“The main purpose today is to empower yourself,” Dom Portis told about 150 Milwaukee Public School (MPS) students of all ages. They were youth council members, representing 12 of the 16 schools in the Milwaukee Community Schools Partnership, who gathered at the annual Fall Youth Coalition Summit.
Portis, the community high schools manager for the partnership, added, “Take what you need to be a better leader.”
Students made connections and selected which leadership workshops to take part in. The workshops were led by community partners at the summit, which took place at Marquette University’s Alumni Memorial Union on Thursday, October 26, 2023.
Milwaukee Public Schools, the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, and United Way of Great Milwaukee and Waukesha County together lead the Community Schools Partnership, but the partnership is based on sharing leadership. It gives students, families, and the larger community voice in their schools.
The aim of the councils is to build a youth coalition and establish collaboration among youth councils across the partnership. At the fall summit, the focus was on having students be better equipped to take on school change.
At the summit, youth leaders could choose which two of the nine workshop sessions to attend. One workshop was “Hip Hop Chess: Think Ahead,” presented by the nonprofit Your Move MKE. The group aims to build community through chess programs that promote higher-level thinking. It also encourages self-expression by incorporating hip hop.
At the Youth Coalition Summit, Your Move MKE speakers told students that chess can help them develop skills that they would use as leaders, such as:
• Problem solving
• Decision making, both short term and long term
Embracing challenges and persevering, qualities that chess players would develop, also are essential for leadership in any field, the students heard. Other lessons that transfer from chess to day-today life: Players must look at a chessboard from both sides, not just from their side, and they must come to the best decision they can to move forward.
Chess boards on the tables at the session let students play the game and think about the skills they were using. Some of the students observed that, in chess, they moved forward like they do in life, and they had to consider short-term goals to move toward longterm success. A sophomore from Bradley Technology and Trade School named Daevion, who is in his first year on his school’s youth council, was helping a younger student in the session figure out his next, best moves on the chess board. “The more you play, the more you learn,” he told him. Daevion has been playing chess since 6th grade. “I like the strategy of it,” he said. And he does find that chess represents life, in a way: The game presents challenges, and it’s up to the player “to find a way to get above it,” he said. And he sees the youth council as a chance for students to work with many other people. “In the future, you’ll have better opportunities,” he said.