By Dylan Deprey
Rhythmic pulses radiated across Atkinson Ave. A drum circle, dressed in traditional African garments, scored the tumultuous awakening from a winter long hibernation.
Outside of the Black- Owned BP Gas Station on 8th and Atkinson, the unbroken beating was met with smiles, honks and waves.
Heal the Hood founder, Ajamou Butler, strolled across the gas pumps conversing with onlookers and collected donations on April 22, as part of the Buy Black/Don’t Slack event to raise funds for the upcoming 6th annual Heal the Hood Block Party 2017.
“Oh, we have a lot in store,” Butler said.
The two-day Heal the Hood Block Party will be held in Atkinson Triangle (10th & Atkinson), on May 27 and 28. The all ages event will host the aerobatic Milwaukee Flyers, two live bands and nearly 25 vendors offering resources, health resources, job offerings and local entrepreneurs.
Along with free food, t-shirt dyeing and children activities, Heal the Hood is collaborating with Cream Skills Basketball Association to host a teen basketball tournament.
The first Block Party launched May 26, 2012 and was held on 1st and Wright.
Initially, Heal the Hood was not supposed to host the event.
“I was working with some people, and the individual they were trying to bring in, the prices were too high. So, I said, ‘Listen, for a fraction of that cost let me do this little vision,’ and it happened,” Butler said. “After that, it kind of sparked something in me because I realized this can’t be a one-time thing. So, we started with the Annual Block Party, but then that went a step further and now we’re in the schools teaching.”
Heal the Hood is a full-fledged community organization promoting awareness and peace within the community.
The electric bashes and bangs that reverberated through the air on 8th and Atkinson were just the appetizer for the Block Party.
Performers from the traditional West African Dance and Drum nonprofit, Ina Onilu, showcased a song and dance for gas station attendees and neighbors.
Akilah Young, Ina Onilu performer and instructor, said the group has danced at countless events across the city.
“Any time somebody has an event that calls for drums, we normally go to help get the awareness of whatever is out for, but it also gives people something to move and dance to and lift spirits,” Young said.
As the day trailed on with a steady influx of traffic on the sunny blue sky day, Butler said the drums and traditional African clothing was a reminder to African Americans in the community.
“It’s beyond important to reinforce pride in our culture,” Butler said. “We try to tell people, ‘Hey you don’t have to wear African clothes everyday so on and so forth, but when you look in the mirror know that you are royalty. Know that you come from a lineage of greatness.’”
“The question goes, ‘How did we go from building the pyramids to living in the projects? And that’s because we don’t have that cultural pride as we once had and it’s a day to day lifestyle,” Butler said.
In between firing off beats on the djembe in the drum session, Butler walked around collecting donations and chatted with neighbors for the Buy Black/Don’t Slack campaign.
He said the slogan, “Buy Black/Don’t Slack,” began a couple of years ago.
“There were some issues like some break-ins, some harassment from police, just some mistreatment. As a way to kind of rally around the gas station we said, ‘Buy Black, Don’t Slack,”” Butler said.
He hosted a week event that only supported black businesses in the community, and from restaurants, gas stations, dollar stores and night clubs.
“You know we support Ms. Diane (Stowers), and she allows us to do things like this outside the gas station,” Butler said. “It’s just a way to give back to the people, and that’s exactly what Heal the Hood is, to make a better Milwaukee, block by block.”