Young, Gifted & Black Series
By Taki S. Raton
He is Young, Gifted & Black and a member of the 2012 graduating class of Milwaukee High School of the Arts (MHSA), 2300 West Highland Avenue. Kyle Williams stands as a shining example of the MHSA’s mantra, “Intellectual Growth through Creative Expression” as he marched with his class of 191 seniors Tuesday evening June 12 at the Milwaukee Theater on West Kilbourn Avenue. Kyle is additionally a proud member of Brothers of Kwanza (BOK) at MHSA. Now in its 20th year, BOK serves as an African American male support group.
He has been with BOK for three years and concentrated at MHSA in the jazz genre. His instruments of choice are the drums and piano. His immediate plans are to work this summer in preparation for his first year of college this fall at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, declaring a major in Political Science with the intent on entering law school and becoming a lawyer.
With a cumulative 4.0 GPA, Kyle has received scholarship assistance from The Alpha Beta Boule, The Rising Star, the Kelben Foundation, The W.E.B. DuBois Club and from Fisk University.
“Knowledge is power!” says Kyle. “I will be dedicated to my studies at Fisk and use what I learn to my advantage.” He adds that as a result of being a member of BOK, he is also committed to use his knowledge now and later in his professional life to serve his community.
BOK founder and director Jerrell Braxton says of Kyle that as a graduating senior, he is well above his years in emotional maturity:
“This young man exemplifies what BOK is all about. He demonstrates leadership by example and not by verbal disguise. He is a young man who continues to focus on improving himself and also helping others.”
The BOK held their 20th Annual Banquet on May 5, 2012. Over 90 people attended this semi-formal affair held at the MHSA. Honored attendees included Former Mayor, Marvin Pratt, Former School Social Work Director, Brenda Ward and current School Social Work Director Dene Ratke, School Social Work Supervisor, Maxine Winston, Supervisor David Bowen, community organizers Carvis Braxton and Brother Oshi Adelabu who poured libations, as well as TV personalities Andrew Triplett and Vivian King. The major focus of BOK is to empower African American male participants to succeed academically, educationally and socially with the long range vision of succeeding in life. This empowerment and support effort is designed to address issues and lend solutions that are presently fueling the deteriorating status of African American males in Milwaukee and throughout the country.
The group details five social indicators that have become challenging benchmarks to Black teens. These markers are Education, Health, Employment, Crime, and Life Expectancy.
BOK’s primary emphasis is the development of critical thinking and social survival skill training. These tasks are cultivated by promoting students to critique community speakers, review documentaries, participate in group discussions and learn from field trips opportunities.
Objectives of the program include membership maintenance of a 2.50 G.P.A. or higher, 95 percent school attendance rate, positive and constructive interactive behavior with peers and elders, the development of leadership skills, and earned academic levels leading to high school graduation.
“We believe that these engagements and other activities such as the arts, jazz and poetry encourages students to cooperatively work together and think about issues that affect their lives today and in the future,” says Braxton.
He adds that the Brothers of Kwanzaa is an “empowerment program designed to assist students to work interactively towards helping and motivating each other gain interpersonal insight, increase motivation and improve academic performance.”
Upwards of 500 young men at the Milwaukee High School of the Arts have been serviced over these 20 years cite Braxton. He reveals that the program, with an average of 25 African American male enrollees per academic year, has a 99% graduation rate with 85% of these students continuing to higher education, training programs and city service positions.
Braxton also serves as the MHSA and Golda Meir School social worker. He earned state recognition when he was named Wisconsin School Social Worker of the Year for 2011-2012 by the Wisconsin School Social Work Association (WSSWA).
He was honored September 29, 2012 at the Midwest School Social Work Conference in Indianapolis where he represented Wisconsin. His award presentation was Friday, November 11 at the Heidel House in Green Lake, Wisconsin.
Braxton has been distinguished with numerous awards and accommodations to include Special Recognition by the Milwaukee Board of School Directors for 2011- 2012, the Milwaukee Chapter Top Ladies of Distinction Celebrating Fathers & Mentors Award in 2007, the Milwaukee Common Council City Proclamation in 2003, and the Milwaukee Public Schools Excellence in Education Award in 1995.
His signature contribution to the arena of mentoring and to the positive development of young African American males is his Brothers of Kwanzaa program at MHSA. His 20 year programming of BOK qualifies as one of the longest running African American male mentoring groups of its kind in the United States.