Black Hogwarts students and staff gather for a photo during a bus tour of Milwaukee. (Photo by Adam Carr)

by Abby Ng, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service

DJay Hayes, 16, is like a real-world Harry Potter, but without the lightning scar and the wand. Hayes is not a wizard, but a student at Black Hogwarts, where he has been learning a different kind of magic — the magic of community organizing. Like Harry Potter, Hayes said he is hoping to be the love that triumphs over evil.

“I learn something new each day I come here,” Hayes said. “They make me feel like no matter what, I can do it.”

Sponsored by Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT) for the first time this summer, Black Hogwarts is an intense and immersive six-week workshop that teaches students ages 12 through 20 about oppression, politics, civic engagement and community organizing. The program is held at the LIT office building, 2821 N. 4th St., three times a week for five hours a day. Its goal is to help Milwaukee youth reach their full leadership potential, said Elisha Branch, LIT program coordinator.

“We want them to become leaders no matter what that looks like,” Branch said. “We want them to know that they are woke, they know what’s going on, they know their stuff and they’re going to be leaders wherever they are.”

About 16 students participate in the program, and they are all African-American and Latino with different interests and experiences. This diversity, Branch said, encourages students to see from others’ perspectives. Students practice articulating their opinions clearly and respectfully to their peers. Most of the participants started out shy, but now they are much more vocal, according to Branch.

Branch added that it makes her proud when she sees students able to tell other people about what they’re learning.

Aprice Bates, 12, said he is doing just that. Bates said he has had conversations with his friends at church about U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the importance of respecting women.

Students brainstorm ideas during a group activity. (Photo by Abby Ng)

To accommodate a wide variety of interests, including immigration, social identity and LGBTQ issues, Black Hogwarts partners with organizations such as Ubuntu Research and Evaluation, and Diverse and Resilient to host community-led lessons and field trips.

“They’ve done a really good job in bringing in such a medley of workshops so that young people will leave this summer as stronger leaders for the next school year,” said Nikotris Perkins, a workshop leader from Ubuntu Research and Evaluation.

“I’ve heard so many people speak on different topics in ways I never thought of before,” Hayes added.

Bates said he has learned how to be a better citizen and can imagine himself creating change and running a campaign one day because of what he has learned at Black Hogwarts.

“If I keep going, then I could be the person or be in a group of people who actually stop (oppression),” Bates said. “That’s what motivates me.”

Black Hogwarts also aims to create mentorships. Branch said younger students, such as Bates, can look up to and become friends with older students, and all students can rely on the LIT staff to be role models.

It is important to teach people of color to stand up for what they believe in at a young age, Branch said.

“I wish I had a program like this when I was 14 years old that taught me how to navigate a world that was not built for (black and brown people),” she stated.

While Black Hogwarts is only held in the summer, Branch said she hopes the program will ignite students’ interest in civic engagement and leadership. Black Hogwarts serves as an introduction to LIT, and students can take weekend leadership trainings during the academic year.

As the first Black Hogwarts comes to a close on Aug. 10, Branch said she already knows LIT will continue to host the program next summer.

“If they’re getting it when they’re this young, then imagine what they’ll be like when they’re grown,” she said. “Teaching them while they’re young opens up so many more doors for them.”