MILWAUKEE — A non-profit organization was awarded a $1 million grant to expand its efforts in improving literacy among Milwaukee's youngest students and empowering men of color to pursue careers in education.
The Literacy Lab was just one recipient of Wisconsin's Equitable Recovery Grants, which totaled $82 million. The grants were funded by American Rescue Plan dollars and issued to organizations aimed at improving equity in communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
On Tuesday, Governor Tony Evers presented the Literacy Lab with the award that will help double their efforts over the next two years to reach more children and aspiring teachers. The press conference was held at Next Door.
"This work is critical to ensuring our kids have the resources, mentorship, and support they need to succeed both in and out of the classroom," Evers said.
"What we do is we hire young men of color, ages 18 to 24, to go work in pre-k classrooms for the year. While they’re working in the classroom they’re also going to get this robust professional personal development," said program director Bernard Rahming as he described the Literacy Lab's work and Leading Men Fellowship.
Arious Walton's journey to becoming a teacher began when the Literacy Lab introduced him to early childhood education.
"I always felt like I wanted to help," Walton said.
Walton said growing up he did not have a Black male teacher until well into high school and that he noticed a positive difference when he did.
Since joining the Literacy Lab, Walton has spent time reading with students, teaching them how to write, and problem solve. Currently, he works as an assistant teacher at Next Door while he attends Milwaukee Area Technical College to become a lead teacher.
Walton hopes to inspire kids to see their potential.
"I always say you can’t be what you don’t see. I always wanted to be a football player, basketball player, that’s because I would always see that," Walton said.
"It’s changing the narrative of what men of color can be. We can be nurturing. We can be caring. We can be educators. It’s showing that young men have this pathway," said Rahming.
"They’re showing a model of what a young man can be to the younger kids so they can see that yeah I can be a teacher too but also more importantly I think to me is like they’re creating a sense of belonging in schools."