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People on the Street | Ackkaamayah Yahoudah (Part 1)

Ackkaamayah Yahoudah, who was raised in the inner city by a single mother, has set out to correct the record.

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Ex-prisoner: incarceration is “destroying our people”

Caliph Muab-el has spent almost half of his life in prison. The 36-year-old was incarcerated from the ages of 15 to 29; ten of those years, he states, were in solitary confinement. He served time with two of his brothers and his grandfather, and says he saw fathers meet their children for the first time while incarcerated together.

Muab-el, former MSDF detainee Alan Schultz and Joseph Walker, another former inmate, said incarceration creates a cycle that both harms people and keeps them from becoming healthy again. Muab-el pointed to a “systematic design” that binds inner city communities — particularly people of color — to poverty.

“This is an urgent issue that demands urgent attention,” said Muab-el. “We’re talking about the right to live, the right to thrive …  These systems are destroying our people.”

Incarcerated people across the country are demanding fair treatment, a prevailing wage and access to rehabilitation services in the wake of an April riot at Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina. Dubbed the deadliest incident of violence in a U.S. prison in 25 years, the riot claimed the lives of seven people and injured dozens more. Eyewitness reports state correctional staff did not intervene in the violence, or provide adequate medical aid.

The national strike, lasting until September 9, encourages prisoners to temporarily cripple prisoner-fueled labor. Locally, a campaign to close the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility (MSFD) is standing in solidarity with those striking. The campaign, which began early last year, has called on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to shutter the state-run institution.

According to Close MSDF organizer Ben Turk, if the strike is able to attract enough attention it could alter the way prisons are run and affect the profits of contractors that benefit from inmate labor. But, he says, MSDF administrators have cracked down on striking prisoners.

The Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility was founded in 2001 to house people who violated parole. Shortly after it opened, the facility broadened who it was willing to house. Although its max capacity is 1,040 people, MSDF averaged 1,077 every day in 2017. According to its website, unlike other Department of Corrections (DOC) Institutions, “MSDF accepts new offenders 24-hours-a-day.”

Activists point out that many individuals housed there have been re-arrested and detained for minor parole violations, not new crimes.

Former inmates describe inhumane conditions, including intense heat and guards intentionally denying people access to water. Reports of spotty medical and mental health treatment also permeate the contested facility. On average, one person has died in the facility every year since it opened. Ten of of those deaths, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports, occurred between 2008 and 2012.

During a short stay at MSDF in 2004, Schultz said he and cellmates were not able to wash, drink or flush the toilet for two days, after correctional officers turned off the water.

“We’re here [and] we’re concerned about this,” he said. “It’s not going away, it’s getting worse.”

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Caliph Muab-el speaks at a recent Close MSDF rally. Muab-el, who was incarcerated for 15 years, is working with groups in Milwaukee, Madison and Chicago to combat incarceration, which he says is part of a system that preys on communities of color. (Photo by Jabril Faraj)

Close MSDF has consistently engaged in public action to call attention to the facility. The campaign, which is led by former MSDF detainees, has provided a platform for former prisoners to call for reform. At a recent demonstration in downtown Milwaukee, formerly incarcerated people and their family members gathered to do just that.

Damene Garrison’s significant other, Lucas, has been inside MSDF for over 252 days. Since arriving, he’s been in and out largely due to what Garrison feels is a broken parole system. In one case, Lucas was re-arrested just 16 hours after being released, under dubious circumstances. Another time, he was detained after his GPS monitor malfunctioned.

This cycle of repeated detention has cost Lucas two jobs. According to Garrison, the mounting stress ultimately contributed to a failed suicide attempt, which landed him in the hospital.

Inside MSDF, Garrison told Milwaukee Stories, Lucas isn’t getting the regular blood tests doctors ordered after his suicide attempt. She claims he’s also being deprived of mental health services, and says he’s lost 10 pounds in 30 days.

“I’m scared,” says Garrison.

Joseph Walker, 35, who had two seizures while in custody at the Milwaukee County Jail, said prisoners don’t receive adequate health or mental health care.

Walker said, guards were largely inattentive to the needs of prisoners, and the complaint system provided to inmates was ineffective. According to Walker, inmates would verbally lash out at guards, or even flood cells just to be noticed. “If you act a fool you get your meds,” he said. “You have to be disruptive to get help.”

“Trauma keeps you where you are,” noted Muab-el. “Why would you choose a better way when this is what you’re faced with?”

