As I was sitting in church Sunday morning, a text popped up from my friend Michelle Malicki. "I’m really sad about what happened in Milwaukee last night," she wrote. "Want to go help with cleanup?"
"Yes!" I texted back quickly (I was in church, after all), and then cleared my head and listened to Pastor Kurt at Epikos Church on Milwaukee’s East Side explain that this sermon series on the subject of "unity" was scheduled long before we knew that violence would hit the city that we love.
I’d been up until 3 a.m. watching the coverage the night before – like most of you, I’m sure. It was devastating, and, while horrifying at parts, I also felt that people really needed to see this. A different ugly slice of life other than their own – out of their own little bubble, no matter how hard it may be to see. Something has to change.
And so when that text came through I had no hesitation that I wanted to help. Help from me isn’t much – and I totally see that. But maybe bringing water, garbage bags, Clorox wipes and more would help clean up the charred remains in someone else’s neighborhood and I could help relieve some of other people’s burdens.
As we drove down Burleigh Street from my home in Riverwest, the blocks became more packed in, and traffic was barely crawling. We tried to find my friend, Milwaukee Judge Derek Mosley, without success, and continued on to Sherman Park.
The sidewalks were filled with people carrying and filling garbage bags, circles of people in prayer and small groups conversing quietly. After dropping off our donations, it was hard not to get sucked into the ugly hole left by the burnt BP Station, but we headed across the street to see what needed to be done on the north side of the station.
As we crossed over to the south side of the park again, a small crowd of us was waiting at the light that didn’t include a set of walk or don’t walk signals. It slowly registered that it was missing because it was pulled down last night in the live video I’d been watching.
A young black woman waiting to cross with us was also confused. She was shaking her head and looking around bewildered and stunned. I commented on the confusion of trying to cross without the little blinking light that was at every other intersection around the city. She said, "Yes, it really is" and continued to just shake her head and look around.
She said she lived on the East Side but wanted to come out to help, as well. She became more tense and upset when she shared that a man on a porch down the block had just lifted his shirt and showed her his gun.
She told me she’d never seen a gun before and was in shock – I shared that I never have, either. Even in Riverwest, a neighborhood I love but that has its own fair share of crime, I’d never seen someone on a front porch brandishing a gun.
We slowly walked across the street sharing more of our feelings about the day, the park and the sadness of it all. She headed down the sidewalk to try and find a bus that would get her back to the East Side, back to another life, another part of town – one in which she felt comfortable. But, like many others, she pushed beyond that and came to help.
A few weeks back I attended an event at Alice’s Garden and heard Venice Williams, executive director of the garden, speak for the first time. I heard some things that night that will stay with me a long time, but one of them I think about is Williams' exhortation to push your boundaries every day and have a discussion about issues that affect the black community and our youth. Whether it is with people you agree with or not, continue to have uncomfortable conversations.
I’ve tried to do that ever since then and am so thankful I heard her powerful words that night in the garden. Maybe it will help, maybe it won’t. But at least I can say I took what she said to heart and have tried to do it every day.
Williams shared a few more of her thoughts on the recent events that have occurred in Milwaukee. They are so powerful I could never try to boil them down for you. Watch them for yourself.
I agree with Venice Williams; the match was lit long before Saturday night.
Carolynn Buser is one of Milwaukee's loudest and most adamant cheerleaders (don't dare try to disagree). She's the primary voice behind much of OnMilwaukee's social media and content direction, and apologizes in advance if she can be too sarcastic at times.
What else? She's a wine lover, closet trashy novel reader, beauty supplies addict and devourer of cheese (shocker for a Wisconsin born and bred girl, right?). She's also a bit of a foodie, which is a word most of you hate, we know. She works as hard as she plays - and that includes in the gym! So, you've probably seen her at one of the area's newest restaurant openings (and yes, she will share her opinions good or bad) or enjoying a cold one at a local pub.
All in all, Carolynn's a believer in positive thinking and will do her best to smack down your negative ones while writing about her city, her loves, quests and more.