"Be the Change:" Program in Milwaukee aims to empower young black men

MILWAUKEE -- It is a push to redefine what it means to be young and black in Milwaukee, and across the country. On Friday, July 29th 33 young men celebrate a milestone, and prepare to be the change in their communities.

Cheers and applause rang out at Milwaukee City Hall, then chants. This, all in celebration for graduates of "Be the Change."

Kweli Miller

"It basically taught you how to survive, how to be street smart and book smart," said Kweli Miller, Be the Change graduate.

Be the Change is an intervention program targeting African-America students in partnership with Milwaukee Public Schools.

Kweli Miller and 32 other teens spent five weeks working on reading and math, but also learning how to deal with life's challenges.

"So whatever real life situations occur, you can easily get past it without any violence," said Miller.

Be The Change leaders want to show the teens they're not defined by society's stereotype of young black men.

"Many of our students talk about wanting to see changes in youth violence that we see in our community. See changes in how youth are presented or even the narrative that we use to talk about young black men in our city," said Samuel Coleman, Be The Change Program Director.

Be The Change

"We see the protests that are happening across this country -- defining who young black men are. This gives them an opportunity to define for themselves who they are, and what they want to be," said Milwaukee Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton.

Each young man receives a certificate of completion -- but they know now the real work begins.

"You or other people have to make a positive impact on the world," said Miller.

MPS identifies the students for the program. There is a $200 financial incentive to participate. The amount each young man receives is based on their attendance over the five-week period.

Be The Change