Friday, September 15, 2017
Three nights a week, young people gather at the Twilight Center at Barack Obama School of Career & Technical Education for a few hours of basketball, video games, and social activities with friends. The program is supervised by Milwaukee Recreation staffers.
On Monday, dozens of students were treated to the kickoff of the Twilight Social Seminars program in Milwaukee Public Schools’ Twilight Centers.
National poet and activist Muhibb Dyer spoke to the teenagers, emphasizing his “I Will Not Die Young” mantra.
Dyer, who grew up on the north side of Milwaukee and graduated from North Division High School, wants to inspire young African-American men and women to look past their environment and overcome everyday obstacles.
“I’ve been going around schools for the past 15 years, trying to use my own personal life experience growing up in inner city Milwaukee and managing to graduate from high school and college,” Dyer said.
"My life commitment and dedication is to come back and help young people see that [graduating] is a possibility for them as well. And not only a possibility, but that it is their destiny. It’s their destiny to make something out of their lives, as opposed to dying on the street, or getting locked up in a jail cell. That’s really my life.”
And Dyer, the co-founder of the organization Flood the Hood with Dreams, does not simply give the students his message and leave. During his talk, the 2002 National Poetry Slam finalist moved around the circle, bellowed throughout the classroom, and slumped to his knees while banging the floor with his fists.
Dyer’s poems were reminiscent of his spoken word video from 2008:
While his poems certainly captured the students’ attention, Dyer was also willing to listen and talk to the teens who had lost family and friends to violence or grew up without fathers. Several of the teens in the room raised their hands when asked these questions.
The Obama Twilight Center, which opened in February, is one of Milwaukee Recreation’s seven such centers around the city. And despite its relatively new foothold within the community, Obama already draws hundreds of kids to its nightly activities each week. Dyer recognizes the importance of the Twilight Centers.
“That’s why you come to the Twilight Centers. Because you’re trying to get away from what’s out there,” Dyer said while gesturing his arms towards the streets beyond the classroom.
“There is nothing for you out there... but death.”
And even though the students in attendance came to the Twilight Center for a safe place to shoot hoops or talk with their friends, the message still hit home.
“I think the event was pretty perfect for the community,” senior Kanile Scott said.
"There are plenty of little kids out here that are dying. There are plenty of African-Americans that need to see the light, and realize what life is about. [Dyer] opened my eyes, and some other kids eyes. He just inspired us to keep dreaming, to go big basically.”
Obama students Mariah Hoover and Angel Engel called Dyer’s talk “empowering” and “knowledgeable,” and related it back to people in their own lives.
Towards the end of his lecture, Dyer looked each student in the eye:
“Why are you here?” he asked.
“You’re here because somebody cares about you. I’m here because I love you.”
MPS Twilight Centers offer programming and extended hours at seven schools so young people (ages 12-18) in the city have a safe place to go during the evening. Youth ages 11 and younger must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. This is a free drop-in program. Find more information about the Milwaukee Recreation Twilight Centers here.