Written by Aaron Bledsoe, serving his second year as a City Year AmeriCorps member at City Year Milwaukee as the Civic Engagement Project Leader
The purpose of Global Youth Service Day is to mobilize and celebrate young people and highlights the contributions of youth working together with other organizations to address pressing matters occurring in hopes of positively changing their communities.
I’m a proud Milwaukee Public Schools alumnus and a first generation college graduate. I’m indebted to those in my family who made sacrifices for me to have a better chance at life. I owe my success to those educators and mentors who corrected me in my adolescence and nurtured the emerging leader within me. Because of them, I know that you can arise from any adversity and I want the young people I serve to know the same thing. Our students deserve to know that their lives matter and their voices have power.
I am grateful to have the privilege to serve with an organization that believes in the capabilities of young people. We recognize young people as both students and leaders. The violence that happens in the city of Milwaukee has an effect on our students, and while the violence impacts them we want our students to feel empowered to change their community. I personally believe that issues can become strongholds in our community when we fail to break the silence and talk about them with each other.
City Year Milwaukee decided to hold the Youth Summit on Anti-Violence as a part of Global Youth Service Day to to show youth that violence is an issue that can come in many forms and to start a dialogue about how we can work to rectify it. We wanted to address the various forms of violence that our students are exposed to since it has the potential to hinder their learning. This event provided an opportunity to impact the way our students see their schools and the city of Milwaukee and our workshops were facilitated by some amazing individuals who are truly committed to causing positive change in the city of Milwaukee.
We hope that last Friday’s Youth Summit--where 88 students from six Milwaukee south-side high schools gathered alongside 100 City Year AmeriCorps members--gave students the tools they need to organize and to advocate for the important issues that their peers are facing.
Some of the day’s highlights:
The day began with inspirational words from our Regional Superintendent of High Schools, Dr. Orlando Ramos, who shared his personal story of triumph over various obstacles in his life growing up and reminded us all that “people are placed in your life for a reason.”
Workshop sessions included arts and non-violence, creating positive school environments for LGBTQ+ students, racial identity and fighting against systemic racism as it pertains to our students in school, as well as teen intimate partner violence.
Students attended a resource fair with different Milwaukee organizations that provided information about different opportunities for recreation, leadership enrichment, community engagement and academic excellence.
Being the lead for this event meant so much to me because I truly enjoy creating safe spaces so that people are able to engage in meaningful dialogue with one another.
In recent years, Milwaukee has gained notoriety for being one of the worst places for Black people to live in. Even though Milwaukee’s young people face so many challenges, I often remind myself that there’s no such thing as a perfect city. Sometimes we have to confront the issues our communities are having in order to acknowledge the opportunities we have to change society for ourselves and generations to come. One cannot allow the struggles they encounter to diminish the chance to be a change agent in his or her own village. There are so many talented individuals who have the ability to bring about change in Milwaukee and interacting with these students during out Youth Summit confirmed that for me. Mentors and programs like City Year are definitely needed in Milwaukee.