At an early age, Tommy Walls, Jr. decided that in order to survive, he had to become the leader in his family. Born into dire circumstances in Detroit , surrounded by mental illness, HIV and drug addiction, Walls made it his objective to change his living situation. And he did just that – after meeting Milwaukee relatives at a family reunion, he moved to their city with an adult cousin to begin a new life. Little did Walls know that his life-changing decision would result in possibly winning a prestigious title and meeting the President of the United States.
After being named the 2010 Midwest Region Youth of the Year for Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA), Walls will travel to Washington D.C. in September 10-15 for BGCA’s National Youth of the Year competition. While there, Walls will undergo a week of interviews with judges and other activities, such as meeting U.S. Senators Herb Kohl and Russell Feingold and U.S. Representative Gwendolyn Moore.
Decision to move to Milwaukee brings big rewards
Since moving to Milwaukee , Walls made it his mission to make a difference in his life and the lives of others. At the Mary Ryan Boys & Girls Club, he is known for his enthusiasm, optimism and desire to help his adopted hometown. Walls was actively involved in community-oriented programs such as Peers with Impact and Summer of Peace Project. At the Club, he’s been active in Upward Bound, a college prep program, and Keystone Club, a group that focuses on leadership and community service.
At Montessori International Baccalaureate High School, Walls strived to help other students become academically successful, helping create such programs as Montessori Academic Achievement Program, which tutors incoming high school freshman, and Restorative Justice Circle Program, which offers an alternative to suspension and teaches students alternative ways to mediate conflicts. Walls also participated in sports and was a member of the Student Governance Board. He graduated second in his class with a 3.7 GPA.
Most recently, Walls began his freshmen classes at Marquette University where he is one of its Urban Scholars Award winners. Urban Scholars is a full-tuition, four-year scholarship program that benefits financially disadvantaged central-city youth who have thrived academically. Walls plans are to pursue a master’s degree in social welfare and justice with a minor in communication. His goal is to become a guardian ad litem, a social worker/lawyer that investigates children-family situations and makes recommendation for their future. The National Youth of the Year program is sponsored by the Readers Digest Foundation. Since 1947, it has recognized a member’s outstanding contributions to family, school, community and Club, as well as personal challenges and obstacles overcome. It is the most prestigious title given to any Club member. As the national sponsor, the Readers Digest Foundation awards college scholarships on the state ($1,000), regional ($10,000) and national ($15,000) levels. Locally, the Youth of the Year program is sponsored by the Northwestern Mutual Foundation.
This is the second year in a row that the Midwest Region Youth of the Year hailed from Milwaukee. Club Alumna La- Quita Grinnage traveled to the nation’s capital in 2009 for the competition. Previous Midwest Youth of the Year winners from Milwaukee include Ronald Fancher of the Augusta M. LaVarnway Boys Club in 1976 and Kenneth Ivory of the Franklin Place Boys Club in 1975. Ivory went on to become the National Youth of the Year and was installed into office by President Gerald Ford.