Wisconsin has some of the most pronounced education gaps in the country between black and white students. These gaps won’t close overnight, but research says that at-risk teenage boys are more resilient against negative influences when they have positive male role models.
A mentoring program through Milwaukee Public Schools is taking that research to heart.
“This program is everything you could want,” said Khalil Shanklin, a senior at Bradley Technical High School, who is planning to go on to trade school to become a carpenter. “The support you get is amazing.”
“This is my first time, and these young men are remarkable,” said Romell Greer, the program manager of Milwaukee Fatherhood Initiative, and a new mentor with MPS’ Black and Latino Male Achievement Department.
A luncheon at Fiserv Forum Thursday was just the beginning. Greer will meet at least once a month for two hours with some of the male students at their schools.
“Come down, break bread with them, see how their day is going,” Greer said. “Talk about some of the things that are bothering them, or what they may need help with. Bottom line, these young men need to be seen and heard.”
“These mentors help build character, and help us from basically nothing,” Shanklin said. “They serve as father figures in a way. They teach us the best things they can so we can be the best we can be.”
“These mentors have gone down some of the same roads as these students in terms of how they grew up in Milwaukee,” said Lanelle Ramey, the head of MPS’ Black and Latino Male Achievement Department. “Through this mentoring, these students can see men who look like them, and feel that they can make it in life too. These kids often just need someone to talk to and lean on."
The goal is to change the all-too-often negative narrative when it comes to young men of color in the city of Milwaukee.
“These kids need us, and our schools need us,” Greer said. “There are some kids doing negative things in our city, but there are also so many good kids. Hundreds of them are in this program, looking to be mentored. They’re here because they want a better future. They want to see a better Milwaukee. That’s something to be proud of and encourage.”
“There’s always going to be negative, but as long as you stay positive, you don’t have to worry about that at all,” Shanklin said. “That’s what were doing and learning here.”
This is the third year of this MPS mentoring program. Leaders hope to continue expanding it to more high schools in the district. Right now, it serves seven Milwaukee high schools, and about 250 teens.
If you’d like to become a mentor through this program, here is some contact information to find out more:
Black and Latino Male Achievement Department: firstname.lastname@example.org