by Karen Stokes
It’s been three years since the first group of Milwaukee area students and their families gathered at Rufus King International High School for “Signing Day” to commit to participating in a scholarship pilot program, the Wisconsin Scholars. The program finances college for Black males from Milwaukee to Morehouse College in Atlanta.
Business leaders and donors investing contributions of both money and time made this scholarship program possible. Chuck and Cheryl Harvey, Johnson Controls Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. Ulice Payne, Ildy and Skip Poliner, BMO Harris Bank, the Hans Helmerich Foundation, UNCF, Scott Voynich, Wisconsin Energy Foundation and Northwestern Mutual, Mr. and Mrs. Hank Aaron, Mr. and Mrs. John Daniels and Cory Nettles all committed to helping these young men in the Milwaukee community.
“I got involved with the Morehouse Wisconsin Scholars initiative because we have several young, positive African American men in our community who are looking for a chance to succeed and who need our support in getting started,” said Nettles, founder and managing director of Generation Growth Capital, Inc. “I believe very much in the ‘It Takes a Village’ approach to rearing our children, and as a member of our Milwaukee village, I have been honored to support these future leaders.”
At an annual Wisconsin Scholars BBQ celebration hosted by Nettles and his wife, Michelle, students, parents, business leaders and this year Morehouse president, John Silvanus Wilson gathered to celebrate the success of the Morehouse students.
“The first time I got on a plane after I became the President of Morehouse was to come to Milwaukee,” said Wilson. “This program is so effective it could be a model for other cities like Philadelphia, Los Angeles or New York.
“African American males have been the center of negative narrative in the country,” Wilson continued. “These men of Morehouse are going to be successful, productive citizens of the world.”
This coming May, the inaugural group of the Wisconsin Scholars Program will be graduating from Morehouse. Nicholas Stokes, a rising senior business major, said, “The program means a lot. Even though I was challenged with being away from home at first, I adapted and have made the Dean’s list every semester since I’ve been at Morehouse. The program allowed me the opportunity to be connected to many people in the business community and I obtained challenging internships that enhanced my education at Quarles and Brady, Generation Growth Capital, and the Milwaukee Bucks. I plan on coming back to Milwaukee to give back and secure a position in finance and eventually going to graduate school.”
“I have to say that navigating how I was going to fit in and figuring out what type of college student I was going to be were two of the biggest challenges I encountered at Morehouse, but I found the best way to fit in was just to be yourself,” said Jaylin Durham, a rising senior majoring in English. “I have made the Dean’s list and honor roll every year and also secured quality internships at Northwestern Mutual and Gonzalez, Saggio & Harlan LLP. I plan to go straight to law school after I graduate. I will be applying to Harvard, Marquette, UW-Madison, and Georgetown, among a few others.”
DeMarcus Harris, a rising junior majoring in dual degree engineering with applied physics, believes the Wisconsin Scholars program means opportunity and success to him. “The Harveys, Daniels and Nettles, along with many others, put their time, effort and finances into a group of Black males. They are attempting to level out the playing field so that we can have a seat at the round table of corporate leaders and change our community.”
Fundraising and mentoring are a continued reality for the Wisconsin Scholars program.
“As a community we should really celebrate the tremendous success of these young men and figure out ways of further supporting them in the future,” Nettles said.