Clayborn Benson, founder of the Wisconsin Black Historical Society, talks about the importance of preserving history, the true meaning of family and the power of discovering our hidden potential and identity.
Reunitie Harmon walks down a quiet 24th Street in Park West. Harmon’s casual appearance is consistent with the quiet confidence she projects. “I tell people: unless you hear my story, you’ll never know my struggles — that’s my thing. ‘Cause I never wear it on my face — I always wear a smile — so unless you see my struggles or you hear about it, you’ll never know about what I’m going through.”
Donald Ealy shuffles across an empty Center Street in Park West. Ealy’s tired eyes and thin mustache adorn his weathered face; a patterned cardigan and brown driving cap lend him an air of aged dignity. “When I went to prison, my eyes wasn’t open,” Ealy says. “I wrote the judge a letter thankin’ him for savin’ my life. I had 30 years. The judge brought me back to court because he said he had never got a letter like this before, and he said the letter was so sincere … he brought me back to court and took 15 years away.”
Devin and Tamio (Tu-miyo) sit on the steps of a home near the corner of 24th and Burleigh, a cigarette in each of the young men’s hands. The two, who have known each other since early childhood, appear unusually comfortable, almost unaware of the other’s presence. “Trust is everything,” Tamio says. “Whatever relationship you have — business, personal … it’s always trust. You don’t trust nobody, shit, ain’t no point in us bein’ around each other.”
Corey Kirkwood unlocks the door to Reformation Church of Holiness on a Saturday afternoon. The building, located on 21st and Chambers, is empty today but Kirkwood, who is a youth minister there, says Pastor Henry Kilpatrick allows him to use the space for meetings. “He’s a very community-based person. A lot of people know him — he used to be a city bus driver for 30 years. He helps his community out in this area very well.” Kirkwood, who graduated from Bay View High School, has been involved in community work his entire adult life working, first, as a teacher at Malcolm X Academy, then as a drill sergeant at Right Step Boot Camp Military School and, later, as a disciplinary administrator at Texas Bufkin Christian Academy.