Demonstrators stressed that, though little official information is available about conditions in these facilities and prison officials repeatedly deny allegations of abuse, reports from prisoners are consistent and credible.

“We came out here show love for the people locked up in there,” said Elijah Helm, a member of Bad Religion, a trio of young rappers who performed at the MSDF protest. “We stand with them.”

And, despite the lack of action from Governor Walker, activists remain motivated. Joseph Ellwanger, a local pastor and interfaith leader, encouraged organizers to push forward, noting that all eight candidates in the Democratic primary for governor supported incarceration reform. Democratic nominee Tony Evers, who will take on Walker in November, views incarceration as a racial justice issue. According to Evers’ website, he would end crimeless revocation, mandatory minimums and solitary confinement, and invest in alternatives, including diversion programs, restorative justice strategies and living-wage employment.

“This ain’t ending anytime soon,” said Schultz. “And I ain’t going nowhere.”

Jabril Faraj contributed to this story

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State Assembly candidate: invest in communities, not corporations

Rick Banks knocks the same knock at every house he approaches. It’s rhythmic, not heavy-handed, yet with purpose.

“I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback,” Rick says of the knock, noting that people said it’s how they knew he wasn’t threatening.

Not unlike many central city neighborhoods, most screen doors are locked and residents are apprehensive — many peek through their window or yell through the door before coming out. Still, there are others who refuse to answer, evidence of the deep distrust that exists. “It’s a fear thing,” according to Banks, a candidate to represent the 16th State Assembly District, which includes swaths of the East Side — including parts of Riverwest, Harambee and Brewers Hill — and the near west side, to 35th Street.

“I think we need to feel secure,” said Ernestine Rawls. “I don’t think I should have to feel uncomfortable in my own neighborhood.”

When Rawls moved into a home near 22nd and Walnut streets 30 years ago, it was the only one on the block. Because of this, it was a target for theft, she says.

The area, which was largely vacant, began to fill with homes, many of which were built through Habitat for Humanity. As the neighborhood began to fill with more people, Rawls says she experienced less break-ins; the drug deals that regularly occurred in front of their home eventually moved to the block just south. Still, the family has had lawn mowers, snow blowers, bikes and more stolen. In one particular instance, a man Rawls sheltered in their home after he claimed to have been robbed took her daughter’s wallet.

Rawls, who holds a master’s degree from UWM, admits the poverty that afflicts much of Milwaukee is at least partially to blame for the crime she and others have experienced. And, while immediate resident concerns include fixing poorly maintained roads, reckless driving and replacing a stoplight that was recently knocked down, much deeper issues are at play.

This census tract — bounded by Brown, Galena, 27th and 20th streets — seems to be more stratified than other distressed central city neighborhoods. While per-person income is only $17,172, median household income is more than $20,000 higher and 11 percent of households bring in more than $100,000 a year.

Ninety-five percent of residents — 90 percent of whom are Black — have been in the neighborhood more than 10 years, and two-third of the houses are owner occupied.

Still, some residents described feelings of helplessness, particularly in relation to housing and employment. They expressed a desire for something better, yet are doubtful that a system which hasn’t worked for them in the past will ever change.

Christina Bonds, a single mother of four, aspires to home ownership but hasn’t been able to save enough for a down payment on her $11-per-hour wage. Bonds, who has worked in factories, as a home health care worker and in food service, wants to become a nurse but doesn’t have the time or money to acquire the education necessary. So she remains in the rat-infested 3-bedroom apartment she rents for $925 a month.

Bonds, who grew up not far away, near 29th and Brown, says all she wants is for her children, the youngest of whom is 3, to have a better life. “I want them to be in a safe environment where they can go out and play.” She says the biggest barrier for her to attend nursing school is the cost of childcare.

Bryan, a 26-year-old Black man who has lived in the area since 1999, said police regularly harass individuals who are doing nothing but minding their own business. “Why they just pull up, snatchin’ us, searchin’ us for no reason?” he asks. “Is it illegal to sit in your car?”

“There’s a system at play,” says another resident, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 40 years. They worry about being pushed out, pointing to recent moves by corporations and monied interests to expand Milwaukee’s downtown area.  

“It’s about the money — it’s not about us, it’s about the money.”

The resident requested their name not be shared for fear that such statements might make them a target, of whom they were unclear.

