By Glinda Loving
With the recent release of the Mayor Barrett’s 2014 Budget, and its spotlight on vacant tax foreclosed homes, the city at large is now learning about some of the issues that Harambee area residents have known about and dealt with for years.
Beginning almost in tangent with the start of the foreclosure crisis in 2007, the Harambee Great Neighborhood Initiative (HGNI) was formed with initial funding from Thrivent Financial and in partnership with Milwaukee’s Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) to address quality of life issues in the Harambee community.
As a coalition of like-minded community based organizations and resident leaders, the HGNI aims to pool the resources, knowledge, and experience of its coalition members to promote and facilitate resident led community development in the Harambee area.
The idea behind this resident based approach is surprisingly simple; if you want to know how to better serve the community, ask the community itself.
With this idea in mind, the HGNI organized the creation of the Harambee Neighborhood Action Plan (NAP). Through the process of developing the NAP, area residents and business owners were brought to the table to define the strategic plan of the HGNI by prioritizing their goals and visions for Harambee.
Upon completion of the action plan, nine focus areas were outlined as vital to revitalization efforts in the community:
• Neighborhood Image
• Housing Market
• Physical Conditions
• Health and Environment
• Neighborhood Leadership
• Community Connections
• Employment and Workforce
• Public Safety
• Arts and Culture
Since its creation, the HGNI has played an important role in successfully connecting residents to the community development process.
Through past projects and collaborations, the initiative has been able to create quality affordable housing, community gardens, neighborhood pocket parks, health and wellness campaigns, neighborhood clean up days, home rehabilitation, public safety awareness, as well as other significant quality of life projects.
HGNI hired Mr. Leif Otteson, as its Community Organizer in July of 2013, to re-launch its initiative.
He has professional experience in fair housing, homeless and veteran advocacy, affordable housing development, and community organizing.
He is a welcome addition to the coalition and the community.
Originally from Madison WI, Leif has lived and worked in Milwaukee communities for over ten years. With a three year stint in Greenville South Carolina, he had the opportunity to study towards a Masters in Urban Planning while also working for a homeless service and affordable housing provider in the region.
It was during this time in South Carolina that he was able to fully put into practice his passion and affinity towards community organizing and neighborhood revitalization, with the hope of bringing his experience back to the city he calls home; Milwaukee.
Knowing that it was just a matter of time before returning home, he looked forward to utilizing his skills, enthusiasm, and commitment to be a part of the already dedicated community of residents, nonprofit organizations, and activists in the Harambee area.
Mr. J. Allen Stokes, executive director of Inner City Redevelopment Corporation, lifelong Harambee resident and HGNI’s Community Coordinator took on the task of leading the HGNI.
His intimate knowledge and connection to the Harambee community along with many years of successful community development through collaboration and communication provides vital advocacy for the Initiative and its residents.
Over the past few months, the HGNI and its coalition members have been working diligently to assist and partner with resident groups and other organizations in Harambee, asking what it can do to facilitate positive change in the area.
In an effort to rally Harambee residents on a larger scale, the HGNI has taken on the task of revitalizing one of the area’s most historically and culturally significant green spaces; Clinton and Bernice Rose Park.
Also known to many residents historically as Garfield Park, the Milwaukee County owned and operated park has historically been a place for community events, entertainment, and athletics.
With its connection to Harambee’s past, the park is also home to the Clinton and Bernice Rose Senior Center.
Under the leadership of Director Henrietta Allen of the Interfaith Older Adult Program, the Clinton and Bernice Rose Senior Center has been, and will continue to be an important fixture and asset to the park, serving the needs of seniors in the area for years to come.
The HGNI with the help of University of Wisconsin’s Community Design Solutions (CDS), is currently hosting a series of resident input sessions to potentially revitalize the park grounds.
HGNI recognizes that a true effort to revitalize such a prominent public space cannot be successful without thoughtful and genuine input from the community itself.
The first of two General Input Sessions was held at the Clinton and Bernice Rose Senior Center which focused on getting senior resident input.
Approximately one hundred people attended.
The HGNI has also received positive resident and community stakeholder support for this revitalization.
The HGNI’s endeavor in leading the revitalization of the park will renew a sense of place, safety and activity for all ages.
The group is confident that creating a revived hub of positive outdoor activity will also bring value to area housing, businesses and other stakeholders.
A second General Resident Input Session is scheduled from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM on Wednesday, November 13, 2013 at HeartLove Place (located at 3229 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive).
Residents and area stakeholders are invited to join their community in an interactive planning session.
The session will address the existing conditions of the park and also create a forum where residents are given an opportunity to ask questions, voice concerns, and share their vision for the park.
Resident involvement has been a primary goal of the HGNI from its inception.
The organization recognizes that a successful redevelopment of the park must engage residents at each step of the process and beyond.
As a result, the group expects to organize a “Friends of Clinton and Bernice Rose Park” Association, which would add to the sustainability of the park.
From current projects such as park revitalization to upcoming initiatives focused on senior housing and resident leadership training, the HGNI will continue to prove that bringing residents and community stakeholders together can have a lasting positive effect on the Harambee community.
Remember… “Harambee” Means Pulling Together”!
Upcoming HGNI Events:
Clinton & Bernice Rose Park Revitalization: Resident Input Session
When: Wednesday, November 13th from 6pm-8pm ***finger food and refreshments provided
Where: HeartLove Place – 3229 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive Milwaukee, WI 53212