Concordia teaches African American boys about being successful in college

Posted at 8:49 PM, Jul 18, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-18 21:49:35-04

More than 150 young, African American boys from the Milwaukee area are at Concordia University for the next four days to learn what it takes to be successful.

The African American Male Initiative (AAMI) is in its third year hosting the boys in an effort to not only help them become successful but also, make Milwaukee more successful as a result.

"The significance of the role that African American male splay in the success of Southeast Wisconsin needs to be brought out," said Dr. Elliott Moeser with the Closing the Achievement Gap Consortium.

There will be students from 26 schools at the event, going through what college freshman have to do. They have a dorm room, which can be uncomfortable at times with a stranger they don't know. They'll be eating school meals together and attending classes they're not accustomed to.

These won't be the same, extremely structured classes like at most high schools but rather meetings with influential black men all around the city.

"I think it's huge," said Randee Drew, Head Director of AAMI. "The thing I can relate to is, if I was in high school, this would have really benefited me."

Drew has lived out the dream of many. He made it to the NFL, playing for the San Francisco 49ers practice squad and also, playing for several CFL and AFL teams.

But he says everyone has a different path. That's what makes all of the different African American male directors for the program great for the students.

"Everybody has a unique story," Drew said. "The transparency for [the students] to see that whatever I want to do is attainable and that's the biggest thing I would want them to leave here saying. I can do anything I put my mind to."

But all of these young men are different. Some have grown up with father figures. Some have not.

Some come from poor areas while others are from wealthier sections. Others go to schools where there are a lot of other black students while others may be one of just a handful. However, they all have one thing in common; the black experience. So with that, seeing successful black men is something they can relate to and learn better from.

"We always have teachers telling us, you can do anything you want to do," said Nelson Brown, another director with AAMI. "But no offense, you guys don't look like us. You can't relate to our experiences. When you have someone who looks like you and can understand where you're coming from and where you have to go, it means a lot more when you have that kind of support. If we can touch one kid who can go out and actually be the change, then we've done our jobs here."

For Demonte Johnson, it's also just an opportunity to get out of the house. However, he knows how important this opportunity is.

"I want to be successful in life," Johnson said. "To make money more than what other people do like sell drugs and be athletes. I want to be a doctor or something."

Johnson has a smile ear to ear, knowing that at a young age, he'll be spending the night out, multiple nights out without his parents' supervision. It's something any teenager would be giddy about.

But this isn't a lap of luxury he's staying at. It's the real college experience. So when he entered where he'd be staying for the next four nights, reality bit.

"I thought it had a TV and a fan," Johnson said. "It would be cool in here but it's hot though."

And his dad, sweating while helping his son "move in," knows this could be a life altering education for his son.

"I wish there was something like this while I was growing up at his age," said Eric Johnson. "I want my kids to go to college, get a degree and not have to break their back to make a dollar."

The AAMI program is still a work in progress but it's showing positive signs of growth. After year one, they had just 30 participants. Now, in its third year, they've grown to more than 150 students with about half of that first class back for a third year.

"This gets these kids ready for secondary education, going to college," Drew said. "To get their mind into, 'I want to go to college. I want to further my education."

One of those kids is Dale Tucker, entering his second year with the program.

"Last year it was a good experience, Tucker said. "Taught me a lot of things about being black and young. It helped me."

Tucker says he wasn't sure if he would be able to go to college or not before starting the AAMI program. He said he wasn't sure it would be a fit for him. However, now he has aspirations of becoming a pharmacist, though it would take a lot of schooling. But he urges the younger kids starting the program to take advantage of this opportunity like he is doing.

"Don't take it for granted," Tucker said. "Go to the things in the summer but also volunteer and work and not just go to the Milwaukee Bucks thing."

Tucker echoed a similar sentiment to Johnson.

"Be successful," he said when asked what he wants to do with his future. With the help of 20 successful African American men showing the path, they both are already successful in their own right.