Marquette University hosted a summit Thursday meant to help young black, Latino and Native American men succeed in school — and life. The event theme was developing brotherhood among young men of color in Milwaukee and participants came from public schools across the city.
The Leadership and Brotherhood Summit for Young Men of Color included more than a dozen breakout sessions, addressing a variety of topics that impact black, Latino and Native American teens. Sessions included college for first generation students 101, becoming a young man of color with positive influence and criminal justice reform as it relates to youth of color.
More than 200 young men made their way to the Marquette union for the opening session where acting provost Kimo Ah Yun gave a welcoming speech. During which he invited the students to join in a university cheer.
The room shouted, “We are … Marquette! We are … Marquette!”
Ah Yun also gave the students advice on how to make the most of the summit experience.
“The relationships you’re going to make today and moving forward … it’s about brotherhood. It’s about lifting one another up. It’s about using everyone else in this room to lift you up and when you do that you’re all going to succeed,” he said.
1st District Ald. Ashanti Hamilton also addressed the crowd.
“Boy, I am so excited to be in front of you today … because today is going to be a powerful day for you. So, I want ya’ll to get us started with some words of power. Can I just hear you all say, 'I … am … powerful,' ” he said.
The summit was about a year in the making. It was a collaboration between Marquette and MPS’ Department of Black and Latino Male Achievement.
Lanelle Ramey heads the department. He says it was inspired, in part, by the Summit on Black Male Youth-Milwaukee that’s been held the last few years.
“There was a summit that happened in UW-Milwaukee, and the dialogue we had with them was how can we do more of this throughout the year. So, I approached Marquette University actually early in the year, last year and said, 'Hey, we want to repeat this. What can we do?' And then they just took it and ran with it. So, we had a dialogue of what we wanted it to look like, who we wanted to invite and how we wanted to make it special. And we were able to take it and grow from there.”
Sean Wilson is smart justice statewide organizer for the ACLU of Wisconsin. He presented the session on criminal justice reform as it relates to youth of color.
During his presentation he gave some statistics facing young people of color in the criminal justice system. "one in three black males, and one in six Hispanic males will go to prison in their lifetime. African-Americans are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of whites. Nationwide, African-American children represent 32 percent of children that are arrested. You have been labeled before you are even born that you are going to prison," Wilson said.
I spoke with a few of the young men who were also at Wilson’s session – all are 16 years old.
Jordan Ware and Jonathan Salas talked about their reactions to the statistics of young people of color in the criminal justice system.
“I kind of got upset about the fact that black and brown people we get way harsher sentences than Caucasian people in America. We all kind of feel that it is wrong for everybody else to be getting harsher sentences and they get a slap on the wrist,” Ware said.
Salas added, “What shocked me was the statistic about how many kids go to prison for doing minor things and being charged as adults."
Despite learning of these disparities, Ware and a third MPS student, Courtney Washington, said they walked away with a lesson.
“We have more power than what is portrayed in our lives and with different people,” Ware said.
Washington said, “What I learned from this is, no matter where you come from you can still change the world and make a difference in your community, and it just starts with one person."
Summit officials say they hoped to create a brotherhood among young men of color in Milwaukee and help develop them into leaders who can create a city that looks different than the one that exists today.
Support for Race & Ethnicity reporting is provided by the Dohmen Company.
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