Black and Latino/a Ecosystem and Support Transition (BLEST) Hub


Our vision with the BLEST Hub is to contribute to improving life outcomes for Black and Latino/a students in the Milwaukee area by strengthening spaces, initiatives, and connections that support our youth during periods of transition from middle school through post-secondary completion and/or fulfilling and stable employment.


This broad vision encompasses:

  1. Supporting the synergy across organizations, institutions, and government efforts

  2. Understanding and identifying gaps in services offered to our young people

  3. Working towards amplifying and supplementing what is available 



Our mission with the BLEST Hub is to concretely build an understanding of the ecosystem of supports for Black and Latino/a students in Milwaukee from middle school through post-secondary completion and/or fulfilling and stable employment, as well as to lay the foundation for providing logistical, informational and catalytic support to these students and the organizations and institutions serving them.


Underlying this mission and the connected actions is a commitment to be attentive to our positionality. For those of us at CURTO, we are especially cognizant of ourselves as adults embedded within a private, Jesuit, Predominantly and Historically White Institution of higher education. Our efforts seek to be open to the needs, voices, and perspectives of young people themselves and those whose work is committed to serving them.  Concretely, this entails striving to center and amplify students (including giving them space to share in the process), as well as to not replicate or complicate the efforts of others. We particularly do this by being attentive to organizations resources and the time and humanity of employees, advocates, and activists.



  • Milwaukee Area Technical College 
  • Black Male Achievement Advisory Council 
  • Milwaukee Public Schools, Black and Latino Male Achievement Initiative  
  • University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Roberto Hernandez Center
  • University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Black Cultural Center 
  • Employ Milwaukee 


  • Creating a space where Black and Latino students find supportive resources during formation and transnational times 
  • Highlight opportunities in the city of Milwaukee that support high school and post-secondary students' academic and social aspects 
  • Review, highlight, and establish metrics for local organizations that seek to close the education gap 
  • Aid with the increasing dual enrollment of Black and Latino males from MPS’ Black and Latino Males Achievement program into existing summer programs at UWM, Marquette, and MATC 
  • Aid with increasing participation of Black and Latino/a students into UWM, Marquette, and/or MATC  

What we can offer Milwaukee 

We can and want to offer Milwaukee up-to-date information regarding the state of the services that as a city we offer our students. We are calling this process the mapping of our ecosystem because collectively, our programs, service, and outreach efforts create a web that has the potential to sustain and support the flourishing of our youth through mutually beneficial relationships. This process of mapping our ecosystem allows us to design a trusting space for communication, collaboration and coordination among organizers, activists, educators, government officials and academics. 

What we can offer organizations 

What we can and want to offer organizations is a safe space that is independent of city politics and funding sources. Such a space can sustain conversations across sectors and organizations in order to collectively build our capacity as a city with the aim of better supporting the development of our youth. It is within this space that we can offer and want to offer an intellectual hub where best practices, key metrics and research can be identified and shared with all. 

What we can offer our Black and Latino/a students 

We can and want to offer our Black and Latino/a students in Milwaukee practical and effective programming that supports their development where there are gaps in such services. We can offer and want to offer our students timely information about available resources, opportunities  and organizations as they navigate key transition points. We cannot do any of this without the active engagement of our youth and their voices across all sectors and throughout the process necessary to develop our understanding of Milwaukee as an ecosystem. Therefore, our most important contribution and desire is to make visible the voices of our youth and to be influenced by their lived experiences.

Current Projects 

  • Development of ecosystem map for citywide needs assessment and identification of gaps and opportunities for synergy
  • Focus group work with students at and across various institutions of higher learning on experiences of Milwaukee as Black and Latino/a students
  • Supporting initiatives and programming, such as Milwaukee Succeeds’ Design Your Future summer fellowship

Support & Services Ecosystem Map for Milwaukee Black and Latino/a Students

One of the most important tools is the ecosystem map using KUMU software. KUMU allows us to visually represent the actors and partnerships that exist between the number of non-profits, government entities, for-profit organizations, grassroots organizations and coalitions that exist in Milwaukee. Our objective is to create a usable tool to understand the resources for Black and Latino/a students, and to highlight the nature of connections that unite the number of organizations in the city. We believe that this visual representation of quantitative and qualitative data we have been collecting will help us better understand MKE as an ecosystem and serve as a community resource once it is publicly disseminated.






Yearly State of the Ecosystem Report

The Team

  • Dr. Gabriel Velez, Faculty Director 
  • Dr. Troy Washington, Director, BLEST Hub Global Initiative
  • Dr. Robert S. Smith, Director, CURTO 
  • Walter Lanier, CEO, African American Leadership Alliance of Milwaukee
  • Verónica Mancheno
  • Saúl López