“We create these arbitrary borders and distinctions,” says Banks. “How do we make sure people have the basics?”

Banks referenced the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which acknowledges that all people, inherently, possess dignity and “inalienable rights.” It states that the recognition of this truth is “the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,” while also admitting this hope has not yet come to pass. “The advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people.”

Courtney Nabors, a resident of North 24th Street, lost his driver’s license and has been unable to get a new one because of back child support. He points out that this condition prevents him from getting to “the good paying jobs” so he can repay that debt. He said understanding is important.

“The system is crazy,” says Nabors. “We need some balance.”

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Banks, a community organizer, grew up near 23rd and Hopkins before his family moved to the Lapham Park Housing Projects. (Photo by Jabril Faraj)

Banks, a community organizer by trade, was considering law school and had just accepted a position with Black Leaders Organizing for Change (BLOC) when Leon Young, who represented the 16th District for 25 years, stepped down. Banks, who grew up near 23rd and Hopkins before his family moved to the Lapham Park Housing Projects, said he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to run.

An openly gay anti-capitalist, Banks says the state’s priorities — which he claims value large corporations over individuals — need to change. His platform focuses on reforming the criminal justice system and developing community-based economies. According to Banks, investing in the local efforts of individuals will protect folks from the instability that can come from relying on large employers.

In order to nurture ownership, he says people need access to capital. “It’s all about what’s on the block … People in the community know what goods and services they need.”

Banks also supports full legalization of cannabis, raising the minimum wage and expanding access to health care, child care and mental health services. Creating a healthy environment by investing in sustainable energy, affordable housing and urban agriculture is a pillar of his candidacy.

And, Banks faces an uphill battle; he doesn’t have name recognition or loads of money. Signs promoting 19-year-old Kalan Haywood II — the son of a local real estate developer — and Milwaukee County Supervisor Supreme Moore Omokunde (whose mother is Congresswoman Gwen Moore) can be spotted in store windows and front yards throughout the district. Banks is hoping to turn out first-time voters, and individuals who may not have voted in a long time, but he says that’s hard to do without financial support, which would allow him to pay canvassers and purchase materials, such as signs (most of Banks’ campaign has been powered by volunteers).

Still, he’s hit the streets, knocking doors and speaking with residents, almost every day since mid-June. He says he’s encountered some people who say they don’t vote or don’t plan to; some have been discouraged by recent events and, for others, it simply isn’t a priority. But, according to Banks, nothing will change if people choose to stay silent.

“I always vote,” says Mary Jackson, another longtime resident Banks spoke with while canvassing. Though she couldn’t say whether or not she would vote for him, she feels she can’t complain if she stays home on election day.

“Whether or not my vote counts,” she says, “it counts to me.”

The primary will take place August 14, with the victor most likely running unopposed in November’s general election. If you would like to make a donation to Banks’ campaign you can do so here.

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Podcast: Vaun Mayes

In this exclusive interview, recorded in August 2017, Vaun Mayes, a community activist and co-founder of Program the Parks, talks about growing up in The South, the importance of empathy and the forces — including racism, profiteering and crime — at work in Milwaukee. 

“It’s about the haves and have-nots,” says Mayes. “If you hoard something to yourself and live in a house surrounded by people who don’t have it, more than likely they’re going to get it from you.”

Mayes, who had a difficult childhood — from abuse to brushes with the law — speaks about why people must find community and learn to share again. “Though I see failure and though I see chaos, I see a reason for hope,” he adds. “I think that we have an opportunity to do something very big.”

Program the Parks works with challenged youth in Sherman Park, and across the city. The group is almost exclusively supported by small, individual donations. If you would like to contribute to these efforts, click here to donate.

Editor’s note: Mayes was recently accused by the federal government of conspiring to firebomb a Milwaukee police station in the wake of the Sherman Park unrest in late 2016, charges which many community members question. You can find our coverage of the case here.

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Community activist freed from federal custody, as supporters question legitimacy of charges

Four white United States Marshals guide Vaun Mayes, dressed in drab blue prison clothing and dull orange slippers, down a second floor hallway of the Federal Courthouse downtown. His head is bare, hands and feet shackled. A crowd of community members watch, and eventually follow single-file, as Mayes is led into one of the building’s many courtrooms.

It’s the second time in three days a large contingent of community folks have turned out to support Mayes, a well-known activist recently accused of plotting to firebomb the District 7 police station in late 2016. Mayes was formally indicted by a grand jury in a closed hearing Tuesday.

