Juan Malave stands near 35th and Auer, by a parking lot, paintbrush in hand. He’s working on a garage nearby. This is his life. “Yeah, every day, 365 days, you know; I’m working Monday, Saturday, every day. At 6 o’clock, till 8, 9 o’clock, you know,” he says. “I’m working for every guy, every man, you know, every people.”
Richie Rich leans against a tree near the corner of 36th and Concordia. He wears a flat-brimmed baseball cap and long jean shorts; a keychain, gilded in gold, hangs from a belt buckle. He’s hesitant to speak and refuses to give his real name. “All these shootin’s and robberies, I see that shit e’ry day; [people] just only see it on the news — I’m out here in that shit. So, I don’t even watch the news because I see it anyway, face to face.”
Ray Williams Jr. sits on his porch on the 3200 block of North 37th Street in a white, tank-top undershirt, holding a half burnt cigarette. The 49-year-old blues guitarist lounges in a chair as he recalls his playing days in Milwaukee. “Hooligan’s, Murray’s Tap, Central Hall, Chancery Pub, Liquid Johnny’s. I done played with Billy Flynn, all them guys, you know, Eugene and the Soul Gang, Stokes and Eddie Butts, Jim Liban, Mississippi Cactus — that’s me, 38 years of it,” he says.
Douglas Moore tends Baylor’s Watermelons stand on the corner of Capitol and Sherman in Roosevelt Grove. “After I retired I just left home one day to go and get a watermelon and ended up working selling watermelon,” said Moore. The way he ended up doing what he’s doing might sound like chance – it was anything but.
Kimberly Gibson walks down Sherman Boulevard, opposite Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church, with her grandson before attending Jazz in the Park. Gibson, who grew up in Detroit and lived in Houston and Atlanta, came to Milwaukee because her mother, “Brenda” as she refers to her, was sick. Gibson didn’t want to come but she did what she had to. “I don’t consider her my mother. Her son wouldn’t come so I uprooted my children and came here.”
Adam Childs has lived in Milwaukee all his life. “Yeah, born and raised,” he said. The 29-year-old Childs, who grew up near 38th and Thurston, said his family has made the most of what wasn’t always an ideal situation. “It was hard. We didn’t have a lot, you know, but what we had we came together with and we made it a lot.”
Carl Anderson grew up in Chicago but he came to Milwaukee when he was young, in part to escape the violence there. Unfortunately, he said Milwaukee doesn’t seem so different, these days. “I got off track for a minute, started messing around in the streets, ended up going to prison, now I’m back out on parole and stuff and I’m trying to do right now,” he said.