Mohamud Suleiman, who has braved the waves of inopportunity and is taking on the responsibilities of fatherhood, still believes his time will come.
Donald Ealy shuffles across an empty Center Street in Park West. Ealy’s tired eyes and thin mustache adorn his weathered face; a patterned cardigan and brown driving cap lend him an air of aged dignity. “When I went to prison, my eyes wasn’t open,” Ealy says. “I wrote the judge a letter thankin’ him for savin’ my life. I had 30 years. The judge brought me back to court because he said he had never got a letter like this before, and he said the letter was so sincere … he brought me back to court and took 15 years away.”
Michael Stephens sits in a wheelchair near the corner of Achilles and Auer streets in Milwaukee’s Harambee neighborhood. These days, Stephens doesn’t have either of his legs, but that doesn’t seem to trouble him, too much. “[I] live day by day,” he says. “Whatever happens, good or bad, [I’ll] deal with it, like I’ve always done.”
Peaches Ellis leans against a railing of her porch in Sherman Park. The 49-year-old wears a wide smile; her bellowing laugh can be heard early and often, in between sentences, up and down a sunny 41st Street. “It was beautiful, it really was,” says Ellis of growing up in Milwaukee. “That was a long time ago. But it was beautiful because it was more peaceful, everybody got along, everybody helped one another.”
Marcell Turner walks briskly down a stretch of 37th Street, just north of Vliet in Washington Park. Turner, who sports a University of Wisconsin jacket and backwards hat, has roots in the neighborhood. “Look at our streets — it’s dirty, raggedy, trashy — look how people are treated,” he says. “I just want peace in the world. I want everybody to feel free in the world; I don’t want nobody to feel like they gotta be controlled by someone.”
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.
Brandon James kneels in the doorway of a towering duplex on the 300 block of West Mineral Street in Walker’s Point, painting the upstairs door a deep blue. James, who owns the home, lives in Bay View but grew up in West Allis — “basically” Milwaukee, he says. “It was nice; it was quiet. I didn’t live too far from a park so we spent a lot of time at the park, at least in the summer,” he says. “We actually lived upstairs in a duplex that my grandma owns and my grandma lived downstairs.”
Dave Wroten lounges against a concrete sidewalk border on West Chambers Street in the waning hours of Juneteenth Day. The 54-year-old Wroten remembers a time when things in Milwaukee, where he was “born and raised,” were different. Wroten grew up on 10th and Locust. “It was beautiful,” he says. “That’s when black people actually had black establishments and, you know, you neighbor was your lawyer … That’s when black people knew black people.”