Though he’s encountered challenges growing up in the city, James Taylor still hesitates to leave it behind.
Helen LeFlore relaxes in the passenger seat of a large, red-colored truck on a quiet street in McGovern Park. The door sits open. Helen, who was born in Detroit, seems comfortable here — at home even. “I’ve been in Milwaukee off and on all my life, due to the point my mom is here, my dad is there, so it’s been a back-and-forth thing,” she says. “Once I got old and was able to make my own decisions, I stayed here in Milwaukee with my mom, ‘cause there was more family here.”
Laura Marshall sits in the dining room of her pristine north side ranch-style home. Hardwood floors and chandeliers grace the house’s welcoming interior; but, less than three years ago, no one could have imagined what it would become. The space, which Marshall and her husband Greg nicknamed ‘Mold Palace,’ was in disrepair — there was no heat, no plumbing, plants protruded from the gutters and it needed a new roof. “We basically bought a brick shell,” says Marshall. “The house was so bad — the only place it could go was up.”
Alexander James walks briskly down North Avenue on an early Saturday afternoon. James has somewhere to be, today, but it’s easy to get the feeling there wouldn’t be much slowing him down, no matter what. James, who grew up in the foster system, says he “bounced around, moved around a lot” as a kid. “Those are the cards I was dealt — my mother, she wasn’t able to take care of us,” he says.
Patricia Huff stands next to her grocery bags as she waits for the bus on the corner of 35th and Meinecke. She’s unassuming besides the largely toothless, lipsticked mouth and smoking cigarette in her hand. Huff grew up in Logansport, Ind., but came to Milwaukee at a young age. “My dad molested me when I was five years old. And my mom sat there and watched him do it,” she says. “And, I went to school and said, ‘My pee pee hurts inside.’ I said, ‘I’m not goin’ back there.’ I didn’t go back.”
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.
Calvin Weston lingers in the parking lot of Lena’s Foods near Teutonia and Capitol. Today, Weston’s selling CDs for two-dollars-a-piece; that’s not what’s on his mind, though, as he walks up to the thigh-high fence that divides the lot and sidewalk. Weston says he’s been trying to get his kids – who were taken from him and his fiancé and placed in foster care – back for the last 15 months. But, despite questions about their safety, the children have not been allowed back with their father. “It’s crazy because they say they take the kids for their protection but they took ‘em from us and called it ‘protecting ‘em’ but put them in an environment which was dangerous, actually. Before my son got abused, I was lettin’ the judge and everyone know, like, ‘I’m concerned about son’s well-being, something’s going on over there, could somebody check it out?’ And it took for him to get hurt for them to…finally, say something or do anything,” said Weston.