Black Male Youth-Milwaukee Summit shows options for young black men

November 20, 2015


Talking is fine, but actions are even more important. That’s why hope, aspirations and options for young black men are on the agenda of the annual Black Male Youth-Milwaukee Summit at UWM, December 15-16, 2015. The event will bring approximately 400 African American middle and high school students and their teachers and mentors to UWM. Tuesday’s sessions are geared to the middle school groups; Wednesday’s to high school students. Education is important to the future of these young men, said Gary Williams, director of the Black Cultural Center at UWM and one of the coordinators of the 2015 summit.

“We want to make clear that these young men have options and opportunities, whether they come to UWM or MATC or WCTC, there’s a place for them in higher education.” Schools and organizations from all over southeastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois will bring in young men from their communities for a day of workshops and presentations on topics ranging from higher education to career opportunities to money management. The theme this year is “Knowledge + Power + Perseverance = Success.” “We want to open these young men’s eyes to what they can aspire to and introduce them to role models who are men of achievement at the university and in the community,” added Williams, who also is an associate professor in the School of Education at UWM.

The event grew out of a 2012 meeting, called “Saving Black Boys,” that Williams organized in response to the need for community discussion on the challenges facing young African American men. That event, which gave the young men a chance to make their voices heard, was expected to attract around 50 people. Instead, more than 200 showed up. Following that experience, a group of UWM faculty, academic staff and community leaders formed the African American Male Initiative (AAMI), which organizes the now-annual Black Male Youth-Milwaukee Summit. The summit drew 300 participants in 2013; around 1,000 young men are expected to attend this year. “We will have a lot of energy in the building,” Williams said. Teachers, mentors and leaders from community organizations also get a chance to meet and network with colleagues in between presentations and sessions focused on evidence-based research on programs that can help young black men succeed despite poverty, racism and other obstacles.

“We know the environment that many of them come from, but we want to help them learn how to maneuver within that environment and succeed,” Williams explained. “We want to help them look at their strengths and develop skills that will carry them through education and life.” Seeing role models who are like them is just as important to the youth attending the summit as the presentations are, Williams added. “They see staff members, but also leaders from the Urban Forum, the NAACP, Northwestern Mutual, business leaders, politicians, the black Greek fraternities, and professionals from the trades like plumbers and electricians.” Listening to what the young men have to say and discussing the issues important to them is a summit priority, but organizers also want to focus on solutions, Williams said.

Schools like Chicago’s Urban Academy, which serves young black men from low-income areas, have a 100-percent graduation rate for the past three years, demonstrating what is possible. “These young men have the energy to succeed beyond belief. We need to make sure our expectations of them are high enough. We can set the bar high, but with guidance and support, they can surprise us — and themselves.”