By Ethan Duran
Overwhelming positivity was in the air at this year’s End of Summer Block Party in the Midtown neighborhood last week Friday. On the front lawn of the Running Rebels and Express Yourself Milwaukee’s central location, a new mural was unveiled and guest speakers like MPD’s Captain Jeffrey Norman and Mayor Tom Barrett gave a few words. The mural was the second out of a set of ten.
The Running Rebels, Safe & Sound, Express Yourself Milwaukee planned and threw the party in partnership with the Milwaukee Police Department and Potawatomi Hotel & Casino. A volleyball net, chill rap music, games of giant chess and Connect Four were set up in the lawn, as a stage and games of bean bag toss were set up in the nearby cul-de-sac.
Buzzing around the block party during setup was Dawn Barnett, the Running Rebels Co-Director. Barnett said that the block party is an annual event to give back to the youth and the families her organization serves. “We celebrate the assets of community instead of focusing on what’s wrong,” Barnett said.
At 12:30, a ring of speakers stepped up to the podium before the curtains came down. Dawn Barnett gave the opening speech and was followed by Safe & Sound’s Associate Director, Cacy Kemp. Kemp introduced the rest of the speakers, which included Potawatomi representative Ryan Amundson, express yourself artists McKenzy Brown and Ras Ammar Nsoroma, followed by Milwaukee Police Department Captain Jeffrey Norman and Mayor Tom Barrett.
Shortly after the introduction, the black tarps that obscured the mural were taken down. The artwork that was unveiled was both colorful and dark, both in words and in color. In the center was a fist, a flower, and above that were the words of Malcom X, “Stand for something or fall for anything.” The flower in the middle emerges with good words that contradict the surrounding negative words¬¬¬¬—words like equality, justice and family broke out of ones like greed, violence and ignorance.
Cacy Kemp answered questions after the ceremony. “I think the impact that it has is it brings people together,” Kemp said, “There are a lot of divisions between people on many lines, but many of them have the same goal without realizing it.” Kemp said that with this project, the youth felt like they were the leaders and that they were the ones pushing it along.
“When people feel committed to their neighborhood, like they feel like they can make a difference,” Kemp said, “They take ownership of their neighborhood.”
After the unveiling ceremony was over, there was a final show with Express Yourself—a nonprofit organization called the Dream Keepers, rapper Lil Vic and a final dance with Express Yourself and the audience. Girls from the Dream Keepers pulled off their moves with gyrating hips and fancy splits as Express Yourself did a rhythmic shuffle in yellow t-shirts and paper masks. Party-goers moved along with them, matching steps as traditional African drums played.
As people packed up and left, the positive atmosphere of the block party did not wash away. The show was over, but kids were still dancing to the music, playing the games and just enjoying each other’s company.