By Meredith Melland
This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Visit milwaukeenns.org.
There is a connection between historically Black colleges and universities and Milwaukee’s own Alice’s Garden Urban Farm.
Several HBCUs, shorthand for such schools, were founded as institutions to further education in food and agricultural sciences and still have sustainable food programs, a mission that Alice’s Garden embraces as a farming oasis in the city.
So, it’s natural that Alice’s Garden welcomes community members connected to or interested in HBCUs to a celebration from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday at 2136 N. 21st St.The free, open-to-all HBCU Summer Mixer will have food, networking and entertainment honoring the traditions of Black colleges.
“There are a lot of people here in Milwaukee that attended Black colleges or kids are going there now, and I think just a lot of people don’t know, so it’s just a way to highlight, to network, to show that sense of pride as well,” said Courtney Kelly, a consultant for Rochelle Consulting and Events who is organizing the event.
Historically Black colleges and universities, mostly located in the South, were founded during Reconstruction to be a higher education option for Black people who were unwelcome at public and private institutions at the time.
A celebration of joy (and resilience)
Many HBCUs are 1890 land-grant universities, which were institutions for African Americans created to strengthen research and teaching in the food and agricultural sciences, according to Venice Williams, executive director of Alice’s Garden Urban Farm.
“We were exploited as Black folk when so many of us were brought to this country, and food and land were both weaponized against us,” Williams said. “ … And so the beauty for me, always, of historically Black colleges and universities is that so many of them were birthed out of the very real necessity to educate us by us and to heal our relationship with food and land, and, in spite of everything that had been done to us and continues to be done to us, to say, ‘Here we are. And we’re not just surviving, we’re gonna thrive.’”
Williams, a Lincoln Creek resident, will be giving walk-throughs of the garden and sharing the history of land-grant institutions, But the focus of the mixer is celebration and joy, she said.
Attendees are encouraged to wear HBCU pride clothing, even if they did not attend one, and to bring lawn chairs to enjoy the “Yard,” an HBCU campus fixture where students gather on a grassy area between classes, Kelly said.
The event will feature vendors, music from DJ KelC and performances from Milwaukee Hittaz: Drum Corps and a majorette dance team.
Both Williams and Kelly have personal connections to HBCUs.
Kelly is a Milwaukee native who attended Rufus King High School, where she learned about and then enrolled in Florida A&M University, a historically Black university in Tallahassee.
“It was more than an education experience, it was definitely a life experience that I cherish, I take pride in,” she said of her time at an HBCU.
Williams’ grandmother was accepted into but did not attend what was then Tuskegee Institute when tuition was $500 for four years but every student had to work the farm.
“She did do a visit and very much celebrated throughout her life her story of having met George Washington Carver,” Williams said. Carver was one of the most prominent Black scientists of the early 20th century.
A large HBCU community
The HBCU community in Milwaukee is quite large because many Black families in the area moved north in the Great Migration and have southern roots, according to state Rep. LaKeshia Myers, a graduate of an HBCU, Alcorn State University. Myers represents the 12th Assembly District.
Myers works with the HBCU United Milwaukee alumni group and estimates there are 35 specific alumni chapters that have a representative in the organization.
“I think it’s more than appropriate to have a reception and a get-together in Alice’s Garden because of all the work that Venice does with understanding the land and the healing aspect of agriculture and bringing people together through food and a lot of the growing power that we have in this community,” Myers said.
For more information HBCU United Milwaukee is promoting additional events, including an annual get-together for alumni on Sept. 15, a college fair on Oct. 7 and a college tour of HBCUs for interested early high schoolers in spring 2024.
For more information on Milwaukee’s HBCU community, visit the HBCU United Milwaukee Facebook page or contact Myers’ office by email or phone to learn more about the college tour.
To learn more about Alice’s Garden and upcoming events, visit its website.
Meredith Melland is the neighborhoods reporter for the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service and a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. Report for America plays no role in editorial decisions in the NNS newsroom.