When Milwaukee Magazine announced its first-ever Unity Awards in February, a current employee and two UWM alumni were among the six people honored for helping build a better Milwaukee by encouraging diversity and inclusion. They are:
- alida cardós whaley, academic programs coordinator and advisor for the Latin American, Caribbean and U.S. Latinx Studies major and Latin American and Caribbean Studies certificate
- Tenia Fisher, communications alumna and leader of F.E.A.R (Forget Everything and Run)
- Jose Trejo, education alumnus and principal of South Division High School.
All three will be among those honored by the magazine at a virtual celebration Feb. 25 starting 7:30 a.m. Quad is the presenting sponsor. Tickets to the event are $10.
Here’s a little more about those with UWM ties.
alida cardós whaley
Spoken-word poetry was alida cardós whaley’s opening into a broader community. (cardós whaley uses all lowercase letters and they/them/their pronouns). As a high school athlete, cardós whaley focused on athletics – soccer, cross-country and track. But when an injury sidetracked cardós whaley, their focus changed to spoken-word poetry and hip-hop theater as part of the inaugural class of the First Wave Scholars program at UW-Madison.
“My dream was to play professional soccer,” cardós whaley said. “It was a huge transition from sports to spoken word theater.” That experience, however, helped cardós whaley witness the power of storytelling to build community. Now building community is part of all of cardós whaley’s work.
After graduation, cardós whaley co-founded STITCH MKE to create an open mic series for young people of color, with performances connecting the north and south sides of the city. cardós whaley, who describes themself as a cultural webworker, followed up with other events and organizations to support people of color.
Seeing the need for support in the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, cardós whaley joined with seven others to create Ayuda Mutua MKE to help families in need. It is coming up on a year that the collective has been distributing food and supplies weekly to families on the south side through their mutual aid model.
Working part-time for CLACS has given cardós whaley the flexibility to do this work in the community while raising two children – “little elders,” as cardós whaley calls them.
“My cultural webwork in the community definitely enhances what I bring to my UWM position.” cardós whaley is also able to help develop partnerships with the community. “I am also a member of the community. When we make partnerships with community entities for mutual benefit that really feels good. That’s part of the role of the university.”
For cardós whaley, the overriding idea of being a cultural webworker is building community through relationships. “It’s grounded in Indigenous worldviews and the kinship model. I feel that the cultural webwork for me connects to that knowledge that we are all related; the way forward is through restoring our relationship with one another, the Earth, honoring one another.”
Tenia Fisher wants all people to be free to run everywhere.
She has focused her efforts on encouraging people of color to run together through her work with F.E.A.R. (Forget Everything and Run), a group founded by a friend, Nyerere Davidson. When Davidson moved to Washington, D.C., he asked her take over leadership of the Milwaukee group.
“We’ve built a community of diverse runners that feel like that they have a safe space, a family,” Fisher said.
She is a former UWM cross country and track and field star who majored in communications. During her four years at UWM, Fisher broke five school records and was inducted into the university’s athletic hall of fame in 2019.
Fisher is health and wellness director at Social X MKE, a diversity and inclusion consulting group, and also teaches first grade at Greater Holy Temple Christian Academy.
Running has been her passion since middle school. When she was at UWM, she always felt safe running with her teammates, who were mostly white, because she was recognized as part of the university. “It was super cool. I always felt welcome and cared for and safe.”
However, like many other runners of color, she often felt fearful or unsettled running alone. Then came the case of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed man who was killed while running in Georgia last February.
“That could have been my brothers, been anyone from my F.E.A.R. family. It really just opened everyone’s eyes to it,” Fisher said. “Ahmaud Arbery lit the fire, helped push our mission of being a safe space for runners of color. It was our way of protesting.”
The group’s runs were attracting 35-40 runners before the pandemic. There’s a social component, Fisher said. The “dangling carrot” to attract members was a happy hour after the run. People would come and join in a short run, but soon got hooked. “Then they’d become really passionate about it,” she said.
Right now, the group is virtual because of the pandemic and cold weather. They get together on Instagram to do their warmups, then head out on their own. By the time their outdoor running season starts in April, Fisher said, they’ll move to a hybrid model, with some virtual, but others doing masked or socially distanced as they feel comfortable.
Her goal is to make running fear-free for everyone. “I love running through my neighborhood. The little kids will say, ‘There she goes again.’ When they grow up, I want them to think it’s normal to see a Black person running. That’s the type of world we should all live in.”
South Division High School Principal Jose Trejo has a special empathy for his students who are immigrants or speak different languages.
“The immigrant experience is definitely something we have in common,” he said. “It involves coming into a place that’s different, having complete culture shock, then trying to figure out how to navigate the language at the same time you’re trying to master the content.”
More than half South Division’s students have a primary language other than English, and it is the largest bilingual high school in the state. It’s not all Spanish/English either — students speak 26 languages, according to Trejo, who became South Division principal this summer after serving as assistant principal.
Trejo lived the experience as a child when he moved from a small town in Mexico to Davenport, Iowa, and started school in a classroom where nobody spoke Spanish. He was part of a “very tiny” Latino community in the city. “Teachers struggled to help,” he said, but the schools at that time didn’t have any support programs for English language learners.
After graduating from Bay View High School, Trejo moved into working with community nonprofits such as Voces de la Frontera to help other young people gain citizenship. However, he eventually decided education was where he wanted to be to make a difference in the community. After earning his associate degree at MATC, he came to UWM to earn a degree in broad field social studies with certificates in bilingual education and English as a second language. He also earned a master’s degree in administrative leadership.
He chose UWM because of its emphasis on urban education. “Having a community where I was able to be supported and finding the right resources was important for me.” He found support through faculty, fellow students and the Roberto Hernandez Center, he said.
Trejo has maintained connections to UWM through M3 programs. The school is also developing pathways for students to prepare for careers in fields like education and health care, and working with Milwaukee Succeeds to encourage more students to prepare for college placement tests.
He is president of the Wisconsin Association for Bilingual Education and feels strongly about encouraging the diverse languages students bring to South Division. Some of the students, he noted, have their native language and maybe other languages from ethnic groups in their country, languages picked up in migration and refugee camps and English. “I am often amazed at their stories.”
“For us obviously our biggest asset is our students. We have such a diversity of students speaking 26 different languages. I can definitely see the potential of having multilingual teachers coming out of South. We’ve always struggled in Milwaukee and Wisconsin to find enough teachers of color and multilingual teachers.”