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Sharing Beats, Raising Voices

by Mary Osmundsen, Program Officer, Community Partnerships for Youth

Hip hop means different things to different people. For the youth at Foundation partner True Skool, Inc., the visual and verbal forms of hip hop are more than an avenue to share rhymes or create artwork…they become a lens for Milwaukee youth to better understand their world, and to find a positive path through it.

True Skool’s youth keep it clean, but they also keep it relevant to the issues and emotions they face, and you can see that in the powerful works they create. Along the walls of True Skool’s new downtown home, vibrant artworks tackle a variety of themes–from poverty to mental health to self-mutilation–but throughout it all, there is also a youthful thread of hope.

Ten years ago, True Skool started out as a group of dedicated young adults who wanted to take their passion for hip-hop culture to Milwaukee’s youth. Today, it’s found a home in a former public radio studio below a shopping mall — a somewhat unlikely location that is perfect for what they seek to accomplish. After school and over summer, True Skool programming helps participants not only hone their artistic skills, but also discover who they are as young adults and their purpose in life.

True Skool is a great example of HBF’s strategies to lift youth: giving them an authentic voice in the issues that shape their lives. I am reminded of the importance this by OpportunityMKE, a citywide conversation on Wisconsin’s top-in-the-nation ranking for African American male incarceration, and how that impacts families and communities.

Last week, an OpportunityMKE gathering brought 60-plus youth together at HBF for some frank talk on how multiple generations wind up behind bars. To conclude the meeting, the “I Will Not Die Young” campaign held a powerful dramatization that touched on the school, family, incarceration, and peer pressure facing these youth. In less than 10 minutes, two young men underscored the many forces shaping the lives of many Milwaukee youth, and why True Skool and groups that give voice to youth are so critical for breaking that cycle.

Come see what inspires these youth, and what makes them so inspiring. To celebrate the end of its summer session, True Skool is holding a showcase of talent on Thursday, August 7, from 6-8 p.m., at its new home at 161 W. Wisconsin Avenue, on the lower level. It’s free and open to the public. See you there.

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