By Christina Luick
It was a long time coming as people gathered at N. 9th St. and W Ring St. in Milwaukee to watch a foreclosed home with a lot of history be demolished on Monday morning.
Andre Lee Ellis, founder of We Got this, a work and mentoring initiative, had been working with Alderwoman Milele Coggs and the Department of City Development to remove the dilapidated home. The We Got This community garden is located across the street from the demolished home. From that empty lot will grow a new fruit orchard for the program.
“This is our year of demolition,” said Ellis. “Next year will be our year of restoration.”
The home on 3257 N. 9th St. was acquired by the city in December 2016. It took over three years to be able to destroy the house and move forward with the We Got This garden expansion.
“In our neighborhood, there are a lot of people that hang out on corners and places where I think they need a constructive gathering place,” said Ellis. “This will do it. A safe place where children can come and learn great things. Parents can come with their children, they can get healthy food …”
Ald. Coggs said dealing with things in Milwaukee can be a bit tiresome, worrisome, sad and disappointing at times. But she finds comfort and inspiration sitting in the garden and talking with Ellis and the boys that work there.
“I hope that that inspiration that I feel is one that others will continue to feel, not just here in this garden but the orchard that will soon be right across the street,” said Coggs.
She said this was an example of what commitment and the power of a community can do for an area.
Sen. Lena Taylor was also there to thank Ellis for the work he’s done. She said for years she has been talking about the need to use urban agriculture and forestry as a way to move the community. Taylor said the next step was to train and give certificates to the young men working, so they can make connections to colleges and jobs in urban agriculture.
“This is an awesome day in Milwaukee,” said Taylor. “This is a day where we begin to transform Milwaukee to what we see.”
Many people who watched the demolition were part of We Got This and have been living in the neighborhood for years.
“This block came a long way,” said June Thomas, a resident of the neighborhood.
His grandmother owned the house in the past.
Thomas saw many families come and go at that property, good and bad.
Dena J. grew up in the neighborhood, and has seen the property deteriorate over the years. She said the landlord kept changing and nobody ever saw them, which made it hard for Dena’s mother when she tried to get the house torn down. Dena said the poorly kept house also brought down the value of her mother’s home. “They were letting anybody in there, you know, just to get rent,” Dena said.
Dena and Thomas agreed that the neighborhood went from good to bad, and then to good again.
She said the area was a family oriented place and the people who were moving in were the ones bringing the drugs and violence.
“Now our neighborhood is built back up from when I was a little kid,” said Dena. “We scooted the other ones out and brought in more positive vibes. You can tell they got rid of the old, the people that used to come in.”
Thomas said that families have lived on the street for many years and they take pride in it.
“You make good in the neighborhood you in,” said Thomas. “You make the neighborhood back good you don’t change your neighborhood to make yourself good. You make yourself good in the neighborhood that you in.”
Nathaniel (17) and Roshaun Collins (15 )are brothers who have been part of the We Got This program for four summers.
“I heard (We Got This) was a powerful place where we could do a lot of positive things and I wanted to be part of that,” said Roshaun Collins.
He said the program has changed his attitude and the way he looks at things. It helped with his anger management and helped him let things go.
Nathaniel started working for We Got This after he heard it could straighten up his attitude and teach him good skills. Since, his first summer working there, he’s seen self-growth.
“… I’m more mature, I’m more focused now ever since I’ve been in this program,” said Nathaniel.
We Got This began in the summer of 2014 and teaches boys ages 12 to 16 about gardening and cleaning up the neighborhood while talking to people in the community. Boys come to work on Saturdays at 8 a.m. and are paid $20.