As reported on, written by Allison Dikanovic

Editor’s note: This article is one of an occasional series profiling the 12 finalists for the Milwaukee Awards for Neighborhood Development Innovation (MANDIs). Running Rebels is a finalist for the BMO Harris Cornerstone Award, which recognizes commitment and effectiveness over time.

Davonte (Dae) Hill recalls the day he stood in front of a judge as a 16-year-old. He was given two options: serve time in a detention center or get connected to a program at Running Rebels Community Organization.

Hill knew some kids who played on the Running Rebels basketball team, so he chose the latter.

“Looking back, I was a kid who was one good decision away from being successful and one bad decision away from throwing my life into the streets,” Hill said.

Ten years later, Hill is a full-time employee at Running Rebels. He is a youth adviser for an in-school program called Violence Free Zones, the head engineer of the entertainment program and a basketball coach. But the title he prefers is “mentor.”

“I think being a mentor is understanding the youth that we serve, taking them under our wings and unlocking their potential, because we see their lives from a different scope and perspective than they see their own lives,” Hill said.

He said the young people he works with know he came from a similar environment and seeing him doing fulfilling work helps them trust him.

“I look at the youth that I serve as the best versions of themselves,” Hill said. “I see presidents. I see the next big entertainer. I see the next big athlete or the next lawyer or doctor.”

When Hill first came to Running Rebels, Victor Barnett, founder and co-executive director, saw that kind of potential in him.

“He saw that I could be a leader,” Hill said of Barnett, who recognized his interest in music and connected Hill to the organization’s entertainment and leadership programs.

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