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Alumni Call On Milwaukee Lutheran High School To Address Racism

Emily Files
Caution tape and security guards blocked Milwaukee Lutheran's campus from protesters on Sunday. The protest was organized by Angela Harris of the Black Educators Caucus.

A Wauwatosa private school is facing backlash from alumni after its statement about the Black Lives Matter movement.

Milwaukee Lutheran High School posted on Facebook last week that it supports Black lives and Black families but doesn’t support the beliefs of the Black Lives Matter organization because they don’t align with biblical views. Many took that as an objection to the pro-LGBTQ stance of the Black Lives Matter organization.

“Instead of defending all Black lives, they really said we’re limited to who we’re going to care for,” said Monique Liston, a Milwaukee Lutheran alum who now runs an education consulting business. “When I saw that, I said I need to address this because this is not what Black Lives Matter – you can’t say those words and only mean some Black lives.”

Milwaukee Lutheran’s Black Lives Matter statement motivated Liston to speak out about racism at the school.

“Some examples of how the institution is racist that are really clear is dress codes — dress codes were used to deliberately attack Black and brown girls when I was [there,]” Liston said. “So institutionally it was built in, this lack of recognition of what it was to move in a Black body. What goes along with that is a lack of a thorough Black history program, the lack of Black faculty and staff, and the lack of engagement around issues that are critical to the Black community.”

Milwaukee Lutheran’s student body is 80% Black, and most students attend using taxpayer-funded school choice vouchers. Last year, the school received about $7 million in voucher payments. Liston says with public money should come public accountability.

She isn’t the only one calling for change. Another Milwaukee Lutheran graduate, Montravius Berry, made a video with a chorus of Black alumni voices who say they experienced racism at the school.

Berry says the video got Milwaukee Lutheran’s attention. He and some other alums have a meeting with administrators.

“We’re going in full force and hoping this brings some real change,” Berry said.

The changes they’re asking for include hiring more Black teachers, bolstering Black history curriculum, and a public apology for what Berry says was a “tone deaf” statement about Black Lives Matter.

Cole Braun, the CEO of the Lutheran High School Association of Greater Milwaukee, responded to questions from WUWM with a statement. The statement says systemic racism is “front and center” in the Lutheran high school association's discussions and must be addressed.

“We also value growth and we have so much to learn,” the statement says. “We need to listen, learn, ask questions and pray so we can grow as a school, a community, and a country. We need to continue to build a safe and compassionate future for our students, our faculty, and our teachers. All of this starts with meaningful dialogue and prayer, which has already begun.”

The Lutheran high school association and Milwaukee Lutheran have not walked back their position on the Black Lives Matter organization.

A group of about 40 protesters, including current students and alumni, gathered outside of Milwaukee Lutheran Sunday to write slogans in sidewalk chalk calling on the school to address racism. When the protesters arrived, they were surprised to see caution tape and security guards blocking them from the school grounds.

Credit Emily Files / WUWM
Milwaukee Lutheran alum Monique Liston addresses the crowd at a Sunday protest in front of the school.

“It’s disappointing,” said alum Montravius Berry, who participated in the protest. “It gives the impression that they feel threatened.”

The protest proceeded on the public sidewalk in front of the school. Monique Liston told those gathered that even though Milwaukee Lutheran was the target of this protest, all schools need to examine how they’re serving Black students.

“This could have been any high school in the greater Milwaukee area,” Liston said. “All high schools should be on high alert that their alumni are coming for them too. Because there is no institution of education in this city that is exempt from getting called out for their racism. We have to put everybody on notice.”

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Emily is an editor and project leader for WUWM.
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