A judge ruled two days earlier that Mayes should not remain incarcerated during his trial, as the government did not present “clear and convincing” evidence he is a flight risk or “danger to the community.” Mayes was scheduled to be released within 24 hours of the judge’s ruling, but the government appealed the decision, citing the “violent and dangerous” nature of the allegations and additional allegations of witness intimidation.

During the appeal hearing, U.S. Attorney Christopher Ladwig argued that Mayes is dangerous, casting him as an individual who uses his influence to persuade young people to commit violent acts and utilizes intimidation tactics to silence opponents. Ultimately, when pressed, Ladwig admitted his evidence was “circumstantial,” and Judge Pamela Pepper upheld the previous ruling, to a cheer from supporters.

Pepper encouraged people to let the case play out in the courtroom. “It is not a help to Mr. Mayes if people take the process into their own hands.”

In an exclusive interview with Milwaukee Stories after being released Mayes said he was touched by the showing of family, friends and community members. As he sat in the courtroom reading a letter of support before the appeal hearing, Mayes said, “I literally was crying.”

Mayes, who began patrolling Sherman Park in June 2016 to help de-escalate fights between area youth, is a prominent and controversial figure. Since then, he and Program the Parks co-founder Gabriel Taylor have provided regular meals, activities and direction for area youth, many of whom are in challenging situations. (Full disclosure: Milwaukee Stories Founder and Editor-in-Chief Jabril Faraj has covered Mayes, Taylor and Program the Parks since around the time of the unrest, and has made personal donations to the organization; Program the Parks is a supporter of Milwaukee Stories)

According to law enforcement, the firebombing was set to take place August 15, 2016, two days after Sylville K. Smith was shot and killed by a Milwaukee police officer. A criminal complaint written by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agent Rick Hankins claims — based on the word of two unnamed informants that Mayes was present at an apartment where materials to make Molotov cocktails were found, and that he manufactured some of the illegal explosives himself. Hankins writes that ATF found Molotov cocktails in a dumpster behind the apartment building, just off Sherman Boulevard; additional materials were found inside one of the apartments.

According to the complaint, a search of Mayes’ home found bottles of Everfresh juice and wine coolers, apparently identical to those found in the dumpsters. No Molotov cocktails, or any other materials, were found at Mayes’ apartment.

Mayes is charged with attempted arson, possession of a firearm and “possession of a destructive device in relation to a crime of violence.” The charges would carry a minimum of 30 years’ imprisonment.

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Mayes is led, shackled, into the second floor courtroom. (Photo by Jabril Faraj)

The plot of which Mayes is accused was never carried out. And, the timing of his arrest has caused many to question the legitimacy of the charges.

“I don’t believe any of this — I don’t,” said Aisha Carr, a teacher who has spent time helping Mayes and others with programming in Sherman Park. “This man ruffled feathers … he disrupted the system.”

Carr said Mayes’ community policing and youth work has shown people how to help themselves, and not rely on the government. “He’s done the work a lot of others should’ve done a long time ago.”

Suzelle Lynch, a Minister at Unitarian Universal Church West, said Mayes has effectively subverted the established system because he builds relationships with people, regardless of skin color or social class; she believes he’s been targeted because of it.

Mayes’ relationship with law enforcement has often been adversarial and, at times, confrontational; he and Taylor have said this stems from officers’ tendencies to criminalize the young people they work with. Mayes was arrested multiple times by Milwaukee police during and after Smith’s shooting and the unrest that followed, despite reports that he was working to diffuse tensions. The Milwaukee Police Department’s distaste for Mayes is not a secret; officers have even, at times, been known to speak disparagingly of him in public.

Historically, Black social justice leaders have often found themselves at odds with law enforcement. MPD surveilled and harassed NAACP Youth Council Commandos during the Open Housing Marches in Milwaukee; Chicago Police murdered 21-year-old Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in 1969; and the FBI systematically infiltrated and destroyed “subversive” political organizations — including civil rights and Black Power groups — with its Counter Intelligence Program, dubbed COINTELPRO. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, determined to prevent a cohesive Black movement from forming, used psychological warfare, smear campaigns, wrongful imprisonment and assassination to intimidate individuals and destabilize organizations.

