2023 Doug Jansson Leadership Award Recipient - John Daniels III

Daniels lives to help Milwaukee youth find their passion and purpose

For the past 15 years, John Daniels III has spent his career trying to help young men discover where they want to spend theirs. As executive director of a professional development organization focused on youth, he has found his passion is in helping other people find their own. 

Daniels discovered that passion while serving as director of technology at Holy Redeemer Institutional Church of God in Christ in Milwaukee. He worked there after graduating from the University of Michigan, where he studied music technology and finance. He ran a summer program for high school students that taught them computer and technical skills and showcased different environments where they could put those skills to work. 

That blossomed into A.L.I.V.E. MKE. He started the nonprofit, which stands for Administering Life in Vocational Experiences, in 2008. Through various initiatives, it offers education, exposure and experience to help youth pursue their dreams, often serving 500 students over the course of a year.

One of its flagship programs is MKE Fellows, which was created in 2012 to provide scholarship, mentorship and professional development support to young men from Milwaukee to attend Morehouse College, a historically Black college in Atlanta, with the goal of having them return home to strengthen the city’s workforce and civic community. Daniels’ father was one of the program’s founders. Daniels volunteered as a mentor for three years before eventually becoming executive director.

“The program really helped us realize that with a little bit of support – both financial and community – we could really push these young men to achieve their dreams,” Daniels said.

Under his leadership, MKE Fellows has since expanded to serve students who attend more than 20 colleges. It has secured partnerships with entities such as the city of Milwaukee, Northwestern Mutual and the charitable arm of PGA of America to give fellows a chance to learn about career opportunities. MKE Fellows also has received financial support from WE Energies, Molson Coors and other corporate funders. To date, more than 500 young men have come through the program. 

Each year, about 50 to 60 percent of graduates return to Milwaukee. But even if they do not, Daniels doesn’t view that as a complete loss. Oftentimes alumni return to Milwaukee to speak to or mentor current students. And even if they live on either coast, where Daniels said they are often recruited to, they serve as connection points in an ever-growing community that can support and develop a pipeline of talent.

“We are an organization that develops people,” Daniels said. “As we develop people, they become really attractive to other people. On one side it is challenging when you lose somebody, but it also is a great acknowledgement when you are able to see someone’s career growth.”

Daniels comes from a prominent tight-knit family known for their service and commitment to Milwaukee. His father, John W. Daniels Jr., chair emeritus at Quarles & Brady, has led many nonprofit boards including the Foundation, Greater Milwaukee Committee and Advocate Aurora Health. His uncle, Bishop Sedgwick Daniels, is pastor of the Holy Redeemer Institutional Church of God in Christ and executive director of the Institute for the Preservation of African-American Music and Arts in Milwaukee. His aunt, Valerie Daniels-Carter, is a businesswoman and one of the co-founders of a group of Black leaders who have a minority stake in the Milwaukee Bucks.  

Those role models and his faith have been prime motivating factors behind his work, said Daniels, pastor at Old Mount Zion New Jerusalem on Milwaukee’s east side.  

“I’ve also had some amazing opportunities,” he said. “In ways that I can share those things with other people, I feel it is my responsibility to do that.” 

Daniels taps into the network he has grown and nurtured over the years to help students make connections between the dreams they have for themselves and the careers that are available.

“I think that the biggest selling point for coming back to Milwaukee is having a community that cares about your success,” Daniels said.

The best part of his job, Daniels said, is graduation. In the early years of MKE Fellows, he attended every single ceremony, crisscrossing the country from Atlanta one day to San Francisco the next. 

“Being able to see the young men walk across the stage and hear the parents say, ‘We had no idea how they were going to do this…’ That makes your heart melt,” he said. 

MKE Fellows also has partnered with United Way Worldwide to take the model to other cities nationwide, including Detroit. A.L.I.V.E. is working to develop a program like MKE Fellows that is geared specifically to young women. Ultimately, Daniels said he would love to have multiple young adults who could step in to his role and carry forth the nonprofit’s mission.

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