The person to succeed Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes has some big shoes to fill. Just by being elected, he’s already made history.

When Barnes was sworn in earlier this year, he became the first African American to serve as lieutenant governor, the state’s second highest-ranking official. He’s also currently the youngest person in the nation to serve in the office.

Yet, on Tuesday evening, as he addressed an audience of nearly 150 black young men on Concordia University Wisconsin’s campus, Barnes said he’s hopeful for the day when someone will surpass him.

“I want you to go ahead and stand in my shoes one day. In fact, I want you to leave me in the dust,” Barnes told the high school-aged teens and their accompanying guardians who gathered in Concordia’s Todd Wehr Auditorium. “You, too, could do something like this, if not more. …I’m counting on you to do more.”

Barnes’ address kicked off the fifth annual African American Male Initiative (AAMI). The teens, who hail from some 37 high schools throughout southeastern Wisconsin, will spend the rest of the week on Concordia’s campus in order to get a taste of college living, receive college-readiness training, and connect with others who share many of their same life experiences and roadblocks to success.

It’s all in an effort to help more black students graduate from high school and go on to attend college and attain their degree.

Recognizing the abysmal achievement gap that exists between white and diverse learners in Wisconsin (the worst gap in academic achievement in the nation), several Milwaukee-area administrators joined together in 2012 to form the Closing the Achievement Gap Consortium, which seeks to embrace and change school practices, instruction, and methodologies that perpetuate achievement gaps. The AAMI is one of the consortium’s hallmark efforts.

“I know the changing demographics of southeastern Wisconsin are frightening to some people, but it’s happening,” said Dr. Elliott Moeser, associate professor of education at Concordia and executive director of the CAGC. “We can ignore it to everyone’s peril, or we can make southeastern Wisconsin a more welcoming and prosperous place for everybody.”

In addition to the African American Male Initiative, the CAGC is also responsible for annually sponsoring equity-focused professional development opportunities for new teachers to Wisconsin, school board and administrator symposiums to educator school leaders about the issue, ICS Equity Institutes for teachers throughout southeastern Wisconsin, and more.

Learn more about the CAGC by clicking here.

— This story is written by Kali Thiel, director of university communications for Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor. She may be reached at or 262-243-2149.

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