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State of the Ecosystem: Marquette releases report on Milwaukee’s Educational landscape
The Black and Latino/a Ecosystem and Support Transition (BLEST) Hub, a collaborative effort spearheaded by Marquette University’s Center for Urban Research, Teaching, and Outreach (CURTO) and Milwaukee Area Technical Colleges (MATC) has published its first annual “State of the Ecosystem” report as an attempt to amplify the work being done to support Black and Latino/a students in the greater Milwaukee area. Along with the report, the BLEST Hub has released the “Support & Services Ecosystem Map for Milwaukee Black and Latino/a Students”, an interactive map that allows individuals to see the resources available to Milwaukee students.
The BLEST Hub has emerged from years of work and the vision of two dedicated individuals: Dr. Robert Smith, Director of CURTO, and Walter Lanier, Director of Student Research Center at MATC and community activist and organizer. Their personal experience and interaction with various Milwaukee organizations and institutions across sectors (e.g., education, employment, health, mental health) brought to light the need for collaboration, synergy, and amplification to address the deep needs of Black and Latino/a students as they transition from high school to post-secondary education and beyond.
The BLEST Hub is fundamentally concerned with challenges related to enrollment and retention of Milwaukee-area Black and Latino/a students in post-secondary education and the job market. It is a project that is anchored in a city that throughout its history has struggled with problems of segregation, socioeconomic inequity, and lack of resources. But despite these problems, the city of Milwaukee and its citizens are resilient and hold much potential that needs to be analyzed from the perspective of the student and the organizations dedicated to helping them. Understanding the relationships between the city, Black and Latino/a students, and the organization within an ecosystem provides a rich foundation from which to foster collaborative synergy.
Dr. Gabriel Velez serves as Faculty Director for the BLEST Hub. When asked about the importance of releasing this project and report at this time he stated, “It is no secret that COVID-19 has widened educational inequities across the country. One particular area where this has played out is in college admissions and access. In the Milwaukee area, this can be seen in the low rates of FAFSA completion among Milwaukee Public School students. While our report does not provide an answer to these issues that are deeply rooted in our local history, politics, and society, it does mark a beginning and a promise.”
The BLEST Hub aims to identify and amplify the work being done to support Black and Latino/a students across key transitions, while building bridges and serving as a catalyst. This report marks an effort to raise awareness to our efforts, to engage more actors, and to begin to build capacity across the ecosystem.The BLEST HUB can and wants to offer Milwaukee up-to-date information regarding the state of the services currently serving students via the virtual asset map. The mapping of the city’s ecosystem of programs, services, and outreach efforts creates a web that has the potential to sustain and support the youth through mutually beneficial relationships. This process of mapping allows the BLEST Hub to design a trusting space for communication, collaboration and coordination among organizers, activists, educators, government officials and academics.
This report and map are the culmination of months of arduous work with community partners, local activists, and non-profits. Given, the recent attention Milwaukee has garnered over the past couple of months the timing of the report is vital. The educational landscape is complicated and requires of open-ended and honest communication between community leaders, students, and agencies. It is the hope that this report sheds light on issues currently affecting Milwaukee’s students and to create avenues for future collaboration and dialogue.