By Dylan Deprey, and Ethan Duran
Excitement floated through the air, as Ajamou Butler walked along the Rose Park basketball courts prepping for the 7th Annual Heal the Hood. Wafts of barbecue and roasted corn were met by vendors putting the finishing touches on their booths along 3rd St. and Clarke St. in Milwaukee’s Harambee neighborhood.
“You know I got those pre-jitters, that little anxiety, but I’m loving what I’m seeing,” Butler said as he only had a second to chat. “Look at all the energy and excitement, and people haven’t even started showing up yet.”
Heal the Hood’s block party outreach campaign began as a way to promote community pride, while also connecting people to resources and providing entertainment. Along with local vendors and nonprofits, the event was also sponsored in part by the City of Milwaukee’s Office of Violence prevention.
“I wanted to make this as impactful as possible,” Butler said.
Though it was only May 26th, Summer had finally peaked its roaring head. But, the blazing heat did not stop crowds from pouring in to enjoy free food, entertainment, resources, services and neighborly hospitality.
Milwaukee’s own Steph Crosley hosted the event, and included live performances by: OnFyah Afrikan Drum and Dance Ensemble, Milwaukee Flyers, Hip-Hop edutainment by Gat Turner and live music by B-Free.
People traveled across the block, street and the city to check out the first of several Heal the Hood block parties and what local vendors had to offer.
From his tent, Logan Scaggs sold Milwaukee t-shirts for his company, “Cream City Phresh.” The shirts showcased different city references, including old businesses like “Capitol Courts” and the shortlived women’s basketball team, the Milwaukee Does.
“These were shirts I didn’t see about Milwaukee,” Scaggs said. “They were underrepresented.”
Cream City Phresh also featured shirts with different street signs printed on them, like Locust, North, Center and Burleigh. Scaggs said he wanted to see people represent their streets in a positive fashion.
Across the block party, Jacarrie Carr sat behind a table loaded with shoes. He was handing them out as part of his non-profit organization, Jacarrie Kicks 4 Kids. He created Jacarrie Kicks 4 Kids to work with local entities to donate premiere shoes to underprivileged youth, so they could avoid bullying and get a chance to focus on their education.
“I want to enhance the self-esteem of less fortunate youth,” Carr said, “And let kids be less selfconscious of being underprivileged.”
Carr’s goal for the day was to give away 60 pairs of shoes. He said he expected to overreach that goal from working past events.
Other resource vendors included WestCare Wisconsin, Running Rebels and Planned Parenthood.
Alderwoman Milele Coggs was excited to host the first Heal the Hood event of the year in the 6th District.
“It’s wonderful to see all the residents come out and enjoy, not only the offering of the talent and vendors, but also each other in a positive way,” Coggs said.
She added that prior to the event, there was a lot of planning and outreach within the 6th District to really listen to community issues.
“We are looking for ways to support them even past the one-day event because the hope is that once they come together at the event, there’s a lot more of them working together afterwards,” Coggs said.
The Office of Violence Prevention found that after community events like Heal the Hood, violent crimes decreased the day of and the week following.
From bouncy houses and face painting, to hula hooping and serious hooping, youth and young adults enjoyed the summer sun safely.
Local Rapper, Josh Jenkins, of A.D.H.D., showed up to Heal the Hood to enjoy himself, but also to support Butler and the neighborhood.
“I love being around the community, and this event is growing every year.” Jenkins said. “I’m seeing inclusiveness, people having a good time, having fun, sharing values, and to see this out here is very cool.”
Alexa Biami held her tiara high and sash proudly as she was recently crowned the first Black woman to win Miss St. Francis.
“Ms. Coggs invited me to come out,” Biami said. “It’s all family out here.”
Biami got to share her story on live radio for the “Earl Ingram Show.”
“Because I was the first to do it, now I have Latina girls coming up to me saying they want to be the first Latina to win Miss St. Francis, and I want to inspire girls to be the best they can be,” Biami said.
In between taking pictures and speaking with vendors, she also checked out local artists showcasing their art.
After a violent Memorial weekend, including a fatal shooting death in the Harambee community, Heal the Hood and other block initiatives continue to work for the community.
“Guns are loud, violence is loud, so we have to do these kinds of events to be even louder and make an impact,” Butler said.
The next Heal the Hood Block Party and Resource Fair was set for Saturday, July 14th, over on N. 10th St. and W. Center St. from Noon to 6 p.m.
For more information visit, https://healthehoodmke.org/