By LaKeshia N. Myers
What a time to live in Milwaukee and what a time to be alive! The Milwaukee Bucks won the NBA championship last week and in the midst of the euphoric experience of the NBA finals, it was not lost on me how fans from across the state descended on the Deer District to witness sports history. Fans from Central and Northern Wisconsin, and those from the WOW county suburbs—folks from villages, towns and hamlets that on any other night might feel Milwaukee was a “dangerous” and crime-ridden city. A place they wanted to stay far, far away from. But not lately. Not while the Bucks chased the championship.
Having grown up in Milwaukee, I defend my city with a vengeance. I know its history; I know it was once “the machine shop of the world.” I also know deindustrialization took a toll on the city and its overwhelmingly blue-collar workforce. Crime, in its inevitable ebb and flow, plummets and spikes as it does in every large American city. This, coupled with white flight, limited transportation and inequitable apportionment of the state’s shared revenue cause Milwaukee to be a mysterious fortress that, depending on one’s station in life, causes one to feel locked in. For others, it serves as a cavalier pass-through, a place to go to earn money that is then spent in suburbs far away from the “ills of the city.”
I most definitely have a chip on my shoulder when anyone puts my hometown down. This is primarily because there is usually only one portrayal of Milwaukee. The city is often viewed through a monolithic lens where zip codes, poverty and crime are the recurring themes. This couldn’t be further from the truth. My own experience growing up in Milwaukee was one of traditional middle-class ideals. Two parents, hardworking educators, who were able to provide for my sister and me a life of safety, stability and structure.
Living here, I had the opportunity to experience all of the trappings of “the good life”—professional sports outings, theatre, entertainment, Girl Scouts and lessons for piano and ballet, just to name a few. For the most part, my neighbors have remained the same—hardworking professionals, (some now retired) that believe in looking out for each other and the wellbeing of the community.
What I observed during the NBA finals was magical. It was also a peek into Milwaukee and the state’s future. The rest of the state—albeit some begrudgingly–respecting what Milwaukee, a city 600,000 strong (and growing) brings to the table. Finally putting some respect on our name aids in the final stage of our metamorphosis as we continue to shed our rust belt image and move further into the 21st century. We are a cosmopolitan city, one bursting with opportunity and growth potential.
Just as Giannis Antetokounmpo, could not win the championship alone, the state of Wisconsin cannot win without the city of Milwaukee. To quote my colleague Sen. Lena Taylor, “No matter what we are up against, we persevere”—and we most definitely do this together.