In August when a high profile police shooting and ensuing protests rocked the Sherman Park neighborhood, lots of people had lots of things to say. Politicians, pundits, community and faith leaders stood up to voice their opinions, and debate over how best to solve problems that have afflicted Sherman Park for decades.
I agreed with some of what they had to say; I disagreed with much more. But I was happy to see what I viewed as a productive, national conversation about how to address issues of poverty, racism, and lack of trust between the community and law enforcement.
This discussion faded from national attention mere days after the protests ended, as they so often do. But long after the chatter died away, Russ Feingold continues to talk about ways to mend our community and make lasting progress.
At a community barbeque he held in Sherman Park two weeks ago, Russ spoke about the importance of investing in young people through education, supporting job training programs and local job growth, and tackling long standing barriers put in place by systemic racism.
I watched as he walked around the crowd — a mix of community members, volunteers, activists, and families — sitting down with each individual person as they ate their burger, and listening to what they had to say.
Russ is the kind of leader Sherman Park and Milwaukee needs. Unlike many leaders who will come here for a photo op during election season, Russ has spent years getting to know the people of mine and the surrounding neighborhoods. He’s listened to what we think and how we feel about institutional problems of poverty, injustice, and racism that can sometimes feel insurmountable. And he’s engaged in discussions with community and faith leaders, activists, and local elected officials on how to approach these problems.
It’s easy to feel like our voices aren’t being heard, nor our complaints adequately addressed. But sitting in Sherman Park that Saturday, Russ listened to the individual and communal concerns of Milwaukeeans, and reaffirmed his commitment to addressing these concerns and the barriers that exacerbate them.
He showed his face long after the national spotlight had left Sherman Park, and he’ll make it a priority to solve the problems that led to the August unrest.
We need leaders who won’t just show up in a crisis, or appear on cable television to pontificate. We need leaders who will listen to us, and take our thoughts, concerns, and hopes for the future into account.
We need leaders who recognize that Sherman Park is just as important as any other community in Wisconsin. We need leaders like Russ, who — long after Election Day — will make sure our voices are heard and will stand with us to heal our community.