Vincent Lyles is standing in the gap.
He doesn’t have to. It’s not even a job he thought about having.
But someone has to stand in the gap.
Not only is it a job he has grown to love, it’s a job that is helping realize the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 45 years after his death.
Lyles, the president and CEO of Boys & Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee, will be the guest speaker at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center’s Martin Luther King ceremony, 10 a.m. Thursday in the Matousek Auditorium.
The VA is located at 5000 W. National Avenue in Milwaukee.
The event is open to all veterans and community members.
Lyles, a product of Milwaukee Public Schools, graduated from Madison High School, went on to get a law degree, and now oversees a $22 million budget and is responsible for 37 Boys & Girls Club throughout the area.
He said there are a lot of parallels between his job helping children succeed, and the VA’s job of helping veterans, that brings King’s dream to life.
“It’s about helping people,” he said. “It’s about giving people a chance, helping them get a job and giving them a hand up. It’s because none of us found our own way. We all had an angel in some way, shape or form who gave us support, whether it was a teacher, a friend or a mentor. It’s impossible to get through life successfully without having someone to help you along the way and help provide opportunities.”
Because Lyles held a series of leadership positions throughout Milwaukee, he got to rub shoulders with – and work alongside – those who put in the extra effort to help revitalize neighborhoods and provide opportunities. When, Jim Clark, the previous Boys & Girls Club CEO got a position at the national level, he called to offer congratulations.
“And that’s when he told me, ‘You should think about this job.’”
“I don’t have the first idea about that kind of work,” Lyles replied.
Clark said: “What are you talking about? With your reputation in the community, you can do this. I didn’t know about this kind of work, either, but you will grow into it.”
By mid-October 2011, Lyles was on the job, and today he oversees a program that helps 5,000 boys and girls throughout Milwaukee every day.
And while news of violence, struggling schools and poverty might make the news, Lyles said this job helps him help others, and helps tell the good stories that often go untold.
“I know the other stories, because I ran around those same neighborhoods. There are a lot of good stories. I came here and saw a really successful program, and knew we could take that and build upon it.
“There are a couple reasons the Boys & Girls Club makes incredible sense,” he added. “The kids need a place to be that transitions them from home and school. They need an environment that is safe -- not just physically safe, but a safe place where they are free to express themselves. Schools are very regimented and put 30 kids in a box. They come to us, and are interested in classical music, we have something for them. If they have volleyball, we have something for them.
“We fill the gap for schools that used to provide those services. We stand in the gap, and feed all our kids every night. We stand in the gap and give them the opportunity to go on with their lives and be successful.”
As a direct result of the Boys & Girls Club and its affiliation with community philanthropist Marty Stein, 145 members are now in college on the Stein Scholarship, “and we have another 88 currently in high school, and in the pipeline to go to college,” Lyles said. “That’s the work that makes a difference. We’re making a difference for these children. The VA is making a difference for past vets, and current vets. I want to say, 'Thanks,' and talk about all the volunteer opportunities available to all of us so we can work together, and keep moving forward."