Jose Vasquez, a former gang member, talks about the emptiness he felt as a young person, his personal journey of change and why he has dedicated his life to working with youth who are experiencing many of the same challenges he did.
Yolanda Oyola stands, inconspicuous, in the shadow of a large building on the corner of Dakota and S. 9th Place. She wears her multi-colored hair in a large bunch on the top of her head. But, despite the ostentatious look, Oyola speaks with a gentle meekness. “I missed my friends back in Massachusetts,” she says. “But, um, I got used to Milwaukee and, yeah, it’s nice living here. I got new friends … so, everything’s good.”
Lorne Payne sits on a porch in Sherman Park, surrounded by his children. Payne attempts a smile but it’s more a look of fear that comes through — the pain in his eyes is the only thing that’s clear. “My kids keep me alive,” he says. “I love on my kids, make sure they’re happy. I [can] be sad as hell [as] long as my kids happy.”
Darlene Rogers gracefully covers a stretch of sidewalk pavement followed by a brightly colored, flowing dress, the Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. Juneteenth Day celebration behind her. Rogers who grew up in the neighborhood points down the block to the house where she lived. “I haven’t been down here in a couple years so it was nice to come out and see familiar faces,” she says calling the occasion “an out-of-body experience.” “It’s like the cycle just keeps repeatin’ itself.”
M.J. Perez stands on the front porch of her home in Muskego Way finishing a cigarette, taking a break from her granddaughter’s birthday party. At first glance, Perez doesn’t have the look of a native — she’s wearing a Minnesota Vikings jersey — but she quickly puts the thought to rest. “I’ve been here all my life,” she says. “Mostly on the South Side.”
Michelle Legener stops to ask for a buck near a bus stop at the corner of 22nd and Greenfield. Legener, who grew up near 29th and National, just left the nearby Victory Outreach Christian Recovery Home, a rehabilitation center that takes in drug addicts, about an hour before. “[There are] a lot of good people in this city,” she says, but adds, “a lot of bad stuff happens.”