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MKE Fellows initiative develops African-American professionals

Sixty-eight percent of Milwaukeeans believe that Wisconsin's best and brightest leave the state to work elsewhere. At the same time, one in five African-Americans in Wisconsin is unemployed — the highest rate in the country.

These statistics are what the MKE Fellows initiative aims to combat, by providing professional development training and mentorship to African-American college students in the hopes that they will return to Milwaukee after graduation.

Fellows are placed in various summer internships in the Milwaukee area. They also participate in workshops and luncheons, meeting young professionals and more established local business leaders. The fellows recently visited the office of Major League Baseball Commissioner Emeritus Bud Selig.

"We want to make sure that (they) get exposed to all aspects of what it means to live in this community, and more importantly, see what the possibilities are," said John W. Daniels Jr., chairman emeritus of the law firm Quarles & Brady and the head of MKE Fellows.

The initiative grew out of the Fellowship Open, an annual golf tournament that has raised more $1 million for community youth groups. In 2011, the tournament's organizers, including Daniels, founded the Morehouse Scholars Program, a scholarship fund for students attending the historically black liberal arts college. In 2014, the program expanded to include students from other universities.

Its programming revolves largely around the summer internships — fellows are placed at law firms, religious organizations, social service organizations and finance companies — but also centers on mentoring.

At a professional development workshop Saturday, nearly 20 fellows gathered in a Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee space to hear from other young black professionals, including a financial consultant with Charles Schwab and a sales manager with the Milwaukee Bucks. The speakers mixed practical business tips with advice on how to succeed as leaders and people. Daniels told a story about learning company culture and appropriate dress code. Ron Adams, a diversity and inclusion consultant with Northwestern Mutual, spoke of the importance of developing a personal mission statement and staying humble.

The fellows interviewed said they all intend to return to Milwaukee after graduation.

"One of my main goals is to assist people in my community in the legal realm, and I can't assist if I'm not among my people," said Kyle Williams, a junior at Fisk University studying law and political science. Jaylin Durham, a Morehouse College junior interning at Gonzalez Saggio & Harlan LLP, the largest minority-owned law firm in the country, said he always planned to return, but the fellowship cemented his decision. "I felt I should stay true to my roots," he said. "Home needs the most help anyway."

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