Aisha Carr Plans to Change the Narrative Around Opportunity Youth in Milwaukee
I believe Spring is nature’s way of saying ‘let’s party’! Crank the tunes, roll down the windows, and breathe some new life into the world around us. It’s also the season to geek out on one of my favorite Spring traditions ... reading and watching motivating graduation speeches! Check out Chadwick Boseman’s inspiring 2018 Howard University speech encouraging us to be fueled by a sense of purpose, and face life's challenges without fear.
A strong commencement speech is a flashlight. A graduate might have one or two steps planned out, but the rest is hazy. With a flashlight—powered by a commencement speaker’s memorable personal story—students might be able to make better personal and professional decisions. Milwaukee Succeeds is also a flashlight. Guiding students to graduate high school, but also helping the estimated 16,349 young people aged 16 to 24 who are out of school and not working in Milwaukee. We refer to these young people as Opportunity Youth (OY), due to their untapped potential and desire for personal success.
Milwaukee Succeeds and its Funders Collaborative are supporting a model for successfully re-engaging OY through the piloting of a Re-engagement Center with partners in the Silver Spring Neighborhood. The Re-engagement Center will give our OY access to resources they need to be successful, aiming to develop collaborative mechanisms that reach out as early as possible when they disconnect.
Aisha Carr, the new Opportunity Youth Program Director, is excited to share her plans toward this center’s success in Milwaukee, assisting them in areas including education, employment, housing, health, transportation and parenting obligations.
Aisha is an awesome, caring young woman! She is a former MPS high school teacher, a community organizer, a Mom, a friend to many and has a heart for young people that could fill the ocean. And yet, Aisha is the first to admit that she has made mistakes in life, learned from them and has a growing capacity for honest self-reflection. She is the perfect fit for this newly-created Silver Spring Re-engagement Center. Why you might ask? In talking with her, I learned that Aisha knows firsthand the roads traveled by our youth; she’s walked with them. She knows how important a caring adult is in the lives of young people whose paths have detoured from where their dreams said they wanted to be. She maintains healthy relationships with many of her former students and has consistently told them to never give up on themselves and promised that she will never give up on them either. She will be authentic, real, courageous and therefore, the opportunity to help OY in the Silver Spring neighborhood be successful at re-engaging with society is truly her calling today.
We had the unique opportunity to hear her goals and as the center opens this summer. Our Communications Coordinator, Angeline Herrick, interviewed Aisha to learn more about plans in the Silver Spring neighborhood.
Take it away Angeline,
See you soon,
Our young people bring such vitality and enthusiasm to Milwaukee, which is one of the many reasons I love my city! In order to give our kids the opportunities to be successful, we have to keep them engaged and aware. Unawareness is detrimental to the success of any program, event or initiative. That is why I believe the Silver Spring Re-Engagement Center will create such an impact. Many times, young people aren’t sure what’s available to them and/or are nervous to ask for help. We hope to change that mindset of our youth and create a safe space for them to visit when they need a helping hand. That is exactly what this re-engagement center aims to do, and I am excited to share with you the goals of their new program director, Aisha Carr. She gave me some compelling insight into her plan for the upcoming year, and has positive hopes for the future!
What are your first-year goals as the Opportunity Youth Program Director?
As the Opportunity Youth Program Director, my first year of goals are to hire a team of Peer Connectors who have experience with engaging OY, building authentic relationships with them, assessing and working to align community resources to meet their needs. Second, to identify 10-20 OY with whom my team and I can focus on building authentic relationships with as a means for gaining a deeper understanding of their mental health, housing, education and work status, and then work to engage those 10-20 youth in school and/or family-sustaining work. My final goal for year one is to identify and establish strong and effective partnerships with community organizations, schools, community leaders, and local businesses in a collective and comprehensive way to bridge resource gaps, including but not limited to pursuing and completing educational studies and gaining access to family-sustaining employment.
What drew you to this position?
In addition to being granted the opportunity to work with the population of youth I love and enjoy the most, two of the most attractive factors that drew me to this position were the current partners (Silver Spring Neighborhood Center, Carmen Schools of Science and Technology and Milwaukee Succeeds) and the ability to work to re-engage Opportunity Youth and not be forced to focus on quantity but rather quality. What this means for me is that I will be granted the autonomy to address the core of issues facing our OY, build authentic relationships with them, and re-engage them in school and family-sustaining work. This is so important, especially when working with a population of youth and young adults who battle ongoing deeply rooted trauma, poverty including but not limited to homelessness, hunger, and unemployment. When I first spoke with the partners who created this opportunity, one thing was for certain, the partners, funders and leaders involved in this line of work have a genuine concern about the conditions of our City, communities, children and families. Something new, something different needs to be done to address and eliminate the barriers for this demographic specifically in order to move closer to developing healthier communities. It’s a blessing to be a part of such a dynamic team of leaders at such a crucial time.
How do you plan to involve opportunity youth in program development?
Prior to starting in this role, I thought it would be a great idea to reach out to my former students and identify a team of unofficial Peer Connectors who also identify as OY. I asked them to support and work with me, granting me another opportunity to serve them well. Since accepting the role as the Opportunity Youth Program Director, I have had the pleasure of re-engaging my former students/OY in this process of extended learning, continuous growth and professional development while also collaborating with them to assist with the development of the OY Program. As their former teacher, this has by far been one of the greatest joys I have experienced to date during my time in youth development: serving as their teacher from grades 9th to 12th grade, and beyond. We meet at least three times a week to plan, strategize, and execute. They are participants on the OY Steering Committee, and whenever I go out to speak with and recruit OY, they are present to serve, guide and support me. They are the youth we are working to serve and transform; therefore, they are included in every aspect of the process. In addition to my former students, I have also maintained weekly breakfast and lunch meetings to collaborate with the other OY that we have recruited as well, to ensure that this program is a clear and distinct reflection of who they are, what they represent and what they need to be re-engaged.
What are your long-term aspirations for the reengagement program?
According to the data, there are currently 16,349 young people in the city of Milwaukee who identify as OY. My long-term aspirations for the re-engagement program is to create a program that is successful in reducing the population from 16,349 to 0. In this, I envision the creation of a model Re-engagement Center where OY can come and receive housing, mental health, employment, education and other training that will only guarantee their success and ultimately change the narrative around OY in Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin.
We're so excited to see this pilot take off and create impact in Milwaukee! Stay tuned!