The Jeff Sessions-led Department of Justice has renewed interest in “Black Identity Extremists,” who it claims are a violent threat to law enforcement. A report, prepared by the FBI’s Domestic Terrorism Analysis Unit, says activists’ “perceptions of unjust treatment,” grievances regarding police violence and a discriminatory criminal justice system have caused retaliation against law enforcement that will eventually lead to premeditated attacks. The crackdown has been compared to COINTELPRO.

“I’m really just speechless,” said state assembly candidate Danielle McClendon-Williams as she emerged from the courtroom. “I just don’t get it.”

Reverend Ellen Rasmussen, of Brown Deer United Methodist, who spoke on Mayes’ behalf during the appeal, said she’s “very grateful he’s being released.” She described him as skilled organizer who transforms lives “in a positive manner.”

“Vaun has been instrumental in the healing of our neighbors,” said Rasmussen. “He senses, listens and responds with compassion and hope.”

Though supporters know this is only the beginning, the mood was noticeably light in the aftermath of the decision. The plan for that night: celebration, complete with a large batch of banana pudding. “It’s Vaun’s favorite,” said Lavita Booker, who has also worked closely with Mayes. “We’ll take this a day at a time.”

Mayes, looking relieved, reunited with Booker and Taylor outside. He tied his red, green and black durag back into place under the gaze of two photographs straddling the courthouse entrance — one of President Donald Trump; the other, Vice President Pence.

“Now,” Mayes said, “I can fight.”

The United States Attorney’s Office and Milwaukee Police Department did not respond to requests for comment.

Isiah Holmes co-authored this report

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Group seeks millions to light Hoan Bridge, as Milwaukee communities suffer

On a rainy Monday evening, I find my way to a dimly lit table in the back corner of Art Bar, a hip watering hole in Riverwest. The East Side neighborhood, where I spent much of my childhood, has changed dramatically since my parents purchased a home there for less than $15,000 in 1992.

A recent assessment valued that same home at $108,000. As of the most recent census data, housing prices have just about tripled in the neighborhood since 1990. The difference has been even more pronounced following the 2008 housing market crash, with median home values rebounding to $161,000, while that same figure in Harambee (the adjacent neighborhood, where I have lived for the last five years) sits under $70,000.

More than 40 percent of Riverwesters have a college degree, up from less than a quarter 25 years ago, while more than 20 percent live in poverty. A neighborhood once known for its diversity, now about two-thirds of residents are white.

On this day, I’m meeting Ian Abston, a co-founder and former leader of Newaukee, a local young professional networking group. Newaukee, under Abston’s direction, developed a large following of downtown-dwelling, millennial-age professionals who sought to redefine Milwaukee. He also spearheaded the creation of Young Professional Week, a statewide event whose goal is to attract 20-somethings to Milwaukee and 26 other cities. (Full disclosure: I have known Abston personally since 2011, was deeply involved in Newaukee until 2014 and helped conceive Young Professional Week)

Abston, who consults on Millennial issues, is a board member of the Greater Milwaukee Committee and has been interested in real estate as of late, agreed to meet because he’s also the director of Hoan Group, an organization that recently announced a campaign to light up the Hoan Bridge.

The campaign, which is largely modeled after similar efforts in San Francisco, Pittsburgh, New York City and Edmonton, Alberta (Canada), is hoping to raise $1.5 million next year, and $5 million over the next 20 years, to put hundreds of lights on the bridge. Each light will honor a Milwaukee individual or organization and recognize “the countless unseen or under-celebrated acts of kindness, generosity and service that give our city hope.”

People can dedicate a light for $25, or donate as much as $500; donations, which are being funneled through the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, will go to the Light the Hoan organization.

Abston described the project as “vibrant,” “cool” and something that will “set this city apart.” But others have called the campaign “tone-deaf” and criticized it for not directing funds to organizations addressing local issues.

“We’re not a conduit for donations,” said Abston, clarifying that even if a light is dedicated to an organization, that organization will not be in line to receive any of the associated funds. He said Light the Hoan plans to employ writers to promote the campaign.

“Do I think that’s right? No,” said Lori Hayman, a lawyer. Despite her personal feelings, Hayman explained that the approach is legal as long as the group doesn’t make a profit.

A social justice advocate whose work focuses on neighborhood issues called the campaign “nonsense,” adding, “In 10 years, if we’ve got people with houses and neighborhoods that aren’t being torn down, maybe we can do that.” They said a portion of the funds should be used to combat homelessness and displacement in Milwaukee neighborhoods.

