David Crowley spent several years at UWM, but isn’t yet an alumnus. However, Crowley who was elected Milwaukee County Executive in the spring of 2020, says he is committed to becoming a future alum of the School of Education.
“I have something to prove to myself and to my three children. I want them to know that education is extremely important,” says Crowley, who is the first African American and, at age 33, the youngest person to be elected county executive. “It’s important that we set an example for all of our young people, particularly here in Milwaukee where we know disparities between Blacks and whites in college education are still wide.”
Crowley had some academic struggles in the years he was at UWM and had to drop out to deal with family issues, including caring for his mother. But, even though he is now busy with his new office and raising three young daughters, he feels it is important to complete college.
“I want to be a beacon and an encouragement to everybody,” he adds. “That’s why I’m going to make a commitment to finish my degree.” Right now, his goal is to re-enroll in the fall of 2021 in Educational Policy and Community Studies, where he previously took classes. His wife, Ericka, is a graduate of the program, earning her degree in community engagement and education.
Being an example to others is a key value for Crowley, who credits mentors for helping him in his own success.
“When I think about all the organizations, people, mentors, everybody who poured so much into me, I felt one of the best ways for me to give back was to get involved in public service.”
Crowley grew up in the troubled 53206 Zip code. His parents divorced and, at one point, he was homeless.
A chance meeting in his high school cafeteria during his junior year turned his life in a different direction. His cousin and a friend were looking over a PowerPoint about The Urban Underground, a community organization focused on developing urban teens as leaders in social justice.
Crowley started organizing efforts around issues affecting young people — police accountability, teen domestic violence, finances and education.
“That program, outside of being involved in sports my freshman and sophomore year, was the first thing that I ever committed myself to,” he says.
“One thing I quickly realized as a young person was that public officials were the gateway to making change. He became involved in other organizing work and eventually moved into politics himself, joining Russ Feingold’s Senate re-election campaign in 2010.
After serving as a legislative aide to Nikiya Harris Dodd when she was on the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors and in the state Senate, he went on to run for office himself. After losing one early race, he had a successful run for the state Assembly in 2016.
Along the way, he started classes at UWM. Although he hasn’t finished yet, he said many of the things he learned at UWM are still helpful to him. “One of the biggest things was just going on campus and going to school. It was one of the most diverse places I ever encountered in Milwaukee. It helped me understand different cultures and deal with relationships.”
He remembers especially mentors like Gary Williams, associate professor, and Florence Johnson lecturer, in educational policy and Ahmed Mbalia a senior lecturer in Africology (now African and African Diaspora Studies), who passed away in 2017.
“David was in some of my classes and was a good, hard-working student,” Johnson remembers. “I knew back then he would do great things.”
Overcoming the city and county’s racial disparities is among Crowley’s key goals as county executive, he says. Two years ago Milwaukee County declared racism to be a public health issue. Tackling issues of racial disparity related to housing, education and job opportunities were key themes of Crowley’s State of the County address in 2021.
“Milwaukee County is the economic leader of the state. My goal by the time I leave office is to move us off of the list of being one of the most segregated areas in the country.
“We need to be ahead of this, we need to lead the charge on how do we become the healthiest community, while also achieving racial equity.”
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