a day for reflection to remind us that work for racial equity and social justice is a year-round task. I'm David Fair, and welcome to an MLK Day edition of Washtenaw United. When we think of some of the local hubs working towards a more just and equitable community, perhaps the library may not be one of the first you think of, but it is. There are a number of ways in which the Ypsilanti District Library impacts our community in that way. Our guest today is Sam Killian, and Sam is the Ypsilanti District Library Community Relations Coordinator. And thank you for the time today. I do appreciate it.

Sam Killian: Thank you for having me on.

David Fair: There are a great number of people who are deeply studied when it comes to Dr. King and his works. Even those who aren't are probably familiar with his "I Have a Dream" speech. When you take time to reflect on Dr. King yourself, what do you think about?

Sam Killian: Well, I mean, I think a lot about his message of love. You know, first and foremost, that, you know, the goal of kind of loving everybody around us really hits home with me. But, you know, it also, you know, as I learn more about him, you know, in school, but then learning more as an adult, you kind of get into his messages of, you know, really kind of working together on things and working for, you know, to create change. And that change doesn't just happen. People have to kind of have an inclination and a drive to do the work to create the changes that they want to see. And so, that kind of has also really started to resonate with me as well, that it takes work.

David Fair: And access to opportunity, to education, to literacy, to gainful and equal employment, all part of Dr. King's dream. How does that align with the Ypsilanti District Library's mission?

Sam Killian: I mean, it aligns completely. That's pretty much what we're all about, from coming into our buildings and being able to exist in this space without any kind of expectations of buying anything or doing anything in particular, to the, you know, having items that might not be accessible to everybody, you know, being able to purchase, you know, giving them access to computers and Internet and serving as warming centers. You know, it's just everything beyond the books that we do is with that kind of goal in mind to kind of create that equal ground for folks.

David Fair: And the YDL recently opened a brand-new Superior Township branch, and it is serving an area of the community that has traditionally been underserved in a variety of ways. Was it part of the decision to open that location in an effort to create greater access?

Sam Killian: It certainly was. It's certainly an area that, you know, this library is one of the first real community hubs that's going to be there, you know, with the meeting room that is going to be is available now for folks, you know, coupled with the community center that there's talk about going in that area as well, that, you know, these are things that were really needed that, you know, didn't exist in that area of our community, that, I think, you know, just for a lot of reasons are going to be really important. And having more computers than the old branch had, having more materials is having more of everything is going to be supremely important for that.

David Fair: WEMU's MLK Day edition of Washtenaw United continues with Ypsilanti District Library Community Relations Coordinator Sam Killian. And, obviously, the library is marking Martin Luther King Jr. Day with some special offerings, and that includes an interactive performance art from Akili Jackson, a local artist. And how did that come about? Why was that chosen for today's celebration?

Sam Killian: Well, it had been, you know, with COVID happening, it had been a number of years since we had been able to really mark MLK Day with traditional kind of events that we had usually been able to do. So, it had been a couple of years. And this felt like something that was really, you know, indicative of that kind of, you know, getting back to that feeling of, you know, being a part of the community and really kind of engaging with, you know, not just kind of going in and reading some things, but really kind of coming together and participating in, you know, an interactive thing that really helped people feel like a part of something.

David Fair: There's also going to be a young Black writers showcase, which I think is just spectacular. There's going to be participatory service work offered for people who are interested in perhaps creating hats for the homeless. All of that touches on methodologies for making the community connections that move us forward in that quest for equity. How do you apply what is learned with special occasions like these and then apply it to the community work the YDL does throughout the rest of the year?

Sam Killian: Well, I think, you know, MLK Day is one of the only national days of service, I believe, that happens during the year. And so, it really felt like a lot of things that meshed well for us from 11 to 1 at the Michigan Avenue branch. There, people can come together. And so, fleece hats to give to the Delonis Center and the Hope Clinic. And so, we're really excited to kind of to work with that. And it it really does kind of dovetail with a lot of what we like to do. You know, we were a community connector, and the library is first and foremost a sort of, like, bringing people access to information and bringing people community connection. And so, being able to partner with different organizations that are really kind of helping serve our community in a lot of different ways. You know, we were kind of a place that can bring more access to a lot of those different kinds of things for people. And so, we're really proud to have those kinds of things happening on this day of service.

David Fair: So, when you put all of these events together, and when you put it the work throughout the year at the Ypsilanti District Library, it's really in part about breaking down barriers: barriers to access and barriers to opportunity. And some of those systemic barriers that create inequities. Have you seen progress on that front in your time working at the Ypsilanti District Library?

