By Mrinal Gokhale
At the Martin Luther King Peace Place Park, across from HeartLove Place on Ninth St. and Ring St. stood painted garden beds, flags from many countries and young adults displaying and visiting marketplace vendor tables.
In the middle of the grounds stood Andre Lee Ellis of the We Got This initiative along with young boys in the program. They held signs and called for peace at the 14th Annual Summer of Peace Youth Rally.
Starting out with a morning rally in the rain, the event featured youth marching from the corner of N. Fifth St. and Locust St. to the Martin Luther King Peace Place on Ninth St. and Ring St. The same youth were featured vendors during the outdoor event afterwards.
Sarah Dollhausen, executive director of True Skool, said that to make the event possible, True Skool youth were recruited in addition to other organizations. The same youth performed songs, spoken word and dance inside HeartLove Place across the street to avoid getting drenched in the rain.
“Today is about getting the community together today to ponder solutions, provide a marketplace to vendors and let people learn more about the programs offered by organizations here,” Dollhausen said.
True Skool is an urban arts nonprofit organization that operates during the school year and summer. The arts program allows participants to express themselves through music, art and dance.
The summer leadership workforce development program allows youth ages 14-21 to do community service 20 hours per week.
Fidel Verdin, creative development and outreach director for True Skool, said that it was his fourteenth year organizing the rally, and this year’s theme focused on promoting positivity.
“The vendors and performers are 25 and younger, and it is our first time holding this event at this location,” Verdin said. “We partnered with about one dozen organizations like Running Rebels, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, We Got This and HeartLove Place.”
Organizations like the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee displayed information booths outdoors. In addition to Milwaukee Public Schools, other groups like Victory Garden Initiative, and other jewelry and personal vendors promoted a positive change in the community. For Madia Norton, this event was a dual job.
On one table she displayed her many vibrant paintings for sale. Three teenagers sat at the table right of Norton for the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee.
They asked bystanders to “spin the wheel,” to answer questions relating to sexual health. Participants received candy and a small blue backpack that read, “Keep Calm and Make Proud Choices,” with the Boys and Girls Club logo on the bottom.
Norton works for the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program through the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee. She educates teenagers from Milwaukee Public Schools and at community events about pregnancy and STD prevention. The girls at her table said she received a stipend for working with the program.
“I teach the Making Proud Choices class at MPS under the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, and the girls with me today are in a counsel of teens who help educate other teens about making smart choices,” Norton said. The program is less than a year old and funded through United Way of Great Milwaukee and Waukesha County.
Shalina Ali is the program director at True Skool. She was responsible for inviting the many vendors and organizations. She said that the youth from the summer program helped prepare the area for the day by planting raised garden beds and cleaning the area on their community service days.
“Today is about getting away from the negative conversations, which would be all the stuff you catch on the media about our community, and instead using arts to learn about social justice and community engagement,” Ali said.