As a youngster, Jimmy Johnson made some bad decisions. Now, he’s forging forward, determined to make a better life for himself.
John Branham stands at the end of a long, shaded driveway near the corner of 52nd and Villard. Branham has overcome more than a few challenges in his time; it all goes back to the dinner-table conversations his parents would conduct every night, he says. Though they struggled as a family, it was always about looking forward, and the possibilities of tomorrow. “Now that I look back over my childhood, that’s what gave me strength — bein’ optimistic,” he says. “You know, because … a wall can be built but you can go around the wall, over the wall, [or] you walk through the wall.”
Ray Williams Jr. sits on his porch on the 3200 block of North 37th Street in a white, tank-top undershirt, holding a half burnt cigarette. The 49-year-old blues guitarist lounges in a chair as he recalls his playing days in Milwaukee. “Hooligan’s, Murray’s Tap, Central Hall, Chancery Pub, Liquid Johnny’s. I done played with Billy Flynn, all them guys, you know, Eugene and the Soul Gang, Stokes and Eddie Butts, Jim Liban, Mississippi Cactus — that’s me, 38 years of it,” he says.
Willie Whitehorn walks down Chicago Street in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward on a cloudy afternoon toting three oversized plastic bags, filled to the brim with cans. Whitehorn, a man of modest height and weight, despite the appearance of his baggy coat, stops on the corner and stares through his sunglasses at a young woman crossing the street. Nodding in approval, Whitehorn turns and answers an un-posed inquiry matter-of-factly. “I’m a girl-watcher,” he says.
Reuben Coleman grew up in Cleveland, Mississippi, during the 60s in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement. “There were the riots going on and the marching and all that old type of stuff.” But it didn’t take long until Coleman decided to move on. At 19 he left his hometown with a taste for adventure, making stops in California, Florida, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Texas before ending up in Wisconsin.