Violet Young walks briskly down North Richards Street dressed almost entirely in purple, a plastic bag in each hand. Exuberant and cheerful, even the below-freezing temperatures can’t dampen her spirits. “You should see what it looks like in summer,” she says, gesturing to a nearby corner park with fruit trees and a small shelter. “It’s beautiful.”
Annie Davis sits in a swath of shade on the lowly set sill of a window near the corner of 41st and North gazing out into the sunlight while she waits. The 61-year-old Davis grew up in Greenwood, Miss., the daughter of a sharecropper. Life was not easy. “We didn’t have no money so we had to help our mother, you know. We had to chop cotton, pick cotton … so I didn’t get a chance to go to school,” says Davis. “My mother, she grew up doin’ the same thing, almost like slavery.”
LuAnn Will’s home at 2659 S. 15th St. sits in the middle of a long dead-end block in Milwaukee’s Polonia neighborhood, inconspicuous except for the bullet holes that litter the front porch and the “We Don’t Call 911” sign displayed in her front window. Will talks about her son, Joseph Lee Walker, as she shows where – porch, front hallway, bedroom – the dozen or so bullets left their mark, constant reminders of that night in early April when Walker was shot three times by Milwaukee Police. Fearing for her life after being threatened by Walker in the midst of what she describes as a psychotic episode, Will was the one who, eventually, called police non-emergency. She only wanted her son, who’s suffered from addiction, depression and mental illness for most of his life, to get the help she’s adamant he needs. But Will could never have imagined what would happen next.
Sean Yarber stands in front of 1739 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr., a men’s clothing store, smoke in hand. Yarber, who’s originally from the Windy City, ended up coming to Milwaukee with his mother when he was about 10 years old. “She was havin’ a hard time down there in Chicago, you know, so, she felt like there was opportunity up here so…I came with her – I had no choice.”
Mia Williams walks down Wisconsin Avenue alone on a Thursday afternoon in Avenues West. Williams grew up in a large family – she’s one of nine kids – and was raised by a single mother. “It was wonderful. I mean, we’re very close, we show a lot of love,” she said. “Whenever there was dinner, everybody sat at the dinner table and ate; there wasn’t any separation, you know. And we’re still very close-knit today.”