Jeramey Jannene
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500 Black Tuxedos

Upscale event connects teens with role models and a world they mightn't otherwise see.

By - Dec 11th, 2017 12:50 pm
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Andre Lee Ellis and 500 Black Tuxedos Participants. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Andre Lee Ellis and 500 Black Tuxedos Participants. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

It’s pretty unusual to see 500 people in tuxedos in Milwaukee, and even more unusual if 250 of them are teenagers. Yet, that was the case Saturday afternoon as the “We Got This” initiative, led by Andre Lee Ellis, had 250 teenagers, ages 12 to 16, and 250 mentors, dressed in black tuxedos for a formal dinner at the Hilton Milwaukee City Center Hotel at 509 W. Wisconsin Ave. The group first gathered at Northcott Neighborhood House before being bused downtown for the dinner. Along the way, Ellis and other mentors gave life advice to the 250 eager participants.

The event was the 4th installment in the tuxedo series, and augments other programming We Got This puts on, focused on engaging Milwaukee’s youth in gardening and neighborhood cleanup. The mission of the organization is to “put the ‘neighbor’ back into the ‘hood’ and recreate a real sense of neighborhood.”

An interview with Ellis as the mentors and teenagers arrived Saturday offered a close-up view of how he turns everyday interactions into learning opportunities. At numerous points the interview was interrupted as Ellis did everything from offering encouragement to a young teen who had unsuspectingly stopped at Northcott to play basketball to making sure idle teenagers were holding the door for volunteers arriving with supplies.

Ellis says he recruits participants any way he can, be it social media or word-of-mouth referrals. Mentors and volunteers in attendance included state Rep. David Crowley (D-Milwaukee), County Supervisor Supreme Moore Omokunde, Circuit Court Judge Carolina Stark and her husband Michael Stark, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mahlon Mitchell, former politician Elizabeth Coggs, lobbyist Gary Goyke, Northcott’s MacArthur Weddle, Prism Technical’s Lafayette Crump and one-time NBA player Mike Taylor.

Why do mentors choose to participate? Keenan Smith told Urban Milwaukee “You have to support what is good in the community, and it only gets better with more support from the community.” First-time participant Scott Brooks, who brought his son, said: “I just believe in the cause, with what Andre is doing.”

The event received support from the Milwaukee Bucks, Chris Abele, United Way, Northcott Neighborhood House, Milwaukee Brewers, Herb Kohl, WestCare Wisconsin and the Northwestern Mutual Foundation.

Expect more from the teenagers and Ellis in the future. Ellis kept repeating “we ain’t done yet” to the teens throughout the day.

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