Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson spoke to fourth graders at St. Anthony School in early December, discussing his upbringing and his role in the office. (Submitted photo)
BY KRISTIN BAYER
Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson visited the fourth graders at St. Anthony School in early December.
“Our fourth graders are studying different forms of government, particularly local government,” said St. Anthony Upper Elementary Principal Angela Hamilton. “One of the teachers reached out, and the mayor’s office enthusiastically replied.”
There were several goals for the mayor’s visit, Hamilton said.
“I’m hoping that they understand exactly what it takes to be mayor. They have been researching it, but it’s more powerful to hear about it from someone in the job than from reading about it,” she said. “Also, he has come through various struggles in his life, and it’s inspirational to show the children that there’s no limit to what you can dream, and what you can do.”
There are approximately 100 fourth graders at St. Anthony’s this year, and they gave the mayor an enthusiastic welcome, waving and high-fiving him as he walked into the room.
The mayor began by explaining to the students the structure of the city’s government, and the types of services it provides to residents.
“If you dial 911, who comes? The police department or the fire department. And the city is responsible for making sure we have a police department and a fire department,” he said.
“When it gets colder and snows, and the snow plow comes down the street, guess what? That’s the city of Milwaukee coming down the street. When you take the garbage out of your house and put it in the big garbage can, it’s the city of Milwaukee that comes to collect it.”
He asked the students to guess the size of the city’s budget. Their guesses ranged from $35,000 to $2 million. They were astonished when he told them that it’s actually closer to $2 billion.
He talked to the students about some of the challenges he faced growing up. “I knew what it was like not to have enough to eat, to move around a lot, to have bad things happen in my neighborhood,” he said.
It was around the time he was in fourth grade, he told them, that he made a decision about how he wanted his life to be when he grew up. He told them that he made the decision to work hard in school, and to pay attention to his teachers and his parents.
“This is a time that you can set out to make decisions that affect the rest of your life.”
Mayor Johnson shared stories of mentors who made a difference in how he thought about himself and what he could accomplish, lessons he has taken with him into his adult life.
“If you face a challenge, never, ever give up,” he said. “If you’re willing to work hard, you can accomplish anything you want. Chase things you’re passionate about. Don’t chase after dollars. Chase after things that are important to you.”
The mayor provided students with time for questions. They came prepared, asking more than 20 questions, from “What’s your favorite food?” (pizza) to “What have you learned since being mayor?”
“Part of their social studies curriculum has been not just researching what a mayor does, but Mayor Johnson specifically,” Hamilton said. The students had spent time curating questions, “to have really good meaty questions, so they can learn from the answers given.”
Answering their questions, Mayor Johnson explained how elections work, his path to becoming mayor, the hours he works, his favorite part of being the mayor and his favorite holiday. He explained what he does on a typical day, and that there is no typical day when you’re the mayor of a big city.
“There is no manual (for the mayor’s job),” he said. “You just know you have to serve your constituency.”
“People are not so different,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what neighborhood you go to. People care about a couple of things. People want to be safe. They want the quiet, peaceful enjoyment of their homes. I’ve learned there’s a lot of unity in how people think across all the neighborhoods in the city.”
He explained to students that although he lost elections in the past, he never gave up. “I think someone in this room, in the future, could be mayor of Milwaukee. You guys are smart and capable.”
The school’s president, Dr. Rosana Mateo, was pleased with Mayor Johnson’s visit. “We’re very appreciative of the mayor coming here and being part of our community. We believe our students have a very close connection because he does come here once a year, and having that connection is important for them and for the community.”
According to Hamilton, “It’s important for kids not just to read about it but to experience it firsthand, and to make connections firsthand.”