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Riverside real estate in the city’s Harbor District, just south of the Third Ward and east of Walker’s Point, currently represents some of the greatest opportunity in the city for developers, to the tune of a potential $864 million in increased property values. And plans for the area are already in the works with the City of Milwaukee Planning Commission unanimously endorsing the Harbor District water and land use plan in January. The Hoan Bridge is a demonstrative part of the skyline, when viewed from these properties.

Abston leads a group of prominent, white Milwaukeeans, including Jeff Sherman of OnMilwaukee.com; Michael Hostad, director of innovation at the Greater Milwaukee Committee; and Lori Richards, a partner and president at Mueller Communications.

OnMilwaukee, FOX6, the BizTimes and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel all published stories promoting the campaign in the wake of its launch in May. Abston said he ran the idea by local Black leaders, including Municipal Court Judge Derek Mosley. Mosley, who has dedicated three lights, including one to his kidney donor, said, “I wasn’t involved in the planning — I just thought it was a good idea.”

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has spoken glowingly of the project. “The Daniel Hoan Memorial Bridge has long been a symbol of Milwaukee,” said Barrett. “This effort to light the bridge up demonstrates the next generation’s commitment to putting their mark on the future of the City.”

Twenty-nine percent of people who live in Milwaukee earn wages less than the federal poverty line; that number is twice the national average. People of color who live in the city, which is one of the most segregated in the country, experience higher rates of poverty, incarceration and police violence than their white counterparts.

Thousands of children, primarily those who live in central city communities, continue to be poisoned by lead, as the City of Milwaukee — mired in disorganization and mismanagement — has failed to provide a comprehensive, strategic response.

According to Dennis Walton, a former organizer with the City of Milwaukee, there is an absence of leadership in the city among those in positions of power. “The real leaders aren’t being supported,” he said, referring to individuals working in neighborhoods to feed, clothe and house people.

Walton, who founded Made Men Worldwide, a fatherhood-focused mentoring organization, said it is essential for people to broaden their perspective, and be willing to engage outside their typical circles. When people are willing to do this, Walton says, it allows for growth. “We have to get out of the rat race … you have to be able to share in the struggle of all people.”

He added, “We’re all struggling to overcome something. So, if we can share in it we can overcome in a more genuine way.”

Light the Hoan has received more than 400 dedications, the majority of which are personal notes to loved ones. Only 32 of those donations have come from the 53206, 53208, 53209, 53216 and 53208 ZIP codes, which represent a population of almost 240,000, 30 percent of whom live in poverty.

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‘20 Weeks, 20 Hoods’ promotes peace by building relationships

Residents of Milwaukee’s central city are campaigning for safer neighborhoods.

A group of about 25 marched through Garden Homes, just north of Capitol Drive near 27th Street, Sunday, attracting attention of motorists and other bystanders, some of whom came out of their homes to say hello. It was the third of 20 demonstrations planned throughout the summer in five central city neighborhoods that organizers hope will spread positivity and connect community members with resources.

Some North Side neighborhoods can be dangerous, particularly for Black men, who represent more than 80 percent of the city’s homicide deaths in recent years. Gun violence is a persistent challenge for many central city neighborhoods where a disproportionately high amount of residents experience poverty.

Vaun Mayes co-founded 20 Weeks, 20 Hoods in 2014. The marches were meant to combat violence by promoting alternatives. But he said more needs to be done.

“I felt like I was leaving people with their issues,” says Mays.

Since then, the campaign has conducted community surveys to find out what residents need. Mayes and others have also provided grief-counseling, and facilitated discussions between alderpeople and their constituents. The hope is that residents will become more involved in improving their quality of life.

Rodney Triggs, who lost a friend to gun violence, attended the march to display love for his community. “Someone has to say enough is enough,” he said. “If we don’t who will?”

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Demonstrators marched through the streets chanting “We don’t need no mother’s crying, we don’t need no children dying,” and other slogans meant to promote peace.

Isaiah Jacobs, who lives on the 2500 block of Hope Street, says it’s important for people to get involved, and stand up for the future they’d like to see.

“There’s a lot of violence in the community, and there aren’t enough people coming out to do something about it.”

The group will meet every Sunday at 2 p.m. through October 20. This week will mark the final demonstration in Garden Homes; the remaining neighborhoods have yet to be chosen.⬩

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Juneteenth Day celebration unites Black Milwaukee

Despite poor conditions, thousands of Black Milwaukeeans turned out June 19th to celebrate the 152nd anniversary of the event considered by many to represent the actual end of slavery in the United States.

