MILWAUKEE — Dozens of Milwaukee Public Schools students are set to attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs, in the fall.
Marianna Thomas and Lisa Estes have been classmates at Golda Meir School since third grade, and in a few weeks, they graduate. Both of them are going to HBCUs—Marianna to Tennessee State University in Nashville, and Lisa to Prairie View A&M University in Texas.
"I've met a lot of kids that go there," Lisa said "I'm Black and Asian, so I'm double minority, and I met a few more kids who are just like me."
"I always knew that I wanted to go to an HBCU, I just didn’t know which one," Marianna said.
There are more than 100 HBCUs across the country. Most of the schools are in the South, and none are in Wisconsin.
Golda Meir School leads the district in the percentage of graduates who go on to HBCUs, and Rufus King High School leads the district in the number of students. In 2020, 12 Golda Meir and 18 Rufus King graduates went to HBCUs.
"HBCUs are definitely credited with developing phenomenal African American change-makers in our world," said Golda Meir School Principal Michelle Carter.
Principal Carter and school counselor Angilique Jones-Cornelius have played a big role in showcasing HBCUs to MPS students. They have planned tours and panels, most of which had to be virtual over the past year.
"Our students in a way had more access to some college reps that necessarily wouldn't have had face-to-face," Jones-Cornelius said.
In 2019, MPS partnered with the Empower Me Tour, which awarded hundreds of MPS students with on-the-spot acceptances and scholarships to HBCUs, as well as other local colleges.
"As a person of color, we have a responsibility for our young men and young women to not only get to certain points in our society and be pillars in the community, but also give back," Carter said. "And the way we give back is through our mentorship, through conversations."
Both Carter and Jones-Cornelius were born and raised in Milwaukee and went to HBCUs. Carter went to Hampton University in Virginia, and Jones-Cornelius went to Jackson State University in Mississippi.
Both Lisa and Marianna credit Jones-Cornelius for connecting them with their future schools.
"It's extra special when it is an HBCU because, again, that's out of the ordinary for our students for Milwaukee," Jones-Cornelius said. "So again, for them to step out on that, take that chance, do what they love to do, it's just, the feeling is indescribable."
"Just being able to work with them, watch them grow, and now to see them go off, it is the most exciting experience for me," Carter said. "It's why I'm in education."
Both Lisa and Marianna want to study nursing. Lisa is valedictorian, and she said she can't wait to walk across the stage in person at graduation this year.
"Every time I think about graduation, I just know I'm going to cry," Lisa said. "But it's going to feel really good. I think I worked hard all four years—actually, all of my life, so I think this will be a moment of I get to relax before I go to college."