Forward-thinking is how many describe Kathleen “Kitty” Gazall, the featured speaker at this month’s INSPIRE Leadership Series.
“Flint has its mayor, but it also has other great women like Kitty Gazall behind it,” says Phil Hagerman, president of Skypoint and co-founder of the Flint Ferris Wheel. “If there’s something good going on in Flint Kitty is likely a part of it.”
The Flint native and business manager at Gazall, Lewis Architects, seldom glances in the rear view mirror. She prefers to take the proverbial road less traveled — often detouring to avoid obstacles in her path.
Like many residents, the girl that grew up in Mott Park has observed Flint’s ups and downs.
“We’ve seen it all, from a city that’s thriving to one that was barely surviving,” says Gazall, who is increasingly optimistic about both the number and scope of redevelopment efforts.
She says Flint has the potential to become a great American success story.
Gazall says residents need to be involved in shaping the city into the “place they want it to be.”
The ardent city advocate who lives, works and plays downtown believes in the power of positivity and surrounds herself with like-minded advocates who don’t mind being pulled into the visionary efforts that have become her hallmark.
“I’ve visited a lot of other cities,” says Gazall. “And when you travel, you quickly discover the importance of finding the right people to surround yourself with, and the value of home.
Near or far, regardless where her travels might take her, Gazall is always on the look-out for good ideas to bring back to Flint.
“I always ask myself how we might be able to better what we’re doing right here at home,” she says.
Incorporating the best of what she sees in other cities is second nature to the innovator, who has never thought of leaving her hometown.
“Flint is a great place to come home to,” she adds.
Oft times, community advocacy is a do-it-yourself endeavor, says Gazall, who stresses that it’s important to step outside comfort zones, connect with others and connect the dots.
Flint residents have learned the importance of asking questions and seeking outside counsel about what matters most to them, according to Gazall.
We all should and need to do more to find and share answers, says Gazall: “We all know someone, who knows someone, who knows someone, who knows the right answer. The problem is that too few of us are connecting the dots. We’ve got to learn to rely upon each other, and, when we do, that’s when Flint is going to be a better place for us all.”
Emily Doerr, a board member of the Friends of the Alley (Flint Alley Fest) and executive with Metro Community Development, says Kitty doesn’t understand the word “no.” Doerr is part of Gazall’s ever-expanding circle of influencers.
Gazall has helped marshal an army of city supporters, launched two successful crowd-funding campaigns to beautify Brush and Buckham alleys in downtown Flint, and created several community events like the “A Tree-Mendous Evening” holiday tree-lighting ceremony.
One of her signature events, the Flint Alley Fest, is expected to attract more than 5,000 visitors to the city’s downtown business district to experience its restaurants, shops, entertainment stages and patronize vendors, many of which operate neighborhood businesses.
This year’s event will take place on Saturday, July 14 in both the Buckham and Brush Alley districts.
“I never give up,” adds Gazall. “When you give up you not only give up on yourself, you give up on your neighbors. And, as Flint residents, we have a responsibility to each other and to the greater good.”
The Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce’s INSPIRE Leadership series is sponsored by Diplomat. The next event is Aug. 2 and will feature Rafael Turner, a program officer at the Ruth Mott Foundation. To learn more or to register for the free event, click here.
Lead photo by Paul Engstrom