By Dylan Deprey
The afternoon sun shone down on the garden boxes of the corner of N. 9th and Ring streets.
Vegetables ranging from red leaf lettuce to tomatoes sprouted out of the soil.
The corner is a source of serenity for the community.
“Everybody needs to get their hands off the trigger and into the soil,” Andre Ellis, founder of We Got This, said.
We Got This is an urban agriculture organization that started the summer of 2014.
Ellis never expected that offering a young boy $20 to help with his garden, to help from 8 a.m. to noon.
The next week the young boy brought his friends. Ellis went to Facebook and asked community members to offer up the money for the boys.
They did, and men from the community even came to help the boys.
After that day, the numbers started growing. Now a staggering 75 boys from ages 12 to 16 travel blocks and even miles to help with the gardens.
The men of the community mentor the boys through the gardening process.
When donations are short Ellis takes to Facebook, and asks the community to donate. By 12 p.m., when the boys are done, they always have enough money to donate.
“We only take what we need to pay the boys and no more,” Ellis said.
Everything from the seeds being planted to the tools used by We Got This are donated from all around Milwaukee.
While jobs for teens and young adults in Milwaukee are scarce, We Got This provides a safe environment for African American boys to work every Saturday throughout the summer.
“It’s a shame what we’re doing to the kids,” Ellis said. “We give money to help find jobs, but on the bottom we have to feed ourselves and survive.” Timeliness is a huge factor in the program We Got This.
One of Andre Ellis’s stipulations is that the boys make it by 8 o’clock.
“I’ve seen boys running down the block to make it, and it kills me to turn them away,” Ellis said. “If they’re here by 8 o’clock and one second they’re not on time, and that’s how it works in the real world.”
Afernee Chamliss joined the fourth week of the first year of We Got This. He is now a mentor for the program. “It kept me in the right direction,” Chamliss said.
“It kept me motivated to graduate high school.”
Now, Chamliss is going to school for audio production.
“We need to teach them that they don’t have to do something bad to make money,” Andre Ellis said.
Although one will hear a gunshot here and there, Andre Ellis is proud of his community.
He sees the beauty in his neighborhood.
“Community is all we’ve got,” Ellis said. “We’re not poor, we’re just working on our money.”
Andre Ellis lived his dream by performing theater for the past thirty years.
After living in New York and Atlanta he returned to Milwaukee and finally found his passion.
“I struggled in theater for thirty years, but I never struggled with this,” Ellis said.
Ellis is now a pescatarian and tries his best to eat healthy.
He encourages the community to pick from the garden, and eventually wants to have a showcase for what can be made from the community garden.
“The things you can get at Starbucks, we can make and be stars for a buck,” Ellis said.
Although the snow covers the hardened soil and roots and the vegetables die, We Got This doesn’t.
The organization has an event during the winter called 500 Black Tuxedos.
On December 12th, African American adults rent tuxedos for them and the kids they mentor.
It shows the kids that they aren’t just kids from the hood.
“They don’t have to be the kids that are holding their pants up,” Andre Ellis said.
Andre Ellis has many ideas for the future. He hopes to open a low income housing unit across the street in the abandoned house shadowing the garden.
He hopes to create a place where people can find resources from growing food to getting back on their feet.
“I’m not trying to father figure to these boys,” Andre Ellis said. “I am what I need to be to them.”