By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Jan 23, 2017 at 9:09 AM

Joe Franke’s family has a history of giving back to the community. His grandfather, Harry Franke, was a lobbyist and lawyer who started the Harry & Mary Franke Idea Fund in 1991. Still going today, it has been a vehicle for seed money grants to countless local community-building efforts like the bell at Milwaukee’s City Hall tower, the Skylight Theatre, Milwaukee Public Schools and the Medical College of Wisconsin.

In the spirit of tradition, Franke, a Shorewood High School graduate who is currently a sophomore at Ohio’s John Carroll University, started Activate MKE with his own idea that began with a written piece he submitted to OnMilwaukee in 2015

When OnMilwaukee’s Jeff Sherman, Chad Wleczyk of Abacus Architects and others read the piece and were introduced to Franke, they immediately realized they had a shared vision – with the best interests of Milwaukee in mind. So they combined their efforts, started meeting, sharing ideas and bringing other like-minded community-centric groups into a fold that quickly became an organized, mission-driven group.

ActivateMKE’s mission is to activate people and space through sports and fitness. The organization’s first major project entails creating two outdoor basketball courts – one of those courts would be made with the world famous MECCA floor – in a Milwaukee public space.

The MECCA floor, known as "The Floor That Made Milwaukee Famous," as well as the largest pop art painting in the world, was designed in 1977 by Robert Indiana. The floor was sold in 2013 and is again available for sale. 

"Win or lose, basketball brings the city together, breaking down barriers of race as sports have done for our nation many times," says Franke.

The group recently launched its website, helped support Cream Skills Basketball Association and has been active on social media, sharing ideas and inspiration for its projects.

Franke’s group is working quickly and plans to have one of their projects completed this summer. The locations have not been determined, but Franke says the Downtown and Lakefront areas are a possibility.

Franke, as noted, is working with a variety of partners and a list that constantly grows. Partners in this project are known as "activators," and they include Sport Court of Wisconsin, Creative Lighting Design and Engineering, MKE Plays and Abacus Architects.

"We came together because we are all inspired by a similar dream to bring people together and build community," says Wleczyk.

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.