Making history in the clubs and beyond

From Backpacks to Briefcases

By Vincent Lyles
President & CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee

Vincent Lyles

Vincent Lyles

February is National Black History Month. In its own way, Boys & Girls Clubs have been contributing to Black History through the accomplishments of its members.

And we’ve been doing that by providing safety, opportunities and encouragement – a foundation on which success can be built.

For more than 125 years, Boys & Girls Clubs locally and nationally have been dedicated to providing all children, especially those who need us most, with the tools they need to succeed.

At the Clubs, youth have the support of caring adults who provide them with guidance and valuable life lessons.

With this support, many Club members are empowered to pursue their goals, and in the process, exceed their expectations.

And some even go on to become Black History makers.

Everyone knows Boys & Girls Clubs alumnus and national celebrity spokesperson Denzel Washington – four-time Oscar nominee and two-time winner.

But did you know that Motown legend Smokey Robinson was a Club alumnus?

He’s credited for writing and producing 26 Top 40 hits.

There’s Kathy Hughes, founder of TV One and Radio One.

She is the owner of the nation’s largest African American operated radio chain.

Hughes was a trailblazer early on as a Club member in Omaha, Nebraska. She grew up in Omaha’s projects and the Club was where she found safe supervision and encouragement from staff.

Ballet lessons are hard to afford when household budgets are tight, but thankfully, Misty Copeland was able to take her first ballet lesson at the San Pedro Boys & Girls Club in Los Angeles.

Today the Club alumna is the first African-American soloist in two decades for the prestigious American Ballet Theatre.

Copeland is committed to helping future ballerinas of color.

Many Milwaukeeans may recall C.C. Sabathia’s time here as a Milwaukee Brewer, but did you know he was a Club kid?

The Omega Boys & Girls Club in Vallejo, California was a safe place for him to go after school, get homework help and mentoring.

He also played on the Club’s baseball team.

Sabathia said the Club also gave him his first chance to attend a Major League Baseball game and to meet his hero, Oakland A’s pitcher Dave Stewart.

Today, the New York Yankees pitcher gives back to his old Boys & Girls Club, as well as to Clubs in New York and New Jersey through his PitCChin Foundation.

Locally, Boys & Girls Clubs alumni are making their own contributions to Black History.

Former Common Council Presidents Marvin Pratt and Willie Hines are alumni from the Augusta M. LaVarnway Boys & Girls Club.

Pratt served as the acting Mayor of Milwaukee in 2004 and as the Interim Milwaukee County Executive in 2011 – a first for an African-American in either position.

Hines, now the Associate Director with the Housing Authority for the City of Milwaukee, was known for working diligently to address the economic development issues affecting African-American residents and businesses.

Other notable history makers from local Boys & Girls Clubs include Arthur Jones, the first African- American Milwaukee Police Chief and Howard Fuller, founder of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning.

McArthur Weddle is the executive director of Northcott Neighborhood House, and Richard Cox is the executive director of Neighborhood House of Milwaukee.

Because of their early exposure to the Clubs, both Weddle and Cox grew up to be successful people who are giving back to kids through their organizations.

All of the above Boys & Girls Clubs alumni reflect the attitudes, skills, values and behaviors instilled in them by Club staff.

At Boys & Girls Clubs, they were taught that a positive and bright future was within reach.

The result: they created history.

Today, Boys & Girls Clubs of America serves more than 4 million children and teens, including the 36,393 members served through Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee.

Every day, I’m inspired by the young people I meet in our Clubs. One thing is for certain, the next chapter of Black History is being written by our youth.

Until my next column, you’re invited to visit a Boys & Girls Club nearest you.

Visit our website at to find a location. Keep up-to-date about Boy & Girls Clubs and other youth-related news through, on Twitter at @bgcmilwaukee, or at