When Myles Davis found out about Milwaukee’s Summer Youth Internship Program — a component of the Mayor’s Earn & Learn Program that enables students to work for one of 13 city departments — he jumped at the opportunity.
“I was about to graduate from high school and I didn’t want to be broke during the summertime,” recalled Davis, who is currently a freshman who plans to major in musical theater at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. “I needed some cash. I had just got my driver’s license and had to put gas in the car.”
It was spring of 2014 — a day before the application deadline — and Davis filled out the application online for one of the city jobs, which pay $7.50 per hour for 20 hours per week for eight weeks.
A week later, Davis said, he got a letter asking him to show up for an interview. He was offered a job in the city’s Public Works Department and took it. “Being broke was never an option for me.”
He also wanted to attend parties for friends who were moving out of the city.
“Just about everything to do costs money,” Davis said. “I was like, ‘You guys pay me weekly, so of course I’m going to get this job.’”
Davis said he believes he was offered the DPW job because he indicated that he was able to lift 100 pounds — something he became accustomed to doing after being “toughened up” by friends who were larger in stature.
Davis put his strength to work delivering garbage bins and hauling trash. The heaviest thing he lifted was the base of a portable basketball court stand.
“Me and one other guy had to drag it along,” Davis said. “I’m not even gonna lie. It was extremely heavy.”
Davis, who cleaned bridges and streets, got a tough on-the-job lesson when he had to paint some of those cryptic marks on streets that let construction workers know where to avoid pipes underground.
One time, he said, he “messed up.”
“I thought every corner got an arrow because that’s what the pattern was,” Davis said. “Unfortunately for me, I had to go back out there and remove it because it could have messed up some pipe that was underground.”
The work experience also gave Davis — an aspiring R&B singer named after jazz great Miles Davis — a unique glimpse at Milwaukee’s dire employment situation.
As he sported a bright neon green vest, work ID and safety goggles, steel-toe boots, gloves and “busted” jeans, people began to view Davis as everything from a symbol of hope to a potential source of spare change.
“This one guy stopped and started clapping for me and said there’s hope for Milwaukee because young African-American men are working for the city and trying to fix it up and what not,” Davis said.
The city — once a destination of the great migration of African Americans from the South because of its bustling manufacturing economy — is now a post-industrial city with one of the lowest employment rates for black men in the country.
“I also saw a lot of people asking me for change and stuff,” Davis said. “I see that on a daily basis anyway, but it’s not as bad as when I was working for the city.
“I was outside about 95 percent of the time
and there’d always be like 10 people asking me for change, people that don’t have jobs and what not,” Davis said. “It was kind of crazy.”
Those are some lessons learned from summer work that Davis will never forget.
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