By Mrinal Gokhale
On Jan. 14 at the BMO Harris arena, Mayor Tom Barrett announced a new mentoring initiative with Milwaukee Bucks, Milwaukee Public Schools and other local organizations as a part of President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative.
White House Cabinet Secretary and My Brother’s Keeper Chair Broderick Johnson visited to discuss why My Brother’s Keeper is a priority to the president and discuss the importance of mentorship to youth.
Obama announced the My Brother’s Keeper challenge in September 2014, challenging mayors and community members in the U.S. to implement a college to career strategy to help disadvantaged youth graduate school, improve reading levels, become employed and stay safe, among other measurements of improvement.
Johnson is originally from a high-crime area of Baltimore and said mentors prevent impoverished and disadvantaged youth from going down the wrong path, and says President Obama considers My Brother’s Keeper a priority.
“The TV show, ‘The Wire,’ is a realistic depiction of where I grew up.
If I went to the wrong party or event, my life would have been different,” he recalled, adding that he feels young men of color lack mentors.
Johnson recalled his visit to Milwaukee, saying the students he met asked him great questions about his career working for the president.
“I spoke to some seventh and eighth graders, and after seeing that twinkle in their eye as I talked about my career, I want their dreams to come true.”
Alderman Jose Perez, MPS Superintendent Dr. Darienne Driver, County Executive Chris Abele, Bucks player Marcques Johnson, CEO of Big Brothers, Big Sisters Metro Milwaukee Amy Chionchio and NBA Cares Ambassador Bob Lanier also spoke at a press conference at 3 pm, followed by a mentoring forum.
“Alderman Ashanti Hamilton and I are co-chairs of the Black Male Achievement Council to help young black males contribute to our community in a meaningful way,” said Barret.
“Having the Bucks sign on is a golden gift,” said Dr. Driver.
“Now is the time to act and we must make sure every MPS student is tied to a mentor.”
County Executive Chris Abele briefly spoke, giving specific statistics on why he feels Milwaukee youth need more mentors.
“We have highest African American incarceration and highest disparity rates in graduation and unemployment,” he said.
Amy Chionchio also agreed, saying Big Brothers, Big Sisters of MetroMilwaukee requires a two year commitment from mentors, so they aren’t in and out of the children’s’ lives.
Big Brothers, Big Sisters is a nonprofit organization which pairs disadvantaged children with a “Big Brother” or “Big Sister” to provide mentorship.
“Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Metro-Milwaukee has been around for 40 years. We have 500 kids on our waiting list and we’re currently serving 1,300 kids,” she said.
Once the panel discussion with the youth organizations started, hundreds of seats were filled with local youth, adults working with nonprofit organizations and other community members. Marques Johnson was one of the first to speak after Barrett’s introduction.
“I was raised by a single mother with five children and I think no one is too old for a mentor.
I’ve been in recovery for years and have my own mentor,” he explained.
Once the panel ended, the youth and adults participated in networking outside the stadium area.
Milwaukee schools and local organizations took on the My Brother’s Keeper challenge last year and will soon present an action plan to the city for approval.