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Meet the men who are making a better Milwaukee

Left to right: Yussef Morales, Dr. Cameron Overton and Steven Hunter
Left to right: Yussef Morales, Dr. Cameron Overton and Steven Hunter

Father’s Day is a day that might include pancakes for dad or maybe taking in a ballgame together. However it’s done, it’s a day to celebrate dads. But what would it look like to celebrate the men around our city making a difference? Not just men who are raising kids, but also who raise up our community.

With this in mind, we asked you to share some of the men you see making a difference around Milwaukee, not specifically fathers, but the stewards and caretakers of the city’s people, places and land.

Yussef Morales — “Everybody in some way in the neighborhood has been touched by Yussef.”

If Yussef Morales is known for anything in Milwaukee it might be as the founder of the city’s Puerto Rican Festival. But he does so much more it’s hard to keep up with. He’s on the board of directors for Visit Milwaukee, he’s a youth program manager and entrepreneur. He also steerheads a lot of youth programs, like his barbershop programs, which gives free cuts to students of color. Oh, he’s also a dad to two sons.

Longtime friend, Juan Miguel Martinez, says that’s just how Morales is wired. Always looking to fill the gaps, be helpful, something he's experienced himself.

“The thing is I have no idea why one day I wrote a review of a movie that I watched and I sent it to Yussef and he said, when are you gonna come and write for us?,” Martinez says.

At the time, Morales was at Conquistador, Milwaukee’s Latino newspaper. After his movie review was published, Martinez started writing for outlets all over the city and not just movie reviews. His piece on workplace organizing got him an invite to become a labor organizer. Not long after, he was elected as the 12th district county supervisor. He credits Morales for seeing something in him all those years ago.

“It all just kind of snowballed from writing that one article that I sent to Yussef who asked me to come and write for [them],” Martinez says.

Morales is like this — always putting people on and gassing them up. And redirecting his street credit for good.

“Jeffrey is a kid that was with me since … he was about 13 years old,” Morales says. “He's about 24 right now. He had his issues, but now he's working, he's going to school. It’s not a huge success story, but what he could have been, you know.”

Morales calls Jeffery the light wherever he goes. Milwaukee needs more light, he says.

Steven Hunter — "They're gonna remember Mr. Hunter as being this person that they could talk to, that they could reach out to."

Steven Hunter has always been about service and movement. In the mid-90s, he was the vanguard’s vanguard when it came to the movement scene in Milwaukee, specifically for Black Milwaukee.

“I felt like John the Baptist screaming, 'it's coming, it's coming’ because wellness was a new word,” Hunter says. “It also seemed at that time, 30 years ago, almost militant to focus on African American Wellness.”

Hunter, who already had a martial arts background, went to school for massage therapy, African dance and yoga. When asked what his yoga classes looked like back then, he said, “you know, playing Sade and Stevie Wonder and not playing Enya.”

Hunter also stays active with community work, including his own wellness practice called 7iam4life, programming for urban conservation, and as a youth development instructor at Life Center in Milwaukee. Over the past few years, he’s moved into environmental education, after his previous work as the program director at Nearby Nature MKE.

Teresa Melbye, director of educational programs at Life Center, said she was amazed at both his knowledge and ability to relate to kids.

“He really starts developing their self-esteem,” Melbye says. “It is never a negative, or you did this wrong, or you did that. It's always OK, let's try this again. And unfortunately some of the Children, all they hear always is the negative."

While he’s doing good work, Hunter will acknowledge that nothing heals like nature. Besides being a part of the biking group Red, Bike and Green Milwaukee, he also leads walking tours through Milwaukee’s blue and green spaces. It's something he says Milwaukeeans are lucky to have.

“Not that everybody's got to be a farmer [or] everybody needs to be a birder, [or] that everybody needs to be a tree hugger, but it just totally makes sense to honor and take care of what is here that takes care of you,” says Hunter. “We are a community whether we like it or not, or accept it or not.”

Dr. Cameron Overton —“It was just this unbelievable godsend to have a place where I could live.”

Dr. Cameron Overton is the director of operations at Ubuntu Research and Evaluation. But he might be better known as founder and co-pastor at Zao MKE church on Milwaukee’s east side. Since they opened in 2019, they’ve supported radical movements and people.

In the basement, there's a storage room lined with supplies and goods, everything from medic supplies to water and gatorade. The church’s gym housed “water mountain” during the 2020 protests, which must have been thousands upon thousands of stacked water bottles. This all lines up with Cameron’s vision of Jesus as a revolutionary who took in the most marginalized.

“I think that most churches are really active for their own members,” Overton says. “Most churches are very insular and look inside of themselves rather than actually being a part of the community.”

People from all over the state have found their way to Zao MKE because of that attitude. Including Giordi Carmichael, who says Overton isn’t just his pastor but also a brother.

“I had grown up religious but everyone who was ever religious had kind of just tossed me out when I came out,” says Carmichael. “Meeting Cameron … he was the first person that I was like, oh, so you're a queer person leading a church? That's kind of unbelievable to me."

Overton is also a Black and trans man, who was “tossed out” by family when he came out. And while he says he’s done work to heal, it’s still incredibly painful. He opened up his home to Carmichael and other members of his congregation that had similar experiences. Carmichael called that move a godsend.

Overton thinks all men need to have more expansive conversations on what it means to be a man.

“I think one of the things as a trans person [is] I get to ask those questions like, what does it mean to be a man?” Overton says. “What does it mean to be a good man? What does it mean to challenge other men when you aren't being a good man? And I think men need to have that conversation together to do better.”

In their own ways, all the men here are asking those bigger questions and having those conversations with the people around them. Challenging themselves — and our city — to be better.

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Jimmy is a WUWM producer for Lake Effect.
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