“The President’s Perspective”
By Alderman Ashanti Hamilton
Common Council President City of Milwaukee
For my entire life, mentoring has been something near and dear to my heart. The society we live in is one that leaves people behind, and there are so many young members of our community who do not believe in themselves or their future. Being a mentor is one of the mediums we have to level the playing field and is something I believe can change the future of Milwaukee.
As an educator, I had the opportunity to teach both honors classes and proficiency classes during my tenure with MPS. One of the most profound takeaways I had from that experience was the realization that the only difference between the students in those honors classes and the students in those proficiency classes was the level of expectation placed on them.
When there is an expectation for success, young people will succeed. Once the expectation of success was placed on the proficiency students, their performances improved dramatically. In fact, some of those students started to out-perform the honors students. As a young educator, this surprised me but is now something I know to be fundamentally true. We live up to the expectations we have for ourselves and those expectations are shaped by the people around us.
When we are able to speak into the lives of our youth and tell them that “there is a future for you, you can succeed, you are good at something, and you are not defined by your circumstances”, we see them respond by shattering society’s expectations. I saw this truth personified in the students then, and I see it in mentees now. Concepts and intrinsic beliefs that seem obvious to some are not universal givens. The ideas of a long life, the ability to get a high school diploma, and the notion that you can live financially stable are not guarantees.
In my own life, I owe some of my success to the mentorship I received from Marquette University’s Upward Bound program, during my time as a participant, and the professional mentors I have been blessed to have throughout my time as an educator and public servant. Even today, I still lean on the wisdom of people that have believed in me and recognize that the mentoring relationship is one without an expiration date.
The Upward Bound model is one that has guided me in helping to create Be the Change. Founded in 2011 to respond to Wisconsin’s racial achievement gap in math and literacy, a group of community leaders created BTC in order to keep young men of color engaged during the summer. Currently facilitated by Running Rebels Community Organization, BTC has become a premier mentorship program for males of color ages 12-18 that uses literacy as a tool to assist them with reaching their goals in life. In the words of a BTC alumnus, “it basically [teaches] you how to survive and to be street smart and book smart. So whatever real life situations occur, you can easily get past it without any violence”.
Based upon the data from the BTC Summer 2017 cohort, the new mentalities gained during the summer show up in their academic performance. 64 young men in grades 9-11 enrolled in the 2017 summer program. 100% passed their state required Citizenship exam and 70% of the scholars increased their GPA in the first semester of the following academic year. Perhaps most importantly, however, there were attitudinal improvements in the areas of “confidently sharing my thoughts” and “I can change the world” across the board. These results don’t happen because someone waves a magic wand, they don’t happen because we throw millions of dollars at these young men, they happen because we share positivity and guidance with the young men in our community.
This coming week, the City of Milwaukee, MPS and the Bucks are going to be announcing our MENTOR Greater Milwaukee initiative. These powerful entities are going to be engaging in a concentrated effort to recruit mentors and connect them to youth in every corner of the City who need guidance. This new clearinghouse will allow our individual efforts to be amplified in a collaborative effort.
My call to you today is simple, but important. Be a mentor to someone. Maybe it is through a non-profit organization, maybe it is making a personal investment into a niece or nephew who needs some new expectations placed on them. Either way, we have the power to change someone’s trajectory simply by pouring some positivity into their lives. This is why I believe mentoring is powerful, and this power should be at the center of our efforts to create a better Milwaukee.
To be a part of our MENTOR Greater Milwaukee Launch, join us on Jan. 9 from 7:30 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. at the Fiserv Forum and Jan. 30 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at the Rotunda in City Hall.
For more information, contact Alicia Moore at 414-908-1081 or Amoore@milwaukeementor.com.