Champions for a Violence Free Zone 

Each day, student leaders walk the halls of Milwaukee Public Schools with an important responsibility –– resolving conflicts, promoting academic achievement and leading their peers. 

If there is one word that would describe our community’s young people, it would be “resilient”. Through the nonstop overturning of their neighborhoods by gun violence, they persevere and, in many instances, discover their own ways to combat it and other crimes that may be prevalent in their neighborhoods. They have realized their potential, and with a little help from VFZ, they are learning how to maximize their potential. As they move along on their journey, they are also realizing that they are leaders with an obligation to assist their peers to follow the same path.

These champions of the Violence Free Zone (VFZ) are part of an initiative that has led to a decline in violent incidents within the most challenged high schools in Milwaukee. Dating back to 2005, MCC’s Violence Free Zone (VFZ) program annually connects nearly 600 high school youth with mentors who help lead and counsel their peers. 

Get to know three of our influential champions of the VFZ. 

Maurissa B.

The sky’s the limit for Maurissa, one of our VFZ students at James Madison Academic Campus (JMAC). Maurissa has been a part of VFZ since her freshman year. Her true potential shone through from the beginning, and she realized that the obstacles holding her back were not going to disappear. She sought the assistance of VFZ and was paired with a Youth Advisor. As the mentoring relationship advanced, she quickly began to find purpose in her creative self. Now that Maurissa is a Senior she continues her involvement with VFZ as they are assisting her with her preparations herself for college, where she will major in the Arts. 

Nyaja C.

Nyaja, in her Junior year of High School at Pulaski High School, has been living on her own and juggling between keeping her job and studying. Thanks to her mentor, Jeuray, she has had support communicating with her teachers and administrators to ensure they are all on the same page when it comes to Nyaja’s education and making sure she is able to graduate. Today, Nyaja has her mind set and is focused on graduation. 

Zameria D.

Zameria, a Junior at Bay View High School and part of the VFZ program, recently experienced the loss of two cousins to gun violence. This experience was traumatic and heartbreaking and she missed several days of school as a result. To honor them and bring awareness to gun violence, Zameria and other VFZ students created orange colored ribbons that that were placed on all school lockers as a symbol of youth united against gunn violence. Zameria said she is tired of losing loved ones to something that can be prevented. Since summer is coming, she wanted to help raise awareness now, to allow other students to make choices to keep the community safe. 

A NIGHT OF ELEGANCE: LOVING ME ENOUGH YOUTH BALL CELEBRATION

Faced with making tough choices every day, these teens deserve to be recognized for their efforts in making responsible choices and developing safe relationships.  On Friday, June 3rd, the Milwaukee Christian Center’s HEART program hosted a Youth Gala – A Night of Elegance: Loving Myself Enough.

More 70 Milwaukee scholars participated and enjoyed dancing, entertainment and peer presentations providing reinforcement for the life-long impact of responsible decision making.

Click here to view a video with a few highlights of this inspirational event. 

A Special Thank You to Keith L. Brown- Mr. I’m Possible for serving as the inspirational Keynote Speaker for this event.

The Milwaukee Christian Center HEART Initiative Program is a middle through high school program designed to empower teens, ages 11-17, with the necessary tools and confidence needed to make responsible choices, develop healthy relationships and form safe decisions. The Night of Elegance: Loving Me Enough Youth Ball Celebration was held as a reward for local scholars for their commitment to make good choices and work toward building healthy relationships.          

To learn more about MCC’s Youth Development Programs click here

MCC Hosts Michael Smith, CEO of AmeriCorps

MCC was proud to host Michael Smith, CEO of AmeriCorps and Sonali Nijhawan, Director of AmeriCorps State and National at its nearly completed renovation on N. 26th street in the Amani Neighborhood. YouthBuild AmeriCorps members from MCC, alongside professional trades people, have completely renovated the home which will welcome new homeowners this fall. MCC YouthBuild AmeriCorps members gain training and education while serving the Milwaukee community through new construction and gut rehabilitation of homes. Mr. Smith leads the federal AmeriCorps program through which people across the country serve their communities. Smith has dedicated his career to social justice and public service in underserved communities like those where he grew up. Most recently, he served as executive director of the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance and director of Youth Opportunity Programs at the Obama Foundation. Ms. Nijhawan has committed her career to developing leaders and growing national service. Most recently, she developed and served as the executive director of Stockton Service Corps, a six-year, $12 million initiative to address local needs through AmeriCorps. While not a native Milwaukeean, Ms. Nijhawan studied at Marquette University.

In the News: Muskego Way Neighborhood Featured on TMJ4

From TMJ4 News – “The My Block series has covered so many neighborhoods in and around Milwaukee, but you have never seen the city’s south side like this. In this edition, we meet the people who took a risk by leaving their home countries to come to Milwaukee in search of a brighter future for them and their families.

“My favorite thing about the community is that it’s always very welcoming. It feels like home, you know,” Elizabeth Ramirez said.

She is the one who took us around the Muskego Way neighborhood to introduce us to the people and places that make her community feel like home. The Muskego Way neighborhood is bordered by Greenfield Avenue to the north, 16th Street on the east, Beecher Street to the south, and Layton Boulevard to the west.

“We have everything you could need here in our block. We have, like I said, we come to the local restaurant. You can go to the corner store. There’s a bakery here. There’s even a hair salon, you know. There’s a lot here,” Ramirez said.” Full coverage can be found here.

