By Mrinal Gokhale
On the cloudy afternoon of Sep. 10 at Sherman Park, hundreds received and sported a black t-shirt which read “300+ Strong” on the front and “When black men lock arms as brothers, there is nothing we cannot accomplish” on the back.
Andre Lee Ellis, organizer of the We Got This Initiative called Ptosha Davis onto stage to talk about her coworker Eric Von.
He was a veteran journalist and broadcaster for WNOV 860FM who passed away the previous Thursday due to a heart attack.
“Each of you young folks here have the chance to carry on his legacy. His voice is not gone; it’s just quieted,” Davis said, fighting back tears. Ellis then encouraged “young black men under 21” to come near the stage to each hold an orange balloon to release into the air.
“This is a chance to do a better job at living…a chance to turn to someone next to you and give them a hug today while you can, for all of us now, this may be our last time,” Ellis said.
A few seconds after the many balloons were released, the clouds turned to sun.
Though this day started out slightly rainy, hundreds still were motivated to gather in Sherman Park to celebrate the second annual 300+ Strong rally, organized by Running Rebels, a nonprofit organization that provides job assistance, mentoring and athletic programs for Milwaukee youth.
This rally was originally supposed to happen in August but was rescheduled due to a protest where a nearby BP gas station was burnt on Aug 13 to protest against the shooting of Syville Smith, an African America man.
“This is our second year doing this, and it began because we wanted to wrap our arms around 300 black men in the community.
But we’re calling it 300+ now to expand that number,” said Dawn Barnett, co-executive director of Running Rebels. It started at noon and ended at 3 p.m. The event featured spoken word, song and rap performances by local talent such as Cincere, Ray Nitti, Under 5 and the young teen boys from the Running Rebels. A few hundred people were in an out, mingling and enjoying their free meals.
Three teen boys of Running Rebels, including the young son of the executive directors took center stage and performed a few songs. For their first very performance, they conveyed the meaning of the event with the lyrics, “They say the love in my city is gone, but we come together 300 strong.”
At the end, Ellis commemorated Running Rebels co-executive directors Dawn and Victor Barnett for having their son be a part of their program.
“We need more of parents taking their children to work with them, even if you have to create the family business.
There’s a way to take care of, guard and make sure your children are where they should be, because if they’re with you, you can do that,” Ellis said.
Just a few feet from the stage was a large Buddha shaped creation adorned with colorful ribbons, created by boys and girls from a local juvenile detention center.
Express Yourself Milwaukee, a nonprofit arts organization, organized this project as a part of their show in May. Known as the “Golden Boy,” this piece was created to “find the golden thing in all of us,” said Daisy Bouman, co-executive director of Express Yourself Milwaukee.
“Running Rebels has been a longtime partner of ours,” Bouman said. “We work with youth both in juvenile detention centers, in and out of home care, and the Milwaukee County Accountability Program.” She added that Express Yourself Milwaukee also created bracelets that read “UNIFY” to pass around to attendees.
“We originally wanted them to say ‘unity’ but we think ‘unify’ better conveys the message of today,” said Bouman.