By Meredith Melland Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service Published Apr 27, 2024 at 10:01 AM

Milwaukee’s Harambee neighborhood is living up to its name – which means “all pull together” in Swahili – by putting residents’ voices at the heart of a new Quality of Life plan.

More than 250 Harambee residents have come together to shape the plan, reflecting the neighborhood’s spirit of collaboration. 

Local Initiatives Support Corp., or LISC Milwaukee, launched the Harambee Quality of Life initiative in 2021 and hired Riverworks Development Corp., 526 E. Concordia Ave., which serves Harambee and Riverwest, to serve as the project’s lead agency.

Harambee has boundaries of Capitol Drive to North Avenue (from north to south) and Interstate 43 to Holton Street (from west to east), according to the Harambee Quality of Life plan.

Participating residents have developed shared goals to improve the neighborhood over the next five years in the priority areas of resident governance, community safety, housing, economic and community development, and neighborhood communication.

“Residents thought this was a priority, they thought it was important to have a voice in this,” said Sakuri Fears, senior program officer at LISC Milwaukee, as she presented the plan at a meeting in late February at St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church, 128 W. Burleigh St. 

LISC Milwaukee, in partnership with Wells Fargo, has invested $200,000 in the initiative.

Takeaways from the plan

The plan’s priority areas include strategies and support to achieve each goal, along with measures of success. 

For example, to ensure “residents have ample opportunities to own or rent an affordable and safe home in Harambee,” the plan outlines strategies to increase homeownership for its low and moderate income residents and to educate residents on tenants’ rights. 

After defining what a “safe, connected neighborhood” looks like, neighborhood residents can create safe spaces in underutilized areas of Harambee and organize positive, peace-focused events.

“I thought it was absolutely excellent,” said Shirley Warren, of Halyard Park, after the plan’s presentation. 

She especially appreciated the plan’s focus on communication, building partnerships and strengthening relationships with public officials.

“I was saying that I was hoping they share that with other groups because my neighborhood would certainly benefit from knowing and ‘cause it’s all laid out so well,” Warren said.

The full plan is outlined in a 36-page booklet that will be made available online.

Engaging community members

LISC, with leadership support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, has supported over 70 Quality of Life plans through its New Communities Program, or NCP, since the late 1990s, according to Fears.

To ensure the Harambee plan was driven by residents, Riverworks formed a steering committee co-led by Darryl Johnson, Riverworks’ executive director, and Travis Landry, regional vice president of WestCare Wisconsin.

“We can get all the resources coming into this neighborhood, but if we don’t get a piece of those resources and make decisions on those resources, then basically, we have given up our neighborhood to somebody else,” Johnson said at the presentation meeting.

Committee members learned about the history of Harambee – the demographics, housing, business and arts – and conducted one-on-one interviews with residents for input.

Because the project team started work in 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic, the committee and consultants conducted five out of six community visioning sessions virtually. A core group of more than 30 residents attended all six sessions.

The steering committee also hosted events, such as an early action project at the Malaika Early Learning Center, 125 W. Auer Ave., to ask staff and families about what they envisioned for Harambee’s future. 

“This community session included an artist who drew each idea on a vision board, so we could see the transformation of our community take place right before our very eyes,” said Maureen Gunn, community engagement specialist at St. Marcus Lutheran Church and School and a member of the steering committee. 

For more information

Harambee neighbors can sign up to join work groups that are focused on different priorities.  

Anyone interested in learning more or joining a group can reach out to Ruth Weill, Riverworks’ community engagement coordinator, at or at (414) 882-7421.