By Ariele Vaccaro
For hematologist and University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee (UWM) Vice Chancellor Dr. Joan Prince, the best part of being a HistoryMaker is being able to speak to young crowds like the one she visited this past Tuesday afternoon at Milwaukee High School of the Arts (MHSA).
“I think it’s our job to give young people hope. It’s our job to help them craft their message,” Prince said.
A crowd of juniors at MHSA filed into the auditorium at 10 a.m.
There, they would learn about one little African- American girl that grew up to be a United Nations Ambassador and a university administrator – in essence, a leader.
Prince’s address to the teens was part of a new effort by The HistoryMakers – a group working to create the nation’s largest oral collection of African American history – to show Black youth what a leader looks like and how to become one.
According to Prince, the city’s youth, African American or not, could especially benefit from such an initiative.
“I think it’s particularly important for all people, not just African Americans, to know about African American history and African American leadership, particularly as it relates to Milwaukee,” said Prince.
Prince began her speech by asking students if they were from Milwaukee. Majority rose their hands. She smiled and mentioned that she grew up on 12th and Center Streets.
Her childhood home, where she grew up as the youngest of four siblings, was located within the 53206 zip code, which has been nationally noticed for its high rate of previously incarcerated residents.
However, Prince’s message was not to focus on where you start.
Rather, she implied that what’s more important is where you end up.
“You can shoot for the stars,” said Prince. “Don’t let this zip code be your boundary.”
She grabbed students’ attention with an anecdote recalling the time the White House called to tell her she’d been chosen to be a U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
She thought it was a prank phone call from her brother and hung up not once, but twice. She would later meet President Barack Obama and discover that he planned to send her to New York City to become an ambassador.
Then, Prince turned the conversation to the students. She urged them to plan for life beyond high school.
“You have to keep working,” Prince told the juniors.
She invited students to visit her at UWM and mentioned that she may come back to MHSA again next year to speak to the them as seniors.
Prince’s speech was one of two that HistoryMakers put on to take place at MHSA on Tuesday.
Baseball player and social worker Dennis “Bose” Biddle spoke to a group of students earlier that day.
Other HistoryMakers will be making similar visits to schools.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is working with The HistoryMakers to send 400 African American leaders “back to school” to meet with students and perform as role models for young adults.