By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Fifty years ago, the youth of Milwaukee marched, they marched in spite of the cold, they marched despite the cynics, the marched for each other and for future generations because they marched for fair housing. On April 11, 1968, their efforts and the efforts of those around the nation paid off, and with the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act into place.
In honor of that historical moment, members of the NAACP Youth Council, the Commandos, Milwaukee residents, Mayor Tom Barrett and a litany of special guests gathered to commemorate the event sponsored by Great Milwaukee Association of Realtors (GMAR).
With the view of the 16th Street Viaduct in the background, among those who spoke included Mayor Barrett, Alderman Ashanti Hamilton and Dr. Eve Hall.
During his speech, Barrett took the opportunity to honor the progress made 50 years ago and acknowledge the change that still needs to take place. He, like most of those gathered, had grown up in Milwaukee where he witnessed change, tragedy and triumph.
As he spoke, he drew parallels between the youth of 1968 and the young people of the 21st century. Young people, specifically high schoolers, demand change Barrett said. It was the youth who demanded change 50 years ago and it’ll be the youth who bring change today, he explained.
He likewise recognized the impact he has on the city and promised his commitment specifically to the challenge he issued in February to improve 10,000 households in Milwaukee.
“We all want to have a safe place for our children, our grandchildren and our families,” he said.
Barrett concluded his speech with a proclamation.
“I do hereby claim today Fair Housing Act day in the City of Milwaukee,” he said.
While the sentiments behind the proclamation called for applause, the next speaker answered Barrett’s request for more additional partners for the improving household challenge.
Vickie Kelsall, the Chairwoman of the GMAR Board of Directors, approached the mic surrounded by school children wearing bright neon green shirts with words: future homeowners.
“We all stand on the shoulders of the those who came before us,” she said. “And these children will stand on our shoulders.”
In order to ensure that the children will have a strong foundation, GMAR presented a $12,500 check to Housing Resources, Inc. that will go towards supporting and preparing Milwaukee residents for a “successful homeownership.”
“We cannot allow our progress to falter,” Kelsall said.
According to Kelsall, a home provides stability, promotes strong social ties, improves civic engagement, encourages children to stay in school and receive better grades. A home, she said, is a privilege, one that everybody deserves.
While Barrett and Kelsall celebrated the progress made 50 years ago, Alderman Hamilton, Fred Reed, Former NAACP Youth Council Commando and Bill Tisdale, President and CEO of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council asked those gathered to recognize that the fight is far from over.
“The work never stops with just the protest,” Hamilton said.
In fact, the protest is the beginning followed by implementing the law and honoring the work he explained. The commitment made today is so important he stated, in order to ensure that the cornerstone of the community remains solid.
Reed likewise told the youth to keep waving the banner. As one of the organizers in 1967, Reed spoke of the abuse the Commandos and marchers received and the determination it took to remain nonviolent in the face of such hatred.
He told the crowd, “We got to come together again.”
A sentiment echoed by Tisdale, who gave examples of families living in Milwaukee today who’ve struggled with housing in the city. Forty years later and the Council’s work continues.
Tisdale said everybody has the possibility and the opportunity to make a difference. The question remains if everybody will rise to the occasion.