Motivating Monday: Ernest Lanier, A Personal Passion for Community

by United Way of the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Region

Story provided by Kathy Jessup

There were a handful of times during Ernest Lanier’s life when someone he barely knew offered a piece of advice or a modicum of encouragement that propelled him forward.

Now Borgess Health’s chief diversity officer pays those examples forward—mentoring young people, working on projects for a variety of community organizations and spreading the mission of United Way.

One of 14 siblings who spent their childhoods raising and harvesting crops, Lanier said his clothing came from Salvation Army, and a college education was little more than a dream for someone like him.

Now 62, Lanier has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s in public administration, both earned after the Kalamazoo man began taking college classes at age 30.

“As I reflect back on my life, I can think of four or five times when someone took the time to help me find my way,” he recalled.  “As a kid growing up, I got some important support from people I didn’t even know.  That’s why I think United Way’s programs are so important today.  You don’t forget where you come from.”

Lanier is considered among the Greater Kalamazoo United Way’s most persuasive advocates.  Three times he’s been “on loan” from Borgess, lobbying new companies to join the community giving program and helping United Way maximize collaboration and diversity.

The Kalamazoo man mixes stories of his own meager beginnings with examples of how United Way has made a critical difference in the lives of local individuals when he visits prospective, new contributors.  Lanier’s stories brought a secretary to tears during a visit to one company and prompted two-thirds of the employees to become first-time donors.

Today, that company’s CEO not only matches his employees’ United Way contributions.  He devotes his own volunteer hours to community projects, all because Lanier’s “giving back” message.

“I consider I’ve been successful when I can help someone else succeed,” Lanier said.  “I’m proof you don’t have to be some high-level, wealthy person who went to private schools to be able to serve the community.  All you need is the passion in your heart.”