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MPS students gain insight on a BLMA tour of historically Black colleges and universities

MPS students in BLMA toured HBCU campuses in North Carolina.Two hundred MPS high school students are touring historically Black colleges and universities in February, April, and June through the MPS Department of College and Career Readiness, gathering information and inspiration. One group of students from MPS who already toured HBCUs this school year, through the MPS Department of Black and Latino Male Achievement, returned home with lasting impressions. 

When BLMA took 20 students on a tour of HBCUs in the fall, the students learned which college might be right for them, and so much more.  

“For a lot of them, it was very eye opening. A lot of them have not been outside of the state to tour college campuses. They were almost amazed by the culture of the HBCUs. They see themselves, so they felt very empowered,” said BLMA coordinator Angilique Jones-Cornelius, who accompanied the students on the tour. 

The high school students visited several colleges and universities in North Carolina on the first such tour conducted by BLMA.  

The BLMA trip was funded entirely by the nonprofit Milwaukee Succeeds, which removed any financial barriers for students.  

Before their first campus stop at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, the students absorbed a powerful history lesson. They visited a statue and other sites marking the Woolworth lunch-counter sit-ins begun by four A&T students in 1960, during the Civil Rights movement. The college students’ protests against segregation grew and led to integration at Woolworth and other businesses. 

“They were just blown away,” Jones-Cornelius said of the BLMA students who realized that they, too, had the potential to change the world, just like the A&T students who were only slightly older than the BLMA students are now. 

While visiting North Carolina Central University in Durham, the BLMA students met up with students from Milwaukee Area Technical College’s Men of Color Initiative who were touring HBCUs. The MPS and MATC departments planned the meetup to align their efforts and provide a pathway of support for BLMA students who choose to attend MATC, said BLMA Director Nate Deans. 

A Network of Peers MPS students at the statues commemorating civil rights changemakers the Greensboro Four.

Students from seven of the 13 MPS high schools where BLMA is active went on the trip. Ordinarily, students from different schools in the district wouldn’t necessarily have the chance to interact, Jones-Cornelius noted. The tour, however, allowed them to provide perspective for each other and connect through a shared experience. 

“It’s not just showing them the application process but walking them through the college campus,” Jones-Cornelius said. BLMA students could talk with college students there — in one case, they even found a college student who was an MPS graduate to speak with.  

“That bridges the gap for them — that they can be on these college campuses, as well,” she added. 

Omar Lopez, a junior at Milwaukee School of Languages, said MPS students he got to know on the tour but wouldn’t have met otherwise now make up a supportive network. “We still talk to this day, everyone who went,” he said.  

He can talk to his peers about college and can keep in touch with the high school seniors who went on the tour about their process for college. 

“They’re all a great group of guys, and they’re all really smart,” he said. Many of them plan to major in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) or in health fields. 

Golda Meir School junior Julius Moreno said he and his friends who went on the tour talk about their trip now and then. Other friends who didn’t go ask about the experience and want to know how to join the program. “They would like to partake in it, too,” he said. 

Strong Motivation 

The tour also makes students aware of what challenges they might face on campus, or what they must do ahead of applying for college.  

Some students would be the first generation in their family to go to college; BLMA wants to make sure they are supported, connects them with the right people about financial aid, and more, showing them “this is what it’s going to take to be here, and this is what it will be like to be here, as well,” Jones-Cornelius said. 

Some students, such as Julius, had visited HBCUs elsewhere and explored others online. Julius’ mother, Janet Wheeler, said, “I’ve been planting the seed of college forever” in her son’s mind. Her father, who is 99 years old, has told Julius, “I need you to go to college. I need you to get that education.” 

After the trip, Julius told her, “Now I know I really want to go for me.” For Wheeler, that was the best outcome of the tour. 

“As a mom, you’re excited and happy that there was something that made him motivated intrinsically,” she said. 

MPS students in BLMA toured several North Carolina HBCUs.Julius now is more diligent about homework, Wheeler observed. Seeing the college he’d like to attend — North Carolina A&T — connected the dots of needing to get good grades in high school so he can go to his preferred college, his mother said. 

“It really made an impression on me” to visit the schools, Julius said. “In person, you see what college life is really like. It’s a way bigger impression on a person.” 

And, he acknowledged, “It made me want to raise my GPA.” His attendance already is good, he said.  

Omar, the MSL junior, said, “The experience gets you really contemplating what you want to do.” 

“Before, I always had (college) in the back of my head because I knew I wanted to attend, but I never thought about it in detail,” he said. He plans to research colleges and prepare to apply for scholarships. He’ll also look more closely at which field he wants to study.  

Omar previously wanted to study marine biology but realized while learning about majors and their courses on the HBCU tour that his interest aligns better with being a veterinarian for ocean animals.  

He did what his mother hoped he would do. “I wanted him to go there with an open mind” to learn about the different majors and see what the schools have to offer, Rosa Sibaja said. 

“Now he feels he has more options with what he truly wants to do,” she said. 

Seeing and meeting college students also helped clarify Omar’s plans.  

“Seeing them set the standards of what I pictured college life to be and how I want it to go,” he said. 

Would Recommend 

“It was a great experience. I would 100% recommend it again,” Julius said. “I would recommend it for younger grades, as well.” That’s because the tour could help younger students decide in favor of college, and they would have more time to improve their GPAs, he said.  

Omar fully supports taking HBCU tours, as well. “I’d definitely recommend it, because I think it’s a really big eye-opener. I feel you get two things in one” — focusing attention on preparing for college while getting to know other parts of the country. 

Omar’s mother said, “I thought it was a great opportunity for him to go and experience” the campuses. Although her son thought he knew for many years the career he wanted, “it’s not the same as being able to see the paths he can take and what the schools have to offer,” she said.  

“It opened up his eyes and his point of view as to what he wanted to focus on,” Sibaja said.  

“I’m very, very happy that he went,” Omar’s mother said, both for what he learned about the colleges and what he learned in North Carolina about the history of the struggles minorities have faced. 

“I did have my hesitation, just because he’s never traveled without me. I’m kind of one of those overprotective parents, especially nowadays,” Sibaja said. “The mentors were able to give me that peace of mind that they would be safe and in good hands,” she added, and the BLMA staff kept her updated before, during, and after the tour.  

“I think it was an amazing experience, and I’m very, very thankful that MPS is doing this,” Sibaja said. 

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