The Juneteenth Day celebration in Milwaukee, organized by Northcott Neighborhood House, stretches up Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, from Center Street to Burleigh. The annual event features performances, food and local proprietors offering wares, from scented oils to hand-stitched clothing.

Juneteenth is the only Milwaukee festival where the presence of police is significant and noticeable. No major incidents occurred.

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Though the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect in 1863, it was not until two years later that the news reached Galveston, Texas, a small city on the coast near Houston. Texas had become a refuge for those fleeing battleground states, some of whom brought enslaved people with them; the announcement abolished one of the country’s last bastions of slavery. Immediately afterward, freedmen rejoiced in the street; the first official festival, organized a year later was dubbed “Juneteenth.”

However, the end of slavery, in law, did not end the practice of dehumanizing Black people. Black Americans have continued to experience legal and extrajudicial discrimination, disenfranchisement, detention and death because of the color of their skin.⬩

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MacCanon Brown Homeless Sanctuary builds community in 53206

Shirley Curtis, 72, shuffles down an alley behind the MacCanon Brown Homeless Sanctuary, 2461 W. Center St., supported by a man about half her age, one of the many volunteers helping to sort donations on this sunny early-spring afternoon.

Curtis, who lives on $900 a month in social security income and receives less than $20 a month in food assistance, left with some sweaters, fruit and juice for her grandchildren. “It’s something I won’t have to spend money for,” she said, adding that she plans to tell others about her experience.

“I felt welcome — the people were nice and friendly,” says Curtis. “I would come back.”

“It comes from God, and we don’t need it — why would we make people pay?” asks Sister MacCanon Brown, the sanctuary’s namesake.

The sanctuary is a labor of love for Brown, who co-founded and spent 22 years with Repairers of the Breach, an organization that advocates for and provides resources to people experiencing homelessness. Despite leaving the organization in 2013 over a dispute regarding its vision, Brown was determined to continue the work to which she has dedicated much of her life.

In December 2016, Brown closed on the Center Street building. Though the structure still needs a lot of work, Brown’s vision is clear. She intends to create a comprehensive resource center for people without regular housing and those who are at risk; the building will also serve as an emergency shelter on particularly cold winter nights. In the meantime, the organization provides free clothing, bag lunches and other necessities from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday.

The group also offers a 3 p.m. meal on Fridays at Hephatha Lutheran Church, 1720 W. Locust St., and distributes clothes, shoes, coats, blankets and hygiene products at the church Sundays between noon and 1 p.m.

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On this particular day, we enter through a large garage-door entrance off the alley. Tables display corn, fruit, roasted chipotle red beans and “nourish bowls” made of cauliflower, chickpeas and curry sauce. A volunteer tends bins of bathroom essentials, including tooth brushes, soap, shampoo and tampons in the next room. Four or five others help unload and sort through the truckloads that arrive from places as far as Grafton, New Berlin, Oconomowoc, Cedarburg and South Milwaukee.

Though donations come from across the region, many regular volunteers live in the neighborhood; some have experienced homelessness themselves.

Eddie Kentle lives near 23rd and Chambers streets, where he’s been for 15 years. In addition to volunteering between eight and 10 hours a week with Brown, Kentle holds down a job at Little Caesar’s. He describes the area as a “food desert,” adding that there may be a corner store here or there but prices are often too high in an area where almost half the population lives in poverty.

“It’s a blessing just to give someone something they need,” says Geraldine Lucas, 63, who has volunteered at the Center Street and Hephatha locations for three years. “It makes your heart feel good to see that look on peoples’ faces.”

Lucas travels a little farther than Kentle, riding three different buses from her home near 60th and Appleton to come and help.

According to MBHS, more than 250 people have given their time, about a third of whom are in economic hardship themselves. And, Brown doesn’t send anyone away without a heartfelt thank-you, a bag lunch or something else they need.

“We create community with the people who are with us,” she says.

The sanctuary has an opportunity to be the “pioneering model” of a self-sufficient “homeless community center,” Brown notes. Plans for the five-story building include a rooftop garden, aquaponics-based agriculture, a dining room and commercial kitchen, where people will be served restaurant-style with food grown on-site. A makerspace with training for those interested in woodworking, electronics, printing, welding and will also be available, as well as employment resources and other assistance.

