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Milwaukee Has a Lot of Potential

Milwaukee Has a Lot of Potential

Djdade Denson ’14 quit his job in corporate America to dedicate his life to improving the city and community he loves.

In 2018, Djdade Denson ’14 was on a career path many college graduates dream of. The newly minted Marquette University alum had landed a plum job as a project manager with Hunzinger Construction. He used his civil engineering degree on high-profile jobs like construction of the $285 million Komatsu Mining Corp. headquarters, and renovations to the American Family Insurance Amphitheater. It’s a path that many of his childhood friends from inner-city Milwaukee did not have the opportunity to travel. Perhaps that’s why, despite his success, something felt off.

Djdade Denson

Djdade Denson '14, pictured in his restaurant, Coffee Makes You Black, which serves soul food in an Afrocentric environment.

“I was building my career on projects that had a lot of recognition in Milwaukee, but I started to realize that these companies didn’t need my help,” he said. “There are other people who can fill those roles and be fulfilled in that work.” Denson kept thinking about the North Division neighborhood of Milwaukee where he was born and raised. It’s an area of the city that, he thought, needed more help than it was getting. 

Denson wanted to take matters into his own hands, so he left Hunzinger in 2021, eager to roll up his sleeves and make a difference in his community. One of his first moves was to purchase Coffee Makes You Black, a restaurant founded in 2001 and located near where he grew up, with a few friends from college. Denson is passionate about seeing the restaurant—a source of community, jobs, and stability—thrive. “Owning and operating a restaurant is a challenge, but it’s something that’s near and dear to my heart. It was a huge part of my life growing up. It’s a bit humbling to provide a service for the people I grew up with, in a neighborhood that I grew up in.”

Artwork at Coffee Makes You Black.

In addition to the restaurant, Denson manages Camp Xhongo Peace, which his late father established in 1995. It consists of an annual weekend camping trip on the banks of the Mississippi River, where 100 to 150 men and boys sleep in tents under the stars and experience nature first-hand. When Denson’s father passed in October 2021, Denson took over organizing, fundraising, and the overall management of the camp. “We’ve been running the camp for 26 consecutive years, and it just keeps growing. The kids see positive role models and learn intangible skills.”

While Denson valued his time in the corporate world and continues to utilize many of the skills he learned there, his work feels more meaningful now. “Milwaukee has a lot of potential, and that fills my tank up and helps me continue doing what I’m doing. I love the city and I want to see it prosper.”

  • Alumni