By Dylan Deprey
It all began with a phone call.
Kristine Brown called up Honey Blackwell to tell her the disturbing story of walking her 11-year-old daughter down Greenfield Avenue to St. Peter Lutheran School, when a man stopped his car in the middle of traffic to talk to them.
“He asked if I wanted to get in, and he pointed at my daughter and said, ‘Especially the younger one,’” Brown said.
Blackwell, who has done work in the community, met with Shalonda Ezell, We Still Have Hope (WSHH) for Our Youth clothing store owner, to find out what was happening first hand.
“As we were driving down there, there is a pregnant woman smoking crack at the bus stop,” Blackwell said. “We pulled up, walked 50 ft. and there was a group of girls using heroin on the corner out in the open.”
As Ezell and Blackwell walked down the street they witnessed a woman pushing used condoms and needles out of her driveway with a stick, so her grandkids could play hopscotch.
“We walked around the area and there were hundreds of needles, and I’m watching kids ride their bikes on the street,” Blackwell said.
They watched a group of men drop two teenage girls off at the corner and told them to, “learn the ropes.” Ezell said the two girls were crack addicts and traveled from Oshkosh.
“These girls were from outta town. They didn’t know what they were getting themselves into,” Ezell said.
Prostitution issues on Greenfield Ave. have made headlines with a push from the City, as Alds. Jose Perez and Bob Donovan have made it a point to crush the avid prostitution problems.
But, when the Coalitino walked through the neighborhood and talked to the neighbors and the women working, they found that the neighborhood needed some TLC, ASAP.
So, like any super-group, the ladies decided to join ranks with others fighting the same fight in their own neighborhoods.
“We built this up because we wanted a voice,” Ezell said. “I put some strong women together and It’s a collective, with no leader because each member is a leader.”
Ezell and Blackwell were joined by Charlotte Knox, Tiffani Smith, Patience Phillips (Patience Unleashed Radio), Nasheka Bryant (Freedom Fighters) and Artesta Prather, RN.
The All-Ladies Natural Nurturer Coalition held its first community clean up and cookout up on the corner of 26th and Greenfield on Aug. 19, 2017.
The First of Many Natural Nurturer Events
Pulling up to the event, the wafts of barbecue chicken in the air were met with the sights of women huddled in an alley doing heroin and groups of men, women and children walking around with hazardous waste boxes filled with needles.
Blackwell said that even with the Dear John initiative and other City and non-profit prostitution programs, when they walk the strip every morning there are nearly 15-20 men and women prostituting out in the open.
“Our presence needs to be known, and not just with the resources for these girls,” Blackwell said. “Today they might not be ready to go, but tomorrow they might be, so now we’re here.”
The Coalition passed out food, water, hygiene packs and clothes to women in the area. Along with handing out basic human essentials, Ezell also offered words of hope to the girls shooting up heroin in the alley up the way.
“You can’t just walk up to somebody and tell them to get off drugs, it doesn’t work like that,” Ezell said. “One way to open up to people is handing them a gift and some advice.”
Ezell stressed to the girls that they had to be careful with their needles and to not leave them out in the open and possibly in children’s’ hands.
“It’s all about the children,” Ezell said. “We all have children, and this is a positive movement that we are trying to embed in the City of Milwaukee to show women that we can come together and get things done.”
A New Start and Fresh Space
Charlotte Knox has been helping the Atkinson area ever since her battles with crack. She said that the only way she dug herself out of addiction’s dark pit was meeting a woman at her daughter’s daycare.
“That lady literally held my hand through my steps that I had to take because I was sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Knox said.
She said that the woman’s nurturing touch kept her moving through the hard times, and she wants to give back the same way she was saved.
Just like crack had hit Milwaukee in the 80’s, the Coalition has witnessed the effects Heroin has had on neighborhoods around Milwaukee. Blackwell said addiction is what leads women to working as a slave in one of the world’s oldest professions. Ezell and the Coalition are already working on an overflow assistance area for the homeless, drug and alcohol addiction and prostituted women and men on 38th and Center. She said her cousin worked in real estate and knew the work she had been doing in the community. Instead of trying to find a renter, he gifted her and the coalition the space.
“He knew my passion and I went and talked to him and said ‘Here go the keys,’ because he wants to see the work done.” Ezell said.
As the days grow shorter and Summer comes to a close, the Coalition still has a lot of work on their hands. The Natural Nurturer’s Coalition-All Ladies Movement said when the community uses their specific talents in a unified front, nothing is impossible.
“We’re your support team,” Blackwell said. “We don’t care what organization you’re from, as long as you’re doing good, but if you need help with something we are here to support you.”