WUWM's Teran Powell reports on the Milwaukee Fellows Initiative.
Since 2012, the Milwaukee Fellows Initiative has been helping young black men graduate from college, and encouraging them to return to Milwaukee to help strengthen the community afterward. What started as a scholarship program has evolved into a program that helps meet the needs of its fellows throughout their college journey.
Milwaukee Fellows Director John Daniels, III explains how the initiative got its start: "About five years ago, Skip Poliner, John Daniels, and Chuck Harvey wanted to really increase the number of Milwaukee students going to Morehouse [College], so they raised over $1 million to cover the cost of tuition and the expenses of a student."
"Through this process," he adds, "we also learned that the students needed more support in areas of finding internships, mentorships, and some other areas, and so the program began to grow from more than just a scholarship program to really wrapping our arms around these young men to make sure they were prepared for life.”
Since the program's inception, Daniels says students from other colleges — ranging from Fisk and Howard Universities to Cardinal Stritch and UW-Madison — have reached out to the organizers, asking to be involved.
“We sort of realized that there was something magical that we had developed. Sort of a combination of not only scholarship, but also being able to sew into the lives of these young men — all with the hope that they would consider coming back to Milwaukee. That’s really the ultimate goal of our program, is to strengthen our communities," he explains.
Daniels says what started with a group of 10 young men has grown to include more than 100. In a lecture hall at the Mother Kathryn Daniels Conference Center on Milwaukee’s north side on a recent Saturday, more than a dozen young black men socialized with one another. It was the fellows' final professional development event of the summer.
The requirements for becoming a fellow aren't very strict. “What we do have is a requirement for them to be committed to our program, but first and more importantly be committed to their own success,” Daniels explains. The young men can be recommended to the program by mentors, family and community members, or they can apply on their own.
Once a fellow, they stay connected to the program throughout their college careers. That was the case with Kyle Williams, who was invited to join the Milwaukee Fellows his junior year of college. He’s currently studying to take the Law School Admission Test.
Williams is still active with the fellows and is considered an alumnus of the program. “As far as being an alumni, I definitely come to the program to kind of give back, mentor some of the different students," he shares. "Kind of give them perspective on what life is in corporate America, how to best navigate some of [their] different aspirations."
Williams also says the program is extremely valuable to young black men in Milwaukee. “These are people, there are resources and platforms that are all pooled together, and they are made accessible to a lot of young black male youth here in Milwaukee to be able to see, live, learn and attest to the things that they may have seen on TV, only heard about, dream about, you name it," he says.
Kaleb Tatum, a freshman at Marquette University, echoes those thoughts. His brother was also a Milwaukee Fellow, and that’s how he got involved.
“You’re exposed to things that you might not have ever thought of or been around otherwise," Tatum says, "and just to see a group of guys, we’re all educated, doing our thing and trying to do some positive things in the community, it’s great.”
Calling the program tremendous, he encourages anyone who has the chance to be involved to take advantage.