Young professionals are gathering across Milwaukee this week, not only to network, but to also talk about their visions of the city’s future. Organizers of the second annual Young Professionals Week have arranged more than 20 events.
The menu at City Hall consisted of Blue Moon beer and pizza.
Young people dressed in everything from business attire to jeans and t-shirts mingled, as music filled the hallways of the historic building. While some city officials were present, it was clear that this was an event for an up and coming generation of leaders.
“So most times when we do a presentation the first thing everybody tells you to do is put away your cell phones, quiet them. Today during YP Week, we’re young professionals, we’re tech savvy. We’re asking you to do the exact opposite.”
By definition, the Millennial Generation or Generation Y was born during the 1980s and early 1990s. They’ve grown up in a world of cell phones and computers. While their points of reference may differ from those of previous generations, their concerns often mirror their elders. Caitlin O’Brien manages the International Visitor Leadership Program at the International Institute of Wisconsin. She is twenty-two years old.
“What issue isn’t important at this stage? Let’s just start off with gun control, mental health issues, birth control, women’s rights in general. You’ve got gay marriage, and then we’ve got a lot of issues with human trafficking. I’d like to see those get addressed; they’re not meeting my standards of addressing. I’m just the all around type of liberal person I guess,” O’Brien says.
What O’Brien could not address is how she believes she could do a better job.
“I think I would describe our generation as passionate yet a little disconnected. So everyone chooses something that they’re really into, they’re really passionate about it, they want to fight for it. But a lot of people aren’t sure how, and they don’t know how to go about doing things. Just like you asked how would I start. I don’t know, because I feel like we are not given enough tools. That’s something in the education system, we’re not really taught to just go out and grab it and change things,” O’Brien says.
So, if Gen Y does not feel equipped to lead, will it ever?
O’Brien says of course.
“I don’t think it’s a matter of will we be. I mean whoever was when (they) got passed the torch. So I think it’s just a matter of it will happen,” O’Brien says.
While not every young person is ready to grab the horse by the reins, some are. Twenty-seven-year-old Angela Damiana is executive director of a group called NEWaukee. It’s a networking and civic engagement organization, and the group behind young professional’s week.
“I want Milwaukee to be the Austin or Seattle. I want people to finish school and think, I have to be in Milwaukee, and it’s the place to be. Not only because of the job opportunities that we have here, but because it’s actually a totally awesome city,” Damiana says.
For Damiana, the size of Milwaukee makes it easy to be involved in whatever she’d like, and meet the people who can help her chart a path. She insists Milwaukee is way too humble when it comes to talking about its assets, so one of her goals as leader of NEWaukee is to sell the city.
Mitchell Henke is a 23-year-old software engineer.
He describes the city as headed in the right direction, but not yet where it should be.
“There’s still a lot of just civic issues, transportation or racial divide, things like that. There’s just a lot of core issues that I’d like to see dealt with,” Henke says.
Henke says young Milwaukeeans don’t need to reinvent the wheel, but do need to step up and do more.