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Our Stories

SIS Volunteers at Wilson
BRO Involved in MLK Event
LAUGHTER AT SIS MEETING
BRO MEMBER WATCHES FILM 1
SIS GROUP ACTIVITIES
BRO MEMBERS WATCH FILM 2
SIS MEMBERS DANCE AT MEETING
BRO MEMBERS WATCH FILM 3
SIS MEMBER TALKS AT MEETING

BRO/SIS welcome all but focus on black experience


SISTERS INSPIRING SISTERS (SIS)

Maxx Hevel held no preconceived notions when she walked into a recdent Sisters Inspiring Sisters (SIS) meeting at Parker High School.

The sophomore was just following a few friends as they made their way into Parker’s small auditorium to see what the club was all about.

“One of my friends was like, ‘Does anybody want to go to the SIS meeting with me? Because I’m a little nervous,’” said Hevel, who is white. “I didn’t really know much about it, but when I first walked in I noticed most of the people were Black or mixed, so I hoped I wouldn’t get looked at as weird.”

Far from it. What Hevel found instead was a welcoming collective of young women focused keenly on the central term contained in their program’s title – “Inspiring.”

She liked that.

“I saw some other friends that I didn’t know were in SIS there, so that was cool,” Hevel said. “I like how everyone just comes together and has a nice time.

“I could definitely see myself joining.”

With chapters at Parker and Craig high schools – not to mention Marshall, Edison and Franklin middle schools – SIS is open to all despite being conceived and operated as an organization for young Black females. Its mission statement reads: “SIS is an all-inclusive group designed to promote the welfare of female students of color by inspiring each other through relationships and partnership. We will succeed with a positive attitude and a growth mindset.”

But SIS isn’t just about sisterhood. Students learn by volunteering, taking part in panel discussions, hearing from guest speakers, going on college tours and more. Anything that helps empower female students or provides insight that might be helpful to their futures is always on the table, said adviser Stephanie Gates.

“When you feel like you don’t fit into a place or that you don’t matter, you’re not going to perform well in the classroom. You’re not going to show up,” Gates explained. “It’s important for us to make a difference with these students and give them some confidence, give them some self-esteem and work with them so they can understand the lessons, communicate with their teachers and advocate for themselves.” 

Gates said part of the positivity and growth it SIS emphasizes comes from interacting with those of different ethnicities and backgrounds.

“(SIS members) all have shared experiences. Sometimes there are parallel spaces and sometimes there’s an intersection,” she said. “We have to know how to work and live with all of it, so it’s important that we understand each other. That’s why we do this. 

“It’s about empowering each other through our experiences, regardless of what our shades are or what our lens is.”

During a recent meeting, SIS members split into groups to learn more about each other. After a few minutes, members were asked to share something interesting each had learned about another member of their subgroup. 

Next, the groups were tasked with completing a holiday-themed assignment such as performing a song or creating a play. One group came up with a TikTok dance.

During the process, laughter was prevalent – and sisterhood was evident.

“There have been some girls (in SIS) where I’ve been a little iffy about them, but then they start talking about stuff that’s going on in their lives and it explains so much about them as a person,” said Trinity Miller, a Parker senior who has been in SIS for four years. “Hearing the experiences other people have, it just starts to make a lot of sense. Like, we DO have a lot of stuff in common.”

Nichari Tucker, a sophomore who recently transferred to Parker, has found SIS to be a great place to make new friends.

“I've learned I can meet new people in just a short amount of time, just to be in a group just for the girls,” she said. “We have so much in common, and we’ve gotten so close in just a month. It has just really been a good asset for me.”

Gates loves hearing that.

“SIS connects students to each other, transcending race and other identifications,” she said. “Students feel like they have people they can come to who understand them authentically. If they’re going to the cafeteria or getting on a bus for a field trip and they see someone they might not normally sit with, they might now because they know that person from SIS and they have that familiarity. 

“They don’t have to feel alone. They have made those connections.”

To learn more about SIS, contact advisers Stephanie Gates at 608-751-0278 and sgates@janesville.k12.wi.us;
Ebony Dunkin at Parker at (608) 743-5668 and edunkin@janesville.k12.wi.us;
or Becky Boylan at Craig at (608) 743-5261 and rebecca.boylan@janesville.k12.wi.us.


 


BROTHERS REACHING OUT (BRO)

At Craig High School, roughly a dozen members turned out for a pre-holiday meeting of Brothers Reading Out (BRO), the student organization for young Black men that serves as the impetus for SIS.

