“The President’s Perspective”
By Alderman Ashanti Hamilton
Common Council President City of Milwaukee
In this holiday season, Milwaukee residents and people across the nation are taking a moment to stop and recognize what they have to be thankful for in their lives. For many this is a reflection that draws similar conclusions each year. Thankfulness for our friends and families. Gratitude for our blessings. Recognition of what we have in our lives. As I have stepped back to take inventory of what I have to be thankful for, I am reminded that we have so much to be thankful for in this great city. We should use this opportunity to highlight the growing bright spots in a world that seems to constantly be enveloped in a dark fog.
We are often painted with the colors of our challenges. Milwaukee is our segregation. Milwaukee is our disparities. Milwaukee is the worst place in America for categories x, y, and z. These are challenges to combat to be sure. But is this all that Milwaukee is? A place with some buildings, some people and some problems? I challenge that rhetoric and stand by the fundamental belief that Milwaukee is filled with things to be proud of today, not just in our rich history.
I take pride in our people. We have so many people in Milwaukee that are working to make their community a better place. Countless individuals and non-profits inhabit this city, thinking of innovative new ways to improve the quality of life for their neighbors. We have mentors and teachers committed to the youth in this City. For every person that is lost, we have a dozen trying to help them find their way. This is a city where people look to their left and to their right and don’t accept that only one of them can make it. I am thankful for the hearts of our residents.
I take pride in our children; their laughter and their endless questions as they try and figure out the world. We constantly are challenged to think about how to make our world better than it is today, and the reality is that it really does come down to our children. They are the world’s greatest promise. Who will they become? What will they contribute? Anyone that says someone is too young to change the world is wrong. We have a 19 year old, Kalan Haywood II, who is going to be in the State Legislature making laws and pursuing a degree at the same time. This is a community where a young man doesn’t wait for someone else to step up and lead his community– he gets out there and does it himself. I am thankful for the future that our youth will create.
I take pride in the beauty in our City. We live alongside a breathtaking body of water called Lake Michigan. We also have beautiful rivers to walk along with our friends and loved ones. We have County Parks where people young and old can gather to celebrate a birthday, take a walk in the fresh air, show out on the basketball court and just live. We have historic buildings that hold beauty both in their significance and their stunning appearance. We have public art that serves as a constant reminder of our roots. From the McKinley Bridge to the new Garden Homes mural at Teutonia and Atkinson, we have powerful projects that allow the soul of Milwaukee to be expressed in a visual way. I am thankful for places where I can have these experiences.
The truth is that Milwaukee has so much more to offer, but we can’t always see it when we are doing the work to change the things that are a hindrance to Milwaukee’s success. It is easy to spend so much time looking at a dead tree that you miss out on the beauty of the forest. We have to look at the bigger picture and take stock of what we do have. Otherwise, our whole forest will seem dead because those are the only trees we talk about.
Expressing your thankfulness is not a denial of the needs that remain present, it is a supplement. You have to know what you possess to figure out how to solve your deficiencies. As a matter of fact, you have to know what you possess to know what your deficiencies are in the first place. Think about what you do have, what our City has and let that dictate where you are going. We cannot get lost in a sinkhole of what we need.
As with everything, this comes with a balance. People who are oblivious to Milwaukee’s challenges need to have people talking to them about the reality of our City. Those who do not have the luxury of ignorance to these issues need an extra dose of hope. But we all need to be in a place where two things are true of us at the same time. We need to have both the sobering recognition of the imperfections of our City, and a heart postured in gratitude for that which we do have. Perhaps the greatest of these blessings being that our past and present should never limit our future. Even as they try, we won’t let them. We have the power to define our own destiny and we are all able to use that power. This is perhaps, what I am the most grateful for.