Listen MKE: The Importance Of Mentorship

Nov 16, 2020

WUWM has been partnering with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee PBS and the Milwaukee Public Library on an initiative called Listen MKE

The latest event focused on the need for mentorship for young Black and brown people in Milwaukee. The conversation was hosted by James Causey from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and took place last Thursday on Facebook live. 

Watch the full Listen MKE below:

Michael Pratt is the founder of Fatherhood Fridays. He started the program while working as an assistant principal at John Early Middle School in Nashville’s 37208 zip code, which has the highest incarceration rate in the entire nation. At his school, he saw the lack of men represented in student’s lives and set out to change that.

“The idea is to create something where children can see men being confident in literacy," Pratt explains. “At one point, we had 66 men come in at 7:35 a.m. to 8:15 a.m. ... and read to kids.”

After he asked students, he realized that for many of them this was the first time they were in a room with a man reading a book to them. But it’s not just about the students, Pratt says, the men who volunteer get an opportunity to be mentors to young people in their community. He says for most volunteers, after the first day, their next question is when can they come back.

Myra Taylor is principal of Buena Vista Elementary School, also in Nashville’s 37208 zip code. Taylor adopted Fatherhood Fridays at her school and says she saw their library circulation numbers to started to increase after just a few weeks.

“Our kiddos wanted the books in their hands, they wanted to read,” she says. “We absolutely saw an increase in student’s interest in reading.”

Fatherhood Fridays connects students with people from all different backgrounds in the community and shows them that they all value reading.

John Daniels III is the executive director of the MKE Fellows Program. His program promotes the advancement of Black men seeking higher education by giving them professional development, scholarship and work opportunities, and also connects those men with middle school students over the summer.

This summer the men worked with students from Metcalfe School and Holy Redeemer.

“To have these young college students who are close to their age being able to talk about to them about math and reading, it really was amazing. Even hearing some of the things about their majors and topics that interest them,” Daniels explains.

Many of the college students are from the same community the younger students are from and, Daniels says, this helps build a connection that goes deeper than just talking about the fundamentals of education.

LaNelle Ramey, executive director of MENTOR Greater Milwaukee, says that the most important part of a mentor is the support that they offer.

“We know, for a fact, that young people who have a mentor in their life are 37% less likely than their peer to do something like skip school, they 50% less likely than their peer to skip an entire day of school,” he says.

Ramey says mentorship can take time to start producing real change in data, but that is because it is working to solve issues that take real time. 

"When you start to show the love and passion that you have about your experiences, that's what mentorship is about. Then our young Black boys start to see that and they see a different Black man then what they're being told about who they are," he says.