“The President’s Perspective”
By Alderman Ashanti Hamilton
Common Council President City of Milwaukee
This past Friday, I was proud to participate in the Rites of Passage bonding event for the Be the Change Program. Each year, participants in this program travel to Lincoln Park with their Chapter Leaders and elders for a ceremonial Intergenerational Circle. The intent of the event is to make sure the boys know they are surrounded by a network of community men who are here to support them and every year this is one of the most powerful things I am able to attend.
Young people deserve our best, and are worthy of being empowered, loved, guided, cared for and listened to. However, not all youth are fortunate enough to have that level of support in their life. In light of this fact, Running Rebels, MPS and I got together and developed the Be the Change program. 10 years later, we have seen incredible results in the lives of our young men and know that this model is a winning one for transforming our next generation of black men in Milwaukee.
Be the Change is centered on the belief that people meet the standards they are held to. If we expect people to fail and treat them as such, they will fail. However, if we expect them to succeed, regardless of where they come from, young people show us time and time again that they will rise to the challenge. Throughout the summer, the 100 participants in the program face a lot of difficult challenges. They face tough leadership and brotherhood activities, go through an academically rigorous course, and engage in service and work projects. However, the support network that they have in their brothers and Chapter Leaders shows them that they can accomplish anything together. What we see at the end of this program is bonds and friendships formed that last lifetimes.
There are also some more tangible achievements that we see in the lives of these young men. Part of the recruitment push for the program comes from MPS referrals. MPS’ Black and Latino Male Achievement Office identify male students of color that are struggling in their academic performance. After the program, there are improvements in GPA, class attendance, and general academic participation. Perhaps more importantly, when we survey the young men we see overwhelming growth in the amount of young men who believe that their opinions matter and that they can change their circumstances. We know that an education is a solid foundation for a bright future and this program has shown an ability to make that foundation stronger.
This year, for the first time, we have opened the program up to incoming freshman with what we are calling the “Bridge” model. BLMA provided us with data that showed that the most failed class in MPS for boys and men of color was the citizenship course. Thanks to support from BLMA, the Superintendent, and the MPS Academics Office, we are able to provide an opportunity for 15 incoming freshman to receive full credit for this course before stepping through the doors of their high school. After this pilot year, we are going to increase that number to 50 students.
I am so proud of what this program has accomplished over its 10 years. We have had chapter leaders go on to become State and County elected officials, start non-profit and advocacy organizations, work in governmental spaces, start businesses, and do so much more. Our young men have taken it upon themselves to be leaders, perhaps perfectly displayed with the Jack a Car, Jack Up Your Life campaign that Be the Change men put together to encourage their peers not to steal cars. Family relationships are strengthened. Young black men are empowered and praised for their positivity instead of doubted by society. There is a lot that our City needs to really transform, but I am so proud of the role that Be the Change has played over the last 10 years and I cannot wait to see the growth we have in the next decade.