Young African-American and Hispanic men need to change their perceptions of themselves and demand a place at the table when decisions are made about their lives.

That was the message at Wednesday’s inaugural Dream Chasers Luncheon at Blackhawk Technical College.

The event, which drew about 100 students, was sponsored by Men of Color, Honor and Ambition, the Beloit and Janesville school districts and BTC. The goal was to reach as many young men as possible and show them a path to success.

The speaker was Dane County Judge Everett Mitchell. A native of Texas, Mitchell grew up in poverty and graduated from high school with a diploma but without the academic skills he needed for college.

With help, he graduated from Morehouse College and attended graduate school at Princeton.

How did he get there?

Not by deciding what he wanted to be, but by deciding what he was not going to be.

“So growing up, that’s all I did,” Mitchell said. “I did not want to go to jail; I did not want to be an absent father.”

Figuring out what he didn’t want to be helped him set parameters that guided his choices, Mitchell said in an interview.

Mitchell was the youngest person to become a judge in Dane County and today is the county’s only African-American judge.

Sonja Robinson, coordinator of student services for the Janesville School District, said it is important for young minority men to see “other men of color doing positive things.”

Seeing these successful men is empowering and helps students realize that “regardless of where you started or what your circumstances might be, you can still do and be whatever you want ... in life,” Robinson said.

Donta Evans works as a student advocate at Parker High School and is the adviser for BRO, Brothers Reaching Out. He said he hopes to continue to host events such as panel discussions so students can connect with new role models and stay focused on their own success.

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