Losing both of his parents in the span of less than two years has given Denzel Jacobs an appreciation for the simple things in life.
Brittany Komperda’s sister passed away from bone cancer when she was 12 years old. As a result, Komperda learned to cherish life, and family.
Despite growing up in a strict and narrow religious tradition, Brian Anders has pursued experiences to broaden his perspective and, in doing so, has learned to rely on himself.
Violet Young walks briskly down North Richards Street dressed almost entirely in purple, a plastic bag in each hand. Exuberant and cheerful, even the below-freezing temperatures can’t dampen her spirits. “You should see what it looks like in summer,” she says, gesturing to a nearby corner park with fruit trees and a small shelter. “It’s beautiful.”
Omar Gayle stands on the porch of a home near the corner of 42nd Street and Auer Avenue. Gayle’s flat-brimmed baseball cap and multi-colored tee pop with fashion, but can’t explain his journey, or where he started from. “I’m a Jamaican,” he says. “It’s a humble beginnin’. We learn to appreciate people and life. I learned to make use of what we got.”
Brian crouches in his yard, gloves on, peering through his glasses at the undesirables inhabiting the small strip of dirt that surrounds his house in Southgate; a basket of already liberated weeds and brush sit next to him on the ground. As of this mid-Spring day, no flowers have bloomed yet. Brian has lived in the Milwaukee area for almost 40 years, but he was born and grew up in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin. “Good place, like any small town, to raise a family,” he says. “But, uh … I’m glad I don’t live there anymore because there’s a lot of — at least when I grew up — there was a lot of prejudiced people.”
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.”
Norma Wheeler sits on the front port of her home in Williamsburg Heights. Wheeler raised all of her children in the house, located on a one-way strip of 2nd Street, where she’s lived for more than 50 years. “I’ve been livin’ in Milwaukee all of my adult life. I raised all of my kids here, in this particular house, and I get along with my neighbors pretty good,” she says.
LuAnn Will’s home at 2659 S. 15th St. sits in the middle of a long dead-end block in Milwaukee’s Polonia neighborhood, inconspicuous except for the bullet holes that litter the front porch and the “We Don’t Call 911” sign displayed in her front window. Will talks about her son, Joseph Lee Walker, as she shows where – porch, front hallway, bedroom – the dozen or so bullets left their mark, constant reminders of that night in early April when Walker was shot three times by Milwaukee Police. Fearing for her life after being threatened by Walker in the midst of what she describes as a psychotic episode, Will was the one who, eventually, called police non-emergency. She only wanted her son, who’s suffered from addiction, depression and mental illness for most of his life, to get the help she’s adamant he needs. But Will could never have imagined what would happen next.
Emanuel Coe bounces a basketball down W. Ridge Ct., headphones in, music loud. His large frame, qualified by kind eyes and a soft-spoken-ness rare in someone his age, seems, somehow, less imposing. Coe grew up in the neighborhood and says that it, simply, feels like home. “I loved bein’ around here. I mean, my family’s all around here and…I come from here, so.”