By Karen Stokes
The issues plaguing the City of Milwaukee include: unemployment, poverty, car theft and violence. If the situation remains unchanged it will continue to leave a dark cloud of hopelessness over the city. But, on a bright, sunny Friday afternoon, Common Council President, Ashanti Hamilton hosted a news conference at Garden Homes Square Park, 2600 W. Atkinson, to introduce a new initiative dedicated to nurturing quality of life improvements in each of the city’s four chosen Promise Zones.
“I am proud to shine a bright light on the important projects that are moving forward in the Promise Zones and to help build the momentum and energy that can be so important to facilitating positive change and actions across areas of Milwaukee that are truly hungry for some positive action and community building,” Hamilton said.
The four neighborhoods identified as Promise Zones are: Garden Homes Park, Harambee, Washington Park and Near South Side neighborhoods. President Hamilton was joined by city officials, community organizations, faith based organizations and several officers of the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD).
The Promise Zones Initiative is about finding solution driven resources that address the needs of the residents, economic empowerment and public safety.
“I am a perfect example of a person being able to live their dream,” said Victor Barnett, director and founder of the Running Rebels community organization. “From 8th grade to 12th grade, I actually walked through this park everyday going by Miss Freeman’s house or going to school.
Miss “Mother” Martha Freeman, moved to the Garden Homes area in 1969 as a welfare mother with five children. Freeman, now a retired correctional officer, has been an advocate for the neighborhood and has been a nurturing figure for many.
“We’re gonna clean up what we messed up and start all over again,” she proclaimed sparking heartfelt enthusiasm from the crowd.
In honor of the neighborhood advocate, it was announced that they were renaming the street near Garden Homes Park from “Port Sunlight Way” to “Mother Freeman’s Way”.
The restoration of these neighborhoods are important for the quality of life for the residents. These areas were a place of pride for people who came from the south decades ago to settle in a community that offered a better standard of living for their families.
“This neighborhood in 1960 had the highest standard of living for black people in the United States of America because of business and industry with jobs from A.O. Smith and Eaton,” said Cheryl Blue, 30th Street Industrial Corridor Executive Director for the Garden Homes neighborhood.
Currently, in each of the four Promise Zones combined, more than 45 percent of households make less than $25,000 annually compared to 36 percent citywide and 22 percent statewide. More than 56 percent of the local population and more than 71 percent of children in these areas live in poverty.
“We want to make the investment in these communities, in the houses that exist here in the blighted properties that they have to walk in front of day in and day out to make sure that this is not a reflection on how they feel about their lives,” said Hamilton.
The Promise Zone initiative is in partnership with Safe and Sound, My Brothers Keeper, the Running Rebels, McDonald’s, Kingdom Faith Church, WestCare, the City of Milwaukee, Milwaukee Police Department and more. Many of these organizations are implementing job plans that combined will employ hundreds of residents.
“To be able to guarantee 50-100 jobs for people, that’s not always possible,” Barnett said. “Sometimes you hear of job training programs and a lot of them are great but at the end of it, they get a certificate and wish them “good luck”, but to guarantee jobs for people, that’s what we need.”
To make this initiative a success, community leaders urged the residents that the need to get involved.
“We can’t do this alone,” said Alderwoman Chantia Lewis. “If we’re talking about creating a village, it starts in your home, it starts on your block. We’re going to need you to get involved.
The MPD will actively be involved by placing officers in the Promise Zones neighborhoods to rebuild relationships with residents to increase public safety.
“If we’re going to be effective doing our part and the community is going to be effective having safe public spaces, we gotta have trust,” Chief Flynn said. “We are painfully aware of the fact that trust is undermined by every critical police incident here and anywhere in the country. It affects our relationships with our neighborhoods.”
Here’s the reality that we must face,” said Hamilton. These police officers are part of the community and part of this effort. When we talk about public safety in our community, it is a joint effort. Regardless of the protests and court cases, we need to fix this together.”