Sam Killian: You know, I always want to say yes, but there's always more that you can do. You know, I think that's probably true for everybody. But, you know, we're always working for the spirit of welcoming is what we're going for. And so, that means that we are always collecting input from everyone in our community. We want to see what everybody needs. We want everybody to feel comfortable and represented. So, whether that's seeing more people on staff that are diverse, whether it's seeing more books that represent diverse life experiences, all of that stuff is things that we are paying attention to when you're creating something that is welcoming and inclusive for everyone in the community. And so, I would say, you know, we certainly have made progress for that. And we have all kinds of things that, I think, are of interest to people with diverse backgrounds and diverse areas of study and interest. So, yeah, I would say that we are constantly working to improve that.

David Fair: We're talking with Sam Killian from the Ypsilanti District Library on an MLK Day edition of WEMU's Washtenaw United. There are a whole lot of ways to ingest information, messages, and to start to explore our own feelings about things. And I think one of the greatest things offered through the library district is the A.P. Marshall African American Oral History Archive. This is where we can truly connect to the real stories of those who have and are living in our community. And if you want to learn about barriers, perseverance, true spirit, and better connect to the real history of our area, this is a great way to go about it. Do you think the community is taking enough advantage of that opportunity to engage with the archive?

Sam Killian: I think it's something that, certainly, I'm glad that you brought this back up, because it is something that we, you know, started back in 2016, 2017, and it was certainly quite popular and got a lot of usage when it came out. But I'm not sure, you know, that we would certainly love opportunities to make people continually aware of this. Because, as you said, it's just a wonderful, first-person primary source. You know, you are really hearing from folks. So, these are collections of interviews. For anybody who might not be aware of this, A.P. Marshall, who taught library science at EMU and served as their library director, you know, back in the early eighties, he collected these interviews from, I think, it's close to 40 people who lived in the area as a result of just wanting to kind of bring more attention to these first-person stories, because after the Civil War, Ypsilanti had one of the largest African American populations in Michigan. And so, these are folks who that he interviewed, who lived through the Jim Crow era, who kind of fought racism during World War Two, the people who led the local civil rights movement. And he really wanted to show, you know, this kind of intimate look into, you know, social home and political life of, you know, this kind of historic Michigan community. So, it was a project that we partnered with the African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County. And it was thanks to a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council. And, yes, it was certainly something we encourage everybody to listen to.

David Fair: I know you've spent some time listening to some of those stories. Did it change you?

Sam Killian: There really is nothing quite like hearing personal stories from people like Eugene Baty, who lived on the South Side and, you know, like, talking about the experiences of redlining, you know, and going through things like that. You know, you can hear, you know, from former Mayor George Goodman. You know, these are really some interesting things that you hear about. And it can really...I don't think you can hear personal stories and never not be changed because you can read something in a book and kind of make your own assumptions about what it might feel like, what your experience might have been. But hearing somebody talk about it firsthand and hearing their voice, it's really powerful.

David Fair: I couldn't agree more. Sam, unfortunately, our time has come to a conclusion, but I'd like to thank you for your time and sharing your perspective today.

Sam Killian: Well, thank you so much for having me.

David Fair: That is Sam Killian, Community Relations Coordinator for the Ypsilanti District Library and our guest on MLK Day edition of Washtenaw United. For more information about the work the YDL does in the area of equity and social justice and community service, visit our website at WEMU dot org, and we'll get you to all the right places. Washtenaw United is produced in partnership with the United Way of Washtenaw County, and you hear it every Monday. I'm David Fair, and this is 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.


Ypsilanti District Library

MLK Service Project: Hats for Homeless Persons

MLK Day Celebration with Akili Jackson

Young Black Writers Showcase

A.P. Marshall African American Oral History Archive


As the 21-Day Equity Challenge: 2023 Edition runs from January 9th-29th, United Way of Washtenaw County wanted to bring attention to the A.P. Marshall African American Oral History Archive, an audio project that profiles the lives of African Americans in Washtenaw County, conducted by historian A.P. Marshall.

In 2022, UWWC supported the Ypsilanti District Library’s Safe Haven Project by providing devices and connectivity to the most vulnerable families in our region temporarily displaced in emergency shelters, safe-haven programs, and transitional housing. United Way has awarded the Ypsi Library 24 Chromebooks, 24 Maxell Headphones, and 2 charging carts, with a total value of $7,730.

WEMU has partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw Countyto explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'

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Contact WEMU News at734.487.3363 or email us at studio@wemu.org

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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