Milwaukee Youth Raise Their Voices to Address Violence and Power Peace
Many youth in Milwaukee struggle with violence in their neighborhoods. When one young man told La’Ketta Caldwell he felt powerless to push change, she told him, without hesitation, “together they would figure out a way to make his voice heard” - and they did.
La’Ketta Denise Caldwell is inspired by challenges. She often sees opportunities when others do not. As Senior Program Manager at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, she uses her bubbly personality and unstoppable drive to connect with youth and help them understand they can do and achieve whatever they dream. Her care and attentive listening is leading youth to action. She is setting them on a journey to improve their own lives and, ultimately, the lives others within the city.
She worked with her youth groups to develop a funding grant application to the State Farm® Youth Advisory Board (YAB). They were successful. Now, in its second year, their “Can You Hear Us Now?” program inspires young people to channel their feelings and voices through the arts and performance.
Documentary Shares Powerful Stories of Violence and Survival
The grant allowed La’Ketta to help youth create a documentary. They debuted the work before a crowd of almost 1000 people at the Oriental Theater in Milwaukee last June. The documentary was an eye-opening experience. It gave them a platform to tell their true, first-hand accounts of how violence impacts the lives of young people. It also followed them as they learned how different agencies, organizations and the legislature all play a part in creating stronger, safer neighborhoods.
Wauwatosa East senior, Ronnie, was in the audience and said it was breathtaking and amazing to watch. He asked his mom if he could join the group for the next phase of the work. “It’s a mind blowing and powerful experience that I just can’t explain,” Ronnie shared. “It’s something I look forward to every Wednesday. We get to be involved with something different and for a cause. I love it!”
The documentary success was the catalyst for La’Ketta and the youth to be visible and involved in other efforts to push the change they envision. Many great outcomes have resulted. They not only won awards for the work through the Milwaukee Film Festival, but Scholastic’s teen magazine, Choices, published an article about their efforts.
The Scholastic News article featured program participant Gerron. He has seen the number of kids involved grow each year through the attention the program has received. “At first it was mostly kids I knew. Now our group has grown,” he explained. “Nothing has changed how fun the work is though, and we all continue to bond and become family.”
Live performances of original works moves people to action
This year, over 300 community members showed up for a live performance. The youth shared their experiences through original skits, poetry and song. Their stories are riveting and show how much they have experienced and overcome in their short lifetimes. Symone touched many hearts with a poem about how she is rising above her challenging upbringing. Her father sold drugs and her grandmother continues to battle drug addiction. She sees herself moving through life differently. The way she explained her story through poetry left jaws dropping and tears rolling.
Video Credit: Stillwater Productions
“Their stories are real and it’s the reason many have trouble focusing in school,” La’Ketta shared. “They are carrying a lot of weight on their shoulders and the arts give them a safe space to unload that weight.”
Unload the weight they did. In the process, they have taken a powerful first step to help build understanding. The raw honesty expressed by the teens helps deliver their message loud and clear. Adults are taking action now that they realize the burden. Many voiced their commitment to helping the youth find their way.
Elevating their voices for a change and a brighter future
La’Ketta set the stage. She will continue to help elevate young people’s voices - now and into the future. In fact, the students will now have the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C. next month to learn more about our country’s history and leaders.
Video Credit: Stillwater Productions
Gerron is excited about the trip and shared his hopes for the next steps with this effort. “I hope everyone can see that violence is a huge problem right now, especially in Milwaukee,” explained Gerron. “And, we all have to come together to make a difference. I know the violence won’t end, but we have to come together to make the numbers drop. That would be satisfying to me.”