So far, Brown has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase the building and make necessary repairs; she receives partial compensation for the hours she gives, and currently employs three people on a part-time basis. According to Brown, more than 700 individuals have made one-time and sustaining donations, which has enabled the organization to remain grassroots and debt-free. She points out that their mission is not money-driven, “but the need is big.”

There is still much to do. The building needs a new roof, evidenced by pools of standing water on the upper floors, a cost Brown estimates at almost $100,000. And, to realize her vision of a fully-staffed and -resourced community center, the cost is in the millions. Still, Brown seems undeterred.

“It’s a faith thing, but it’s not blind faith,” she says, as her aged hands point eagerly to floor plans and diagrams of what the building will be. “It’s already happening.”

Brown tells me that solidarity is important, and indeed support will be necessary if her vision is to come to fruition. Shirley Curtis, who has already benefited from the community Brown is building, has another take:

“It does not take more than one voice to start something.”

If you would like to make a cash donation to the MBHS building or operations fund you can do so here. For clothing or food donations, please contact Sister MacCanon Brown at 414-305-8997 or maccanon.brown@att.net.

Update (June 18, 2018): In response to questions, MBHS sent Milwaukee Stories this statement explaining why the nonprofit is named after Brown.

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MSO, Gibraltar partnership unites people through music

At first glance, Peter Thomas and Evan Christian might look like an odd couple — Peter, a cellist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra; Evan, a flamenco guitarist and Milwaukee mainstay who recently opened a music club in Walker’s Point. Some might say the two don’t go together. But Thomas and Christian would disagree.

The 414 Quartet residency, a partnership that brings MSO musicians to Christian’s club to perform chamber music, is still in its infancy but has shown promise, drawing packed crowds and inspiring powerful performances. Evan and Peter agree chamber music, a more intimate expression of classical, is an accessible way to introduce people to an art form that can often seem reserved for the wealthy or elite.

“The point of playing something, anything, is for people to hear you. And that is the greatest power of music,” Thomas says. “It brings people together.”

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Since Christian opened Gibraltar MKE, in December 2016, it’s taken on an almost-mythical allure for those seeking quality music and a diverse crowd. Gibraltar, located near 6th Street and National Avenue, sits in a largely Hispanic area and draws people from across Milwaukee. That was a consideration, Thomas said, when considering where to host these events.

Christian, whose first instrument was upright bass, has been a long-time admirer of classical music. Gibraltar hosts flamenco acts, DJs, bluegrass bands and a variety of other performers. But Christian said the opportunity to host the quartet is a special treat.

“The experience of being there, and seeing the expression on the face of the musicians — the sweat and all that — that’s the thing,” says Christian. “I’m just really grateful”

Quartet performances are held periodically on Friday nights at Gibraltar. Admission is $15.⬩

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Will you help us build a movement of community-supported news?

As people, we are deeply divided. By politics, place, skin color and economic ability. In Milwaukee — the most segregated city in America, where Black men are disproportionately jailed and people of color experience staggeringly high rates of poverty — these divisions manifest in a way that is particularly alarming.

Part of the reason these divisions persist is because media organizations, many of which are beholden to corporate interests, don’t have the time, perspective or will to seek out the people most affected.

We intend to change that, by building the first community-supported news outlet in the country.

Since I founded Milwaukee Stories in 2014, we’ve shared more than 200 personal stories of people across this city. I have covered the lead poisoning crisis, protests inspired by the police killing of Dontre Hamilton and grassroots efforts to combat violence. I wrote about demonstrations in Sherman Park, before the August 2016 events that captured the nation’s attention. Within the last month, we’ve published stories on incarceration reform, resident fears of gentrification and Latinx-led action to halt a harmful federal program.

What these stories have shown is that united calls for justice cannot be ignored. But the future is never guaranteed — if we are to create a more fair and equitable society, we must support each other and, when necessary, be willing to put our livelihood on the line.

We are committed to seeking out solutions by building relationships with people who exist on the edges of society — those being harmed, and those who are healing. We will focus our coverage on issues that have the potential to create more stable, inclusive and healthy communities. We intend to feature stories told with integrity by individuals who come from the communities they cover. And we intend to compensate them fairly, while being transparent about who is benefitting from our work.

But we can’t do it alone.

To realize this vision, we need people who share in our values to stand up. Are you one of those people?

Without your support, we will cease to exist. Can we count on you?

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