Celebrating AmeriCorps Week!

It’s AmeriCorps week (March 13-19th, 2022) and we are thrilled to thank the AmeriCorps members who step up + show up for our communities! Devin McCoy, Le’Niya Holloway, and Clarence Wilkerson – members of MCC’s 21-22 YouthBuild AmeriCorps team have been building homes in the Clarke Square, Amani and Muskego Way neighborhoods this year. Learn more about how they’re serving Milwaukee below.

Devin McCoy – MCC YouthBuild AmeriCorps ’21-22 Member
Why did you become an AmeriCorps member? I feel our community is bent out of shape, so I wanted to do my best to try and help put it together again.
Do you think serving your community is important? It shows folks out there that there’s a better way to live. Knowing that others less fortunate were helped by our service benefits everyone.
What is the most important tool for success in life? Honestly, I wanna say resilience and acceptance, and also unrelenting optimism. It’s important to understand your situations and to come to terms with the present, but being hopeful for tomorrow gives us the drive to succeed.

Le’Niya Holloway – MCC YouthBuild AmeriCorps ’21-22 Member
Why did you join AmeriCorps? I joined AmeriCorps because it was a way for me to pick up a trade skill and I loved the fact that they give back to the community and people that are less fortunate.
Do you think serving your community is important? I believe that supporting my community is extremely important. I believe that if you have a chance to help someone in your neighborhood then you should do so. All it takes is a small kind deed to keep the cycle going.
What is the most important tool for success in life?I believe that the most successful tool in life is having a plan and sticking to it. You could lose everything today, but as long as you have that dedication and a great work ethic, then you will always prosper.

Clarence Wilkerson – Second term member of MCC’s YouthBuild AmeriCorps

Why did you become an AmeriCorps member? I became an AmeriCorps member because I wanted to try something new and I wanted to help make our community better.
Do you think serving your community is important? I feel like serving my community is important because it lets people know somebody cares.
What is the most important tool for success in life? I feel determination is the most important tool for success because I feel like you can do whatever you put your mind to.

In the News: Mentors working to end violence

From Spectrum 1 News – “It starts at home with parenting because they have to be the first role models,” said Andre Robinson, director of Violence Free Zone for Milwaukee Christian Center.

The Milwaukee Christian Center operates Violence Free Zone programming at Bay View, Pulaski, James Madison Academic Campus, South Division and Bradley Tech High Schools, while the Violence Free Zone partner organization Running Rebels operates the program at additional schools. 

“If you have issues with other young people call your mentor or get a mentor and get that person to figure out what the situation is and then they can connect all parties together and figure out what really is happening. You can’t do that on social media because everyone has their own opinion,” said Robinson. 

Robinson stressed if a kid doesn’t have a mentor, there are plenty of people who are willing to serve as one across Milwaukee.

“There are tons of options in Milwaukee right now for youth mentoring from the Office of Violence Prevention, the Running Rebels and the Milwaukee Christian Center, to 414 Life” explained Robinson. Full coverage can be found here

In the News: Amani Housing Pilot Study

From Wisconsin Policy Forum – “After analyzing the city’s affordable housing efforts and challenges through a systemic and citywide lens, in this report we turn to a neighborhood-based initiative to improve housing conditions in Milwaukee. That project is the Amani Housing Pilot, which was launched in 2019 and aims to take a comprehensive and community-engaged approach to improve housing on one block in Milwaukee’s Amani neighborhood. The pilot involves partnerships between neighborhood residents, several community organizations, and the Northwestern Mutual Foundation and was created with the intention of helping to guide future housing efforts in Amani, other Milwaukee neighborhoods, and potentially other cities.” Read the full report on this collaborative project which has included MCC’s home construction and training work here

In the News: Milwaukee program changing lives for youth

From Spectrum1 News – The Violence Free Zone program is run by two Milwaukee organizations, Running Rebels and Milwaukee Christian Center. VFZ helps mentor youth at a dozen Milwaukee Public Schools. 

VFZ advisors work with middle and high school students to provide additional school support, accomplish goals, strengthen preparedness for learning and develop strategies to reduce and resolve conflicts responsibly. The goal of the two organizations involved with this program is to set students up for success and reduce youth violence. 

“I can’t assist that young person to improve his attendance, to reduce his violence, or improve grade point average. I must have a relationship with his parents, his social workers, and even law enforcement who may deal with this young person, “ said Andre Robinson, director of Violence Free Zone for Milwaukee Christian Center. Full coverage can be found here

In the News: New mural unveiled at Pulaski Pool

From Fox 6 – Ribbon cutting for a new 80’x18′ community mural at Pulaski Pool. The new artwork was created by community members, led by Community Muralist Tia Richardson through Milwaukee Christian Center’s (MCC) Community Art Leaders project.

Through the project community members engage in a process led by Richardson and youth that informs the creation of a community mural. The process asked community members to name some of the challenges they experience in Pulaski Park. Then they were asked to name some different ways/choices they or others can make to improve those challenges. Moving from left to right the mural shows the progression from the challenges (symbolically shown as clouds/pollution) to a brighter future. It includes the community effort of restoring the river which brings more biodiversity and makes it a happier, healthier place for all to enjoy. Full coverage can be found here