How should we tell the story of Milwaukee?

Milwaukee Roots is a place-based, inquiry-centered approach to teaching the history and civic engagement of Milwaukee’s communities—especially its communities of color, indigenous nations, and other historically marginalized communities. Through the development and implementation of contextually meaningful history and civics instruction in area classrooms, MKE Roots aims to transform how Milwaukee’s students see themselves within the civic landscape of our city: as change agents, community contributors, and citizens who matter.  Our guiding values are:

  • Center Youth in Storytelling: Young people have been at the center of many social change movements, and they should be at the center of our storytelling about those histories. This can be reflected in the stories that get included in history as well as in who gets to do history and contribute to the public narrative about our city.
  • Power in Place-Based Learning: Learning about the stories and contributions of our own places in this world by people just like us who walked and lived on our very same streets can help students see themselves as important civic agents, part of a long lineage of community members shaping Milwaukee.
  • Transforming Narratives Transforms Communities: MKE Roots seeks to transform the narratives taught in Milwaukee’s schools towards the wealth, joy, leadership, and contributions of our BIPOC communities. When young people understand the cultural and civic wealth in their communities, they also understand their own power, individually and as communities, to incite positive social change.

In 2023, MKE Roots was awarded a three-year, $1.27 million grant from the US Department of Education to support the development of a sustainable curriculum & professional development program for Milwaukee-area teachers. This curriculum is being developed by a team of Marquette faculty, students, and staff in partnership with America’s Black Holocaust Museum, Vel Phillips Juvenile Justice Center School, St Joan Antida High School, and Milwaukee Public Schools.


Programming includes:

  • An annual week long paid MKE Roots Summer Institute for 25 area teachers: 2024 applications are available.
  • A “Community of Practice” for teachers within the MKE Roots network to collaborate on place-based learning within their classrooms. The CoP meets at least quarterly, and participating teachers receive a stipend.
  • A freely available, web-based pedagogical ecosystem that centralizes and records local history for use in area classrooms. Teachers will be able to access place-based content via neighborhood or curricular theme, and resources include overviews, primary sources, teaching guides, and essential questions.
  • The Milwaukee Roots Dialogue Series: Participants engage in guided discussion about Milwaukee Roots through interacting with CURTO's March on, Milwaukee Digital History Series. About half of each dialogue group is made up of Marquette students enrolled through Service Learning, and the other half are members of the Marquette and Milwaukee community. Learn more about the program series here.
  • Milwaukee Roots Democratizing Local History Project: This initiative collaborates with local high schools to build strategies for using local histories of social change movements as a way to strengthen student identity, enhance learning engagement, and empower civic engagement.

MKE Roots grew out of CURTO's March on Milwaukee Digital History Series, which was developed in the summer of 2020 as our city and nation dealt with two crises: Covid-19 and racism. The March On, Milwaukee videos were then used to construct an 8-session virtual dialogue series where participants engage in guided discussion about Milwaukee Roots. The program was hosted by Marquette University’s Center for Urban Research, Teaching & Outreach (CURTO) in collaboration with the Service Learning Program and the Burke Scholars Program. Learn more about the Milwaukee Roots Dialogue Series here. 

The MKE Roots Team

Faculty Director: Dr. Melissa Gibson

CURTO Director: Dr. Robert S. Smith

Project Coordinator: Lauren Instenes

Faculty Affiliates: Dr. Bryan Rindfleisch & Dr. Sergio González (History); Dr. Derria Byrd, Dr. Blake O’Neal Turner, & Dr. Julissa Ventura (Education)

Community Historian: Adam Carr

Graduate Researchers: Noah Levine and Saúl López

Undergraduate Researchers: Celia Bender, Cristal Reyes, Lois Ella Dahlman and Tyson Anthony