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Shannon Ross helps those with criminal records find hope and a future

Shannon RossShannon Ross is the founder and executive director of The Community, a nonprofit organization working to help incarcerated Wisconsinites prepare to re-enter their lives after release. He is a graduate student at UW–Milwaukee and also co-owner of a transportation company. Ross is a proud alumnus of Washington High School, Class of 2002. He is a first-time father who describes himself as “a formerly incarcerated dreamer.”

Ross shared that he was a rebellious child and sometimes still is as an adult. He found it hard as a teenager for the adults in his life to make an impression. But a few teachers did leave an impact. He recalled Ms. Smith at Bay View in particular, his math teacher. She had a comfort with and respect for her students that made them want to go to class and feel open to correction.

When asked what advice he would offer to current high school students, he shared, “Never think that you are alone in any experience or negative thought or emotion. Nothing you go through, feel, or think is new. To be human is to struggle and doubt and hate and love and screw up over and over. But it is also to be resilient and empathetic towards yourself and others every day. What happens to us is nothing compared to how we respond to what happens to us. You are never alone and you are always stronger than your weaknesses and much more than your mistakes.”

Ross also expressed that MPS gave him the flexibility to change schools when life events changed, which allowed him to graduate on time and meet a wide variety of people on his high school journey. MPS placed him among a diverse group of students and teachers.

Shannon RossEventually, Ross determined that he wanted his life to be about giving back to the community after learning some valuable life lessons. “Never accept your surroundings and your difficulties as your future. Never define yourself by anything other than your potential and your humanity. I have had countless blessings in my life and I give back to the community not just through my organization—The Community—but in my walk every day as a constant connector and devoted problem solver. Any value I have been given by life is available for those in need in a way that gets them on a sustainable path to the success and peace of mind they deserve.”

According to Ross, his life has been a long lesson in humility and empathy. “My present is the beautiful burden of being given much and wanting much more for those behind me. My future is full of big crazy dreams I pursue one step at a time. If I had a chance to reach out to other MPS alumni, I’d say, “Keep correcting the narrative about what is possible from the city of Milwaukee and any place populated by people who have been historically marginalized and scapegoated. Focus on BEING.”

Ross says that he was inspired to inspire anyone who doesn’t realize that every day, they wake up and dictate their day by the story they tell about themselves and everyone else. “To be human is to be immensely powerful and flawed. Tell yourself the correct story every morning and you will always go to bed successful.” To learn more about Ross’ work at The Community, visit thecommunitynow.us

© Milwaukee Public Schools 2022
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