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Milwaukee Youth Voices Heard at State Capitol

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Milwaukee youth don’t want to be lost in the shuffle. This year has certainly been filled with tumult over in Madison, where School Board meetings and community forums have been filled to the brim with people concerned about the scholastic experiences of students and teachers. People have been advocating change, participating in School Board elections, imploring the powers that be in the MMSD to put into effect new ideas.

But in Milwaukee it has largely been the status quo and that status quo has youth around the city questioning whether their local representatives realize the that youth are spending too much time in the courtroom while not enough resources are dedicated to their classrooms.

Additionally, young people across the district in Milwaukee have been fighting for more recognition of their physical bodies. Health care, prenatal care and access to wellness resources are top of mind especially for adolescents of color along with other bodily issues like the excessive use of restraints and seclusion inside of school.

Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT) is an organization that is setting about changing the narratives around what we invest in when it comes to school practices.

LIT seeks to change the culture around Milwaukee area schools by doing things like reducing classroom sizes, hiring a greater number of support staff (therapists, social workers, psychologist and guidance counselors), provide universal and free early childhood education and create a youth jobs program.

With that in mind, LIT youth met with state representatives in Madison about what they see as the roadblocks to investing in better schooling. Police in schools, the presence of metal detectors, the use of seclusion and restraints and the high number of arrests and citations of predominantly African-American kids has plagued the District.

Nearly 85 percent of referrals to law enforcement were black students and black students make up 80 percent of MPS suspensions.

“I really hope to invoke change in our elected officials,” MPS student Prince Grayson told Madison365. “Like I said, it’s really hard to ignore a problem when it’s right in your face. And we came up here to voice facts and try to invoke change from our elected officials and I think it went pretty well.”

LIT went to the state capitol to give voice to youth who feel that being policed at school is a constant trauma they face daily. With Governor Tony Evers now in office and Democrats representing the districts many of the students who went to the capitol come from, there was a feeling that this was an opportune moment.

But organizers expressed to Madison365 the feeling that they want to hold Democrats’ feet to the fire and did not hold any meetings with Republicans. Some of the students wondered if, when elected representatives from their area get to Madison, the issues they face daily in Milwaukee become out of sight and out of mind.

“We talked to Representative JoCasta Zamarripa and I think she really understood our messages and got the gist of what we were trying to say,” MPS student Gabby Pagliocca told Madison365. “And we’re not just here trying to complain. We’re here to make change in our communities and I think she was very helpful for making headway on that. So I feel very confident about that.”

Another student, Gepsaida Fernandez, echoed those feelings.

“The whole day went pretty well for me, it being my first time really doing something like this,” Fernandez told Madison365. “I felt like speaking about youth and issues that are going on in MPS and Milwaukee itself, hopefully it changes people’s mind and perspective of youth.”

One sentiment expressed to Madison365 was that it feels to the youth and the organizers of LIT that local media does not do justice to the issues happening in Milwaukee, including showing up to youth-led events or LIT-run gatherings, and that positive reactions from people like Representative JoCasta Zamarripa and Rep Evan Goyke (both of Milwaukee) helps the kids feel empowered.

Madison365 was unable to reach Zamarripa for comment, but all of the students who were interviewed were excited about their interaction with her and emboldened by having someone listen.

“We do have a voice and we do know and see what’s going on in our community and the world,” Fernandez said. “And we want to see a change.”