Many African-American men in Milwaukee face a number of challenges, including unemployment, poverty and mass incarceration. But, a two-day summit that’s underway is helping black teens and boys overcome some of those barriers. Several young people we spoke with talked about the hurdles they face.
About 1,500 African American boys and teenagers are attending the two-day Black Male Youth summit at UW-Milwaukee. Their teachers urged young men, who are college- and career-minded, to participate. The event kicked off with a motivational speech from organizer Kwabene Antoine Nixon.
“If you’re tired of black boys being locked up, say yeah, if you’re tired of them telling you you’re nothing, say yeah. If you’re glad you woke up this morning, say yeah…”
The goal of the annual summit is to identify challenges young African-American males face, and to help the boys and teens find ways to achieve personal success. The crowd spent much of the day yesterday in workshops, which targeted certain issues.
One focused on how to handle encounters with police. I talked about the subject with 12-year-old George Walker, who attends Maryland Avenue Montessori School in Milwaukee. He told me that he believes some police officers harbor negative stereotypes of African-Americans. Walker says he fears police may profile him when he gets older.
“Sometimes people glance at me weird. I’m kind of used to it now but it’s just one of the weird encounters I’ve been having,” he says.
Walker says he hopes to gain practical knowledge from the summit -- advice for how to deal with problems that might pop up. He says his parents don’t always address such matters.
“I come from a family where, they don’t really show me a lot of stuff, but now that I’m getting older, they have to,” Walker says.
An 8th grader, Rylan Taylor, told me he's more interested in how African American teens and boys deal with conflict resolution. Taylor, who attends the Kenosha School of Technology Enhanced Curriculum, says he wants to improve his attitude. He says he hopes to learn better problem-solving skills at the summit.
“If I don’t think something is right, I’ll just shut down and won’t talk to anyone. I just shut down and stay mad,” Taylor says.
Another Kenosha resident, Logen Muma, told me he's also interested in learning more about conflict resolution. Muma is a 7th grader at Bullen Middle School. He says he's had issues with other students, and wants to know how to address them in a productive manner.
“Just standing up for yourself, being a leader, not trying to get into trouble at school,” Muma says.
I also met an 8th grader who's mainly interested in bringing boys and teens of color together. Treshawn Harvell attends Milwaukee College Prep School and lives in the Sherman Park neighborhood. He says too often, he sees a lack of support among African-American males.
“I think we should focus on helping each other instead of bringing each other down,” Harvell says.
Harvell says to him, what it means to be a black male in Milwaukee, is to help others in the community. In fact, he says he hopes to pick up mentoring skills at the conference. The two-day Black Male Youth summit concludes today.