Dr. Velez supports countrywide collaboration to move the needle on supports for Black and Latino/a youth.

Under the Center for Urban Research, Teaching, and Outreach (CURTO), the Black and Latino/a Ecosystem and Support Transition (BLEST) Hub is an initiative that has worked for four years with diverse community partners to build rich understandings of the Milwaukee educational ecosystem—supports, challenges, experiences—for Black and Latino/a youth. As the Faculty Director, Dr. Gabriel Velez has overseen the development of a visualization of this ecosystem, podcasts and reports on equity and dual enrollment, a timeline capturing major historical moments in the ecosystem, and a yearly “State of the Ecosystem” report.

In the summer of 2023, the BLEST Hub became the leader of the Research Committee for the newly re-launched countywide My Brother’s Keeper effort (MBK MKE) to dismantle systemic barriers to youth of color thriving. MBK MKE, part of the broader Obama Foundation initiative, has been a close collaboration with the African American Leadership Alliance of Milwaukee, and involved convening local nonprofits, educators, and researchers, collecting and disseminating data on key metrics, and spearheading targeted research studies to engage youth and community voices. Currently, the BLEST Hub is leading focus groups with youth of color across the city to explore what measures of success—high school graduation, post-secondary graduation and certification, living in a safe community—mean to them and leading an asset mapping project for racial equity.

The BLEST Hub is rooted in Marquette’s educational goals, Jesuit mission, and a vision of equitable and humble community-engagement. Undergraduate and graduate students have had primary roles across all BLEST Hub projects from the start, as the success of the work has drawn on their own lived experiences as youth and unique skillsets. Dr. Velez’s vision for the BLEST Hub is to live out the ideals of searching for truth while truly embodying service oriented toward others and our local urban context. Community vision, input, feedback, and partnerships underlie all efforts.

In the summer of 2024, the BLEST Hub will release its fourth annual State of the Ecosystem Report, as well as a database of all research reports across organizations related to Black and Latino/a student success.

More detailed information about the BLEST Hub can be found here.