On an unusually cool July afternoon, Lavelle Kyles sits alongside the glass-encased bus shelter on the corner of 76th and Mill Road waiting for the route 67 bus. The sun beams on the Navy baseball cap that shields his sepia colored eyes.
“I love Milwaukee, that’s why I won’t go back to Louisiana …” He bears a half-smile and corrects himself. “… except I am going back there next month for a family reunion.”
Lavelle was born in Monroe, Louisiana, but came to Milwaukee at age 6.
“I was running around,” he recalls. “We had a fireplace and a heater in the bathroom and my pajamas caught fire.”
His parents decided to relocate about a year after the incident.
In Milwaukee, Kyles was enrolled in LaFollette Elementary and Fulton Middle School (later renamed Malcolm X Academy). He went on to Rufus King High School and ended up joining the military in 1973. Lavelle served in the Navy for a year. Not too long after returning, he moved back to The South in 1977.
He held his own back in Louisiana for years until another family emergency, when his father had a stroke.
“He wanted to come back up here, so we drove up …” he says. “We traveled back and forth all the time with each other.”
Years down the line, at 56, Lavelle says that he “fell on bad luck and hard times.” Facing homelessness, he sought out help from Vets Place Central, which offers transitional housing to elderly or disabled veterans.
“I’ve been at my residence now for five years,” Kyles says. “That was a hand up for me.”
He laments about hearing that more homeless veteran facilities are closing down.
As his bus appears over the hill, moving lackadaisically down 76th Street, Lavelle waits in his black and white wheelchair. Kyles, an avid cyclist, was injured about a month before. Some might be angry but he just sits, hands relaxed in his lap, as nonchalant as city bus coming his way.
He concludes, “I am here and here to stay.”⬩
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