MILWAUKEE — Young African American men in Milwaukee face daunting statistics, from low high school graduation rates to high unemployment numbers. A game-changing initiative is aimed at giving these young men the tools they need to break down the barriers of obtaining higher education and career success. MKE Fellows is more than a summer monitorship.
"Our young men only have three things in common: They are young African American males, they are all going to graduate from college and they are all determined," said program director John Daniels Jr., who wants to change the negative narrative of young black men in Milwaukee. "That determination shows up in so many different ways."
Each morning, Devon Ellis walks into Wells Fargo Bank eager to learn as a financial analyst intern. And his supervisor is right there to help him every step of the way.
A graduate of Rufus King High School, Devon has returned home two summers in a row to work in the financial sector thanks to the MKE Fellows program.
"They provide people who grow up in areas like this black talent wherever they come from the opportunities to see OK I can network," said Devon, an MKE fellow.
Exposure and preparation are vital components of the MKE Fellows initiative. Six years ago, Daniels and his team created a program that takes a high school senior and supports him all the way through college and into career success.
"We are with them on their entire journey. I have some of the greatest staff people. Who really don't turn off their phone. Whether it's a question about hey, can you do an interview with me before I have my interview, or whether it's can you work on my resume, or whether it is a personal life challenge," Daniels said.
"I really like talking to people, learning from their mistakes, learning from their experiences. That is the way I learn best." — MKE fellow Chijioke Agwoeme
Local business and civic leaders have grasped on to the vision. Greg Nickerson, chairman of Bader Rutter, is one of them. A few weeks ago, 20 fellows were invited to the marketing agency based in Milwaukee. Nickerson said he is committed to not only sharing his knowledge but also being influential to bring diversity to the marketing industry.
"I am super passionate about growing the size of the pool of talent in Milwaukee. We can't keep trading amongst ourselves; the people are here."
Chijioke Agwoeme has been in the program for three years. He returns to the University of Wisconsin-Madison with three internships under his belt as a junior. The experiences he has gained are invaluable, he said.
"I am really a life learner. I am not really a good school learner. I really like talking to people, learning from their mistakes, learning from their experiences. That is the way I learn best. Getting the chance to have internships has really been a big boost for me," said Agwoeme.
Chijioke and Devon are the future of Milwaukee. If you ask them, the future looks bright.
"This is the place that I want to make sure that I have my footprint. There is nothing that I would like more than to actually say that I was able to invest in the place that made me," said Ellis.
Since the program started in 2014, 85% of the fellows have graduated from college. The goal for next year is to enroll 200 young men.