Featured Neighborhood

An Unlikely Friendship

Ten years ago, I began an unlikely friendship. I’d like to tell you about my friend because I’ve never met anyone like her.

She’s beautiful but gritty; she tells you how it is. And if you’re like me and don’t get it the first time, she’ll show you how it is. We’ve looked out for each other. We’ve forgiven each other when we’ve said or done the wrong thing. I’ve enjoyed watching her children run and play on the street, and I’ve watched them play with mine. She’s fed me, prayed for me, & encouraged my family. We’ve celebrated together at block parties, outdoor movie nights, house concerts, weekly dinners, front yard sprinklers, wine on the front porch. She’s helped me paint my house when I was 9 months pregnant, given me pots of flowers for my front porch, has lent me countless eggs. We’ve been here for each other in times of great joy & great struggle. I’ve learned so many lessons from her and I know that I will continue to learn them. She is teaching me how to love well–a lesson I am still learning.

I want you to know about her because she means so much to me. She is struggling right now and I don’t know what else to do but show up for her.

My friend is Sherman Park.

And I say this to you now, Sherman Park: I hear you. I am not going to insult your intelligence by coming at you with quick & simple answers to your complex questions. I am not going to sit inside my home only to watch your story unfold on Twitter, the news, or Facebook. I am going to walk with you in this. I am going to serve you while you struggle.

Sherman Park, you’re a friend to so many. Over these past few days, I have seen people showing up with garbage bags to clean up; people have been coming with water, bibles, encouragement, a willingness to listen. Some come to pray together, some bring pizza to feed people. Some come to see what will happen next, while others come and don’t know why. Perhaps they just felt compelled to come & be part of the conversations here.

We come because we want you to flourish.

Even though I do not know all the answers, Sherman Park, I will tell you something I learned. 

“It’s easy to spend time in the shallow end…it’s not a real commitment. You can just hop in, stand around in tight circles, and people-watch. You can examine your nails, read, reread, and catch up on all the gossip.You can talk and talk and talk and come to a great many conclusions and decisions and still maintain your hairstyle and even avoid smudging your makeup. This is important because you never know when someone may pull out a camera. You can spend your whole comfortable life there, really, just standing around and being heard. You never even have to learn to swim in the shallow end. We don’t hear from the people in the deep end because they’re busy swimming, keeping their head above water. It’s tiring and scary in the silence of the depths. There’s not much chatting or safety in numbers. There’s no solid footing.”
                                                                                                                    –Glennon Doyle Melton

 

Sherman Park deserves more than just interested observers. This beautiful neighborhood needs people who love this city and love its people to be with us, to work with us. Show up with us & for us.

To those of you who have been watching the story from afar and are convinced that the whole of Milwaukee is up in flames and chaos is ensuing, I can assure you that it is not. The sun came up, it’s a beautiful day with birds chirping and all is quiet. Neighbors are having their morning coffee on their porch and people are getting ready for work. I want to encourage you not to rush in with easy answers and snap judgements on complex issues that have been decades in the making. Be a student and hear the stories here. You will walk away wiser if you listen and ask thoughtful questions.

People don’t burn down their own neighborhoods without cause. There are unaddressed frustrations here, questions of inequity that haven’t been answered, or have been wholly ignored. There are systems in place, which (intentionally or not) have oppressed people for several generations. Listen to this story from Dante, one of my neighbors: 


“When most of our jobs went away in Milwaukee because of NAFTA, it took away our ability to provide for our family. It took away our sense of belonging. We could no longer provide for our families, we couldn’t pay our bills, and couldn’t be taken seriously in society.”

 
It took away the sense of belonging.

There are certain realities like Dante’s that need to be heard*. There is an outcry here, even from those like Dante who did not participate in the looting/burning of businesses and we need to hear it.

Do I agree that looting and burning businesses in the area is the solution? No, of course not. Dante & I both agreed that this solved nothing, and now there’s more jobs lost in our neighborhood. I heard that O’Reilly Auto Parts store employed 18 mechanics in the area who are now without jobs.

Do I think that there are some people here looking to create chaos, perhaps even coming from other communities? Probably.

Do I think that the media is creating more drama with their helicopters circling overhead for the past 3 days? Yes.

Do I think that the investigation of the state Justice Department should be expedited and the body camera footage from the shooting of Syville Smith should be released to the public? Yes.

Do I think that there are steps we can take to make our city better? Yes, and there’s valuable input that will come from voices we as a society don’t usually listen to.

Sherman Park, I have so much hope for you. I’m proud to live inside your borders because I have seen and learned things that I don’t think I would have elsewhere. We can ask each other hard questions and listen to hard answers because we love each other, even in our brokenness. I am a richer person for the lessons that you have taught me, and for the lessons I have yet to learn.

I stand with you, my friend. We stand with you and will see you through this.

 

 
*No major urban city in American suffered as much as Milwaukee in the upheaval of a globalizing economy & changes in manufacturing. Milwaukee’s working-age black men suffered almost twice the drop in unemployment that the nation experienced in the Great Depression. 

 

 

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