Daniel Kwasigroch, who lost his mother at a young age, has struggled with addiction for much of his life. Now, with the help of another woman in his life, he’s working toward a better future.
Leonard Gage Jr. has lived through challenges some could not even imagine. In the process, he learned from past failures and found a reason for hope.
Jack Daniel Reese sits with his friend at a picnic table in Jackson Park, not far from Forest Home Avenue. Reese’s unbuttoned jean shirt, greying hair, hard, weathered look and a long scar on his left cheek give a little hint to where he’s been. “My buddy … he makes sure I get outside just to talk,” he says. “He’s knowledgeable and he’s [a] very kind person. He respects me and I respect him — he’s like a brother, you know?”
Deirek Smith pushes a tattered stroller down West Lancaster Avenue on a sunny spring day in Old North Milwaukee. The stroller is filled to capacity with a mound of scrap metal — mostly an air conditioner he had the fortune of coming across. Smith, 57, walks with a leisurely gait toward a scrap yard on Mill Road. “I was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. I been here since 1964. And, my life took some real [turns], after one lady I was with for, what, 20 years, she died of cancer. And, then, after her, I met another lady and she died of cancer after 8 years,” he says. “So, I’ve been just doin’ this.”
Jonathan Groves walks down West Locust Street, toward 19th, carrying a big, black garbage bag filled to the brim with clothes. Groves, who was born in Milwaukee, wears two large sweatshirts, one on top of the other, both draped over his slight frame. Hephatha Lutheran Church looms behind him. “I grew up on the north side of Milwaukee; King Drive, 7th and King Drive,” he says. “I had some good parents and went to school — didn’t graduate. Church, you know, um. Then, as I got older, drugs, alcohol. But thank god I ain’t on that no more.”
Calvin Young saunters down the steps of a porch near 37th and Roberts in Washington Park. The 55-year-old, distinguished by his fully grey, mid-length beard and two-tone skin color, walks into the empty, sunlit street to ask for a dollar or two. “I’m trying to change my life around. [The] only thing, right now, is I’m just an alcoholic — that’s it, that’s all,” says Young, who admits he was once addicted to crack cocaine, as well.
Annie Davis sits in a swath of shade on the lowly set sill of a window near the corner of 41st and North gazing out into the sunlight while she waits. The 61-year-old Davis grew up in Greenwood, Miss., the daughter of a sharecropper. Life was not easy. “We didn’t have no money so we had to help our mother, you know. We had to chop cotton, pick cotton … so I didn’t get a chance to go to school,” says Davis. “My mother, she grew up doin’ the same thing, almost like slavery.”
Joe Guentner leans against what might as well be a white picket fence in front of his home on South 21st Street. The 64-year-old Guentner, who was the oldest of eight, spent the majority of his childhood in Racine, where his mother was from. “I lived on Lake Michigan … literally on the beach,” says Guentner of the place they lived in Racine. “We lived at that place for a number of years before we had to vacate and they tore it down.”
Calip Stephens sits on small pier in a hidden boat landing in Harbor View just off Lake Michigan on an early Friday morning. Stephens is up before the sunrise and, it seems, before the fish, as well; his two poles, two lines cast, heed no bites. Stephens was born in 1950 in East Chicago, Indiana, about 15 miles outside Gary. Back then, he says, the fishing was a little easier. “Oh, it was boomin’, the livin’ was nice,” he says.
Terry Ellis walks down W. Kilbourn Ave. across from Norris Park in Milwaukee’s Marquette neighborhood on a still-chilly spring day, hood on, collar up. His breath cuts through the cold air as he struts, hands in his pockets, down the empty sidewalk. Ellis was born in Milwaukee and grew up on the north side near 25th and Capitol. “I had a good childhood,” he says but, then, qualifies. “I mean, pretty typical, you know, for any child — particularly an African-American child — in the inner city. Had good times, bad times.”