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.”
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.”
Preston Jones smokes a cigarette outside the Milwaukee Rescue Mission on W. Wells Street in the Marquette neighborhood. Expelling the smoke seems like a sacred ritual for Jones — he opens his mouth in a long “o” shape, exposing his slender, yellow-stained teeth, before breathing out. Jones was “born and raised right here in Milwaukee” and, for the most part, hasn’t left. “I done been to Chicago before, I done been to Holly Springs, Mississippi, before — only one time to each one of them,” he says, though you wouldn’t know from hearing him talk — his voice is loud with a hint of southern drawl.