April 27, 2006 by Daily Reporter — For 25 years, Milwaukee’s Victor Barnett has made men out of boys through his inner-city Running Rebels Community Organization. Soon, Barnett and the Running Rebels will be able to stop running, as the organization announced Thursday its plans to build a permanent home for its powerhouse Amateur Athletic Union basketball teams, as well as its tutoring, mentoring, music and youth entrepreneurial programs.
“We had nationally ranked basketball teams and no gym space to practice,” Barnett said at the announcement. “Finally, we were lucky enough to be able to buy this building.” The $3.6 million renovation of the RRCO’s three-story 1300A Fond du Lac Ave. location, which RRCO purchased in 2005, will include a regulation high school basketball gymnasium and fitness center addition, nutrition center, cafeteria, library, computer room, recreation/media center and performance theatre.
“We saw that the building was not satisfying all of our needs, so we wanted to fix it up and better utilize the space,” said Barnett. “We no longer will have to rent places for (music) performances.” Barnett was born in Mississippi and moved to Wisconsin in the seventh grade. Even at that young age, he realized he wanted to someday be a part of keeping kids out of gangs. “I saw there were a lot of young people headed in the wrong direction, and I thought, ‘One day, I’m going to be a part of something that stops that,’” he said.
When Barnett founded the Running Rebels in 1980, he had little more than a vision and a purpose. Today, 700 young people and their families are served annually by the private, nonprofit organization. “I had to foot the bill for a lot of things in the beginning but knew that one day it would be worth it,” Barnett said. “Now, we do receive funding for our programs, but we would like to do more.”
Barnett’s efforts over the last 25 years touched countless numbers of people’s lives, many of whom thanked him at the announcement. “What started as one brother helping out another has blossomed into the organization we have today,” said Dell Williams, the announcement’s master of ceremonies and Barnett’s first “little brother.” “Victor realized you can’t tell kids to just say no without giving them something to say yes to.” “He made something out of nothing,” said Nathan Cooper, a former Running Rebel who graduated from Tuskegee University and is now an electrical engineer for GE Medical Systems and music director for RRCO.
RRCO has produced such luminary alumni as basketball player Shannon Smith, who was drafted by the NBA’s Indiana Pacers, and Richard Badger, assistant to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. The organization
that bills itself as a positive alternative to gangs and substance abuse has grown to include both high-risk boys and girls. “It started out as just young men based upon the expertise we had working with men,” Barnett said. “Now, we have female staff volunteers that are good working with young ladies. We feel blessed and honored to be able to do both now.”
NAI MLG Commercial of Brookfield is developing the renovation project, while Stephen Perry Smith of Menomonee Falls-based Stephen Perry Smith Architects Inc. is the architect and chairman of the building committee. Overall project costs have been reduced due to the generosity of many donors. Centimark Corporation donated a complete roof tear off and replacement, while George Bogdanovich, president of
Community Warehouse, is providing discounted building materials. However, more funds are still being sought to ensure the project’s success. Naming rights for several building features, such as the gym, will also be sold to raise money. “It’s just been amazing to me to see how organizations are starting to work together, whereas in the past that was not the case,” said Barnett.