Following the same model as SIS, BRO is open to all regardless of race – but it concentrates primarily on the Black experience. It is offered at both city high schools and all three middle schools.

Advisor Donta Evans remembers being introduced to BRO as a student at Beloit Memorial High Schools. Assistant Principal Carlton Jenkins introduced it, and Evans joined on.

In the mid-1990s, Janesville started its BRO program behind the efforts of Shelton Evans and Dondre Bell. Today, Donta Evans serves as lead adviser with assistance from Craig paraprofessional Devontae Potter and PACT (Promoting Attendance in Children and Teens) advocate Javen Murry.

“It started out being for African Americans, so that’s what we focused on. But then it became where other people wanted to be part of it, as well,” Donta Evans said. “All are welcome, but if you want to be part of it, then this is what you are part of. We’re not going to sugarcoat anything.”

BRO doesn’t specifically focus on Black history, but it doesn’t shy from it, either. It provides a  safe haven for students to share their concerns and triumphs with others who might feel outnumbered and unseen in a predominantly white high school.

“(By joining BRO), you are able to hear how we feel about what’s going on in the community, how we might feel about your race, and you can tell us about what’s going on, about your race and how you feel,” Evans said. “It just brings that dynamic where everyone can communicate and agree to disagree. No one is disrespectful or anything like that, but we’re able to have real conversations, and everyone brings something to the table.”

At this particular meeting, students watched intently as Donta Evans screened the first half of “Maxine’s Baby,” a documentary chronicling the life of entrepreneur/philanthropist Tyler Perry. As an entrepreneur who works in real estate away from his BRO role, Evans wants students to understand what is possible and to strive to reach their full potential.

Like Stephanie Gates with SIS, Evans is willing to go to great lengths to make that happen.

“I give kids my personal number, and they can reach out to me any time. Not just during the school day. Anytime,” Evans said. “When I’m for you, I’m for you. I’ll do anything for kids.”

The students in BRO recognize Evans’ dedication, and they are appreciative of his support. 

“He’s somebody that genuinely cares about things beyond education,” said KJ Ingram, a junior at Craig. “He’s somebody who not only asks about how your grades are but about how you are feeling outside of school.

“It makes me excited to come to school because we have a role model who is motivating us beyond education.”

Another Craig junior involved in BRO is Deonte Foster, Evans’ nephew. An aspiring Minister, Deonte views the group as a place where he and his fellow Black students can be themselves without judgment.

“There are more whites than Blacks (at Craig), and sometimes there are things you just can’t say or get too out of hand with because it can go left very quickly,” he said. “BRO is our place to say whatever, and it stays in the group.”

Foster is correct that there are more white students at Craig, as the school’s Black population stands at just 3.73 percent. There is a slight increase at Parker, where Black students account for 5.74 percent of the school population.

However, districtwide, of the more than 9,000 SDJ students enrolled from P4J to Grade 12, the total percentage of Black students stands at only 5.37.

“Sometimes I feel that we can’t be heard,” Foster added. “I feel like a lot of things are taken negatively, but we’re just speaking our minds at the time. There are a lot of kids that are not African-American who can say whatever and go on in this world, do everything and not get looked at differently.”

Potter, one of the BRO advisers, gets where Foster is coming from. As a former Parker student and BRO member himself, Potter knows the feeling of being invisible as a Black man or worse, being unfairly judged.

“It shines a bad light when you have this section of students that are goofing around and have the same skin color or background, and then people look at students that come to BRO the same exact way,” he said. “But these students are trying to better themselves.They’re not on the streets doing crazy stuff. They’re in school. They’re contributing.”

That’s the endgame for Evans – that his students are in school and making that effort. In fact, that’s the prerequisite for participation in many of the activities he sets up including internships, field trips and visits to Career Tech and area colleges.

He wants them to know he’s there for them.

“The mission for me is just providing hope and opportunity to our youth that they wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for BRO,” he said. “I want them to know that if you keep believing, have faith and keep on going that you can do whatever you want. Things are going to change. Life is going to be good.” 

To learn more about BRO, contact Donta Evans at (608) 743-5242 and devans@janesville.k12.wi.us;
Devontae Potter at (608) 743-5167 and devontae.potter@janesville.k12.wi.us;
or Javen Murry at (608) 743-5234 and javen.murry@janesville.k12.wi.us.