By Katie Darragh, Communications Intern in the Office of Academic Relations at Marquette University
In 2019, Marquette University launched a collaboration between leading Milwaukee educational institutions including Marquette, University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, Milwaukee Area Technical College, and Milwaukee Public Schools to support Black and Latino students / a from college to post-secondary education and beyond.
The BLEST hub (Black and Latino/a Ecosystem and Support Transition), as the collaboration is called, is based on the idea that Milwaukee is filled with great people doing meaningful work — but, sadly, the city lacks the intellectual space to catalog those efforts. More strategic connections are needed to link the different programs that support youth of color.
Dr. Gabriel Velez, assistant professor of educational policy and leadership at the College of Education, explains that these groups often work independently rather than collaboratively.
“One of the things we’ve seen is that while Milwaukee has many groups seeking to support Black and Latino students, silos are emerging from the strong segregation, political divisions, and donor dependence. funds,” says Velez. “Our role is to try to capture insights into this ecosystem and then create connections and synergies to see where we can come together and break down these silos.”
The BLEST Hub is actively engaged in several outreach and research projects that can help create a better understanding of supports for youth of color.
Among these is the BLEST hub ecosystem map, an interactive map that provides an ecosystem-level visualization of Milwaukee’s support systems. It shows active support groups and non-profit organizations and the links to the partners they work with.
“The main point of the map is to connect people with organizations that offer support. For example, if a high school student sees an organization they are part of on the map, they could see what other partnerships that organization has and get involved with those as well,” says Sa.ul Lopez, a Marquette graduate student involved in the mapping project. “It’s a great tool for audiences and it’s really interactive.”
Lopez says the ecosystem map gave her a new perspective on Milwaukee.
“The ecosystem approach allows us to shift our perspective from focusing on Milwaukee as one of the most segregated cities to a city with a lot of strength and support for students. We recognize there’s a lot of good work being done in this city,” Lopez said.
Lopez’s passion for the Map Project stems from her connection to Milwaukee and growing up as a youth of color.
“For me, what really drives my work on this project is humility and love for Milwaukee,” he says. “I was born on the east side and grew up on the south side of town. Milwaukee has given me so much. It’s a way for me to give back, to understand Milwaukee on a different level, and talk to some truly amazing people who are doing amazing work in the community.
More than just a repository
In addition to creating an ecosystem view of Milwaukee’s support systems, the BLEST Hub also seeks to be a catalyst to help groups move their work forward.
Its goal is for new groups trying to bring resources to Milwaukee to use the resources of the BLEST hub to discover ways to win grants or show donors what’s happening in the city.
How students can get involved
Such large-scale projects require maintenance in an ever-changing ecosystem. Velez says the BLEST hub is always looking for students to help with research or community engagement, as well as to provide helpful feedback on the hub’s work.
Undergraduate and graduate students who wish to get involved, seek additional information, or provide feedback should email Velez Where Lopez.