When Victor Amaya moved to Milwaukee with his parents, his father said they came to make a difference.
That memory has carried him through his work as an educator and nonprofit leader.
And now it helps to inform him his work as the president and executive director of Data You Can Use. The organization, according to its website, connects people who need data to people who have data and assists in accessing, analyzing, translating, interpreting and presenting this data. It shares office space at 1240 N. 10th St.
Amaya, 38, and his parents lived in Tampico, Tamaulipas, Mexico, before coming to the United States when he was 12 years old. They moved into a small apartment in the Muskego Way neighborhood on Milwaukee’s South Side.
“It was tough,” he said. “We were undocumented. There was a language barrier. It was a culture shock, but it’s how I learned about other people.”
And interacting with other cultures helped him assimilate.
“Hip-hop taught me English,” Amaya said. “I would read the lyrics, and everything started connecting. That’s why I still have a love for it.”
According to his friend, Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson, connecting with people is something Amaya is great at. The two met in 2001 when Amaya worked as a camp counselor for a program in which Johnson was participating.
“He’s got this magnetic personality because he’s just kind. And even through the challenges he’s faced, he’s very confident in who is,” Johnson said. “He goes the extra mile to make people feel comfortable.”
Johnson said as their friendship progressed, Amaya was always supportive and willing to go the distance to connect.
“We all know the symbolism surrounding the 16th Street Viaduct,” which links the North Side and South Side, Johnson said. “Victor literally crossed bridges to connect and be a mentor for me.”
"I kind of just tripped over it"
Amaya started his career as an educator with Milwaukee Public Schools where he got his beginning with data by using standardized test results to inform his instruction.
“I kind of just tripped over it,” he said. “I was getting all these test results with bar graphs and colors. I was like, besides explaining these to parents, I should do something with this information and that’s how love for data started.”
Amaya said he used the information to be strategic about what students needed because of where they were academically. He started putting students in groups, and he saw his students performing well and even outperforming their peers.
“It was working but it was literally me, after school, just trying to figure things out,” he said. “I left the classroom because I wanted to share what I learned and expand this practice.”
His data-driven instruction practice ended being an initiative in the school, and it eventually became his dissertation for his doctorate in Leadership in the Advancement of Learning and Service from Cardinal Stritch University.
“Victor has always been intrinsically motivated,” said Thomas Wild, Amaya’s high school teacher and lifelong mentor. “He sees a bigger picture for what he wants life to look like, and he creates it.”
Amaya said tripping over new things is constant in his life.
“I like to consider myself a practitioner,” he said. “I like to do things and learn from them and that’s what I’ve done.”
Amaya started at Data You Can Use in December, succeeding founding Executive Director and President Dr. Kathleen Pritchard. In his role, Amaya focuses on using data to track good things happening across the city.
“We always hear the negative statistics surrounding Milwaukee,” he said. “I don’t think those tell the whole story. It’s in our mission to look at those bright spots and highlight the things that bring pride and celebration to communities as well.”
Amaya said he doesn’t have much of a job-life balance because his work is a passion project.
“I value service without thinking about it,” he said. “Seeing the people around me accomplish their goals makes me feel accomplished.”
When he’s not working, he enjoys traveling, working out and spending time with his 13-year-old son.
“I want to see the city and its communities working to empower themselves,” Amaya said.
For more information
Data You Can Use will host its eighth Data Day, “Our Data, Our Neighborhoods: Building a More Equitable Milwaukee Together,” from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 19 at Northwestern Mutual, 733 N. Van Buren St.