James King picks up trash from a strip of grass between the street and sidewalk on North 12th Street, an idle mower behind him. King, who grew up near 29th Street and Courtland Avenue, has always walked his own path, sought to define life by his own standards. “My father instilled in me … he always said, ‘James, no matter what you do, you be the best. I don’t care what it is, you be the best. If you be a drug dealer, you be the best drug dealer; If you be a doctor, you be the best doctor … If you gonna be a fool, you make damn sure you be the best damn fool,’” he says.
Shauratina Velez waits at the corner of 12th and Atkinson with her four-year-old daughter for the Route 19 bus. Velez, 22, was 17 and a junior at North Division High School when her daughter was born, and it’s been a tough road ever since. “I don’t have any help, I don’t have nobody to show me the way — you know what I’m sayin’? I don’t have nobody to teach me … I had to learn [more from sources other than] my family to know how to make a resume, how to talk to people. I’m still learnin’ to this day — I’m teachin’ myself.”
Cortez Scott grew up near 46th and Hadley on Milwaukee’s northwest side, an area he describes as “the hood.” Scott says it was “rough” growing up there – they had a little bit of everything going on. “People robbin’, stealin’, breakin’ in houses, shootin’s every night, we gotta worry bout gettin’ on the ground when you hear gunshots. It was all type of stuff happening.”