Each year at COA’s Hollywood Gala, we honor amazing program participants with the Rising Star Award. This award recognizes individuals who demonstrate what it means to reach their greatest potential. This year, we honor Riverside High School seniors Ty’Johnna Gardner and Keshawn Williams for their outstanding dedication to their school, their peers, and their communities. We are proud to recognize these Rising Stars for their tremendous leadership and personal growth throughout their participation in COA programs. Ty’Johnna and Keshawn embody COA’s holistic mission to serve children, strengthen families, and build our Milwaukee community.
Ty’Johnna is a senior at Riverside University High School, where she attends COA’s Community Learning Center (CLC), a daily after-school program for students to get academic, extracurricular, and social support. At Riverside, she participates in Lion’s Quest, Gospel Choir, Swing Choir, African-American Achievers, Marvel Comics, Debate, and College Possible. Born and raised in the Midtown neighborhood of Milwaukee, she currently lives at home with her mom, dad, a younger brother, and an older sister.
When she first started out at Riverside, Ty’Johnna struggled with academics: “I started off my freshman year kind of rocky.” Learning positive study skills and beating procrastination were her top priorities. She started coming to the CLC that same year, attracted to the chance to have a quiet space to do homework and get academic help. After she began attending CLC and participating in the homework, study, and tutoring activities COA provides, her study skills improved. Coming to the CLC ultimately helped her receive higher grades, and Ty’Johnna credits the CLC with helping her stay on track academically: “The CLC helped me keep my academics in check. After coming to CLC and being pushed, I’ve had above a 3.2 all the rest of my years.”
Riverside CLC Site Director Clare Dusold has worked with Ty’Johnna for the past three years. In that time, she’s seen her flourish as both an excellent student and leader: “Ty’Johnna is an amazing person and student. She is incredibly hard-working.” Ty’Johnna’s favorite CLC activities are Debate and the Making Proud Choices sexual education curriculum: “I think it’s a really good program for a lot of girls my age.” A lover of reading and writing, her favorite class is AP Literature and Composition. Her presence at the CLC has not only been beneficial for herself, but for everyone around her. Clare Dusold observes: “She is always willing to lend a helping hand and smile to someone in need.”
Ty’Johnna’s number one passion in life is singing. Now, she sings soprano lead for the Riverside Swing Choir, and she is one of the leaders of the Gospel choir. Aside from also participating in Riverside’s Musicals, she has been the recipient of many Wisconsin School of Music Association (WSMA) awards. Her future includes plans to attend UW-Parkside in the fall to study either musical performance or musical theater. Beyond school, she wants to keep pursuing her passion for singing. When she finishes college, she dreams of acting and singing professionally: “Hopefully I’ll be on Broadway!”
Keshawn is also a senior at Riverside University High School, where has spent three years attending COA’s Community Learning Center (CLC). Keshawn grew up on the Northside of Milwaukee, where he still lives with his mom, dad, and younger sister and brother. His CLC days actually began in middle school; he used to attend a CLC at Holy Redeemer.
Inspired by many of his peers’ attendance, Keshawn started coming to the CLC during his sophomore year. Since then, he’s used the CLC as a space to get valuable academic support and explore his many extracurricular interests. In addition to his involvement with the CLC, he directs the Riverside Gospel Choir, is Vice-President of the African-American Achievers Club, and serves at the Senior Treasurer of the Riverside Student Council. He is also an active member of French Club, the College Possible college readiness program, and he is Captain of the Mock Trial team. As Vice-President of African-Achievers, he planned and led the school wide Black History Month Program. He also leads his peers as they host community car washes and more volunteer projects throughout the city of Milwaukee.
Keshawn credits attending the Riverside CLC with giving him valuable academic help and also helping boost his grades. His favorite CLC activity has been participating in Mock Trial. It has been a large influence in his life, and has aided his future plans to attend Law school. He values the CLC not just for its academic and extracurricular activities, but also for the unique social aspect: “It allows you to talk to different, diverse kinds of people than you would typically encounter in the school day.” CLC Director Clare Dusold has worked with Keshawn for the past three years: “Keshawn is a great part of CLC. He participates in so much and continues to hold a high GPA. He is a very bright young man, and works hard.”
Keshawn’s passion for diversity and cultural exchange is expressed in and out of school. His number one passion is French language and culture. A devout Francophile, last year he went to France for a month to study. He plans to go back to France in the future, to either study or live.
Up next, he will be attending college to study French. He’s considering attending Northern Michigan University. After he receives his bachelor’s degree, he plans to attend Law school. He is determined to become a criminal lawyer. He dreams of being a Supreme Court Justice.
As Keshawn looks forward to his bright future, he keeps his CLC experiences close to his heart: “I just want to thank CLC for giving me the opportunities to be in a positive atmosphere.”