Thanks to a donation from Historic Milwaukee Inc., students walking the halls on the third floor at Milwaukee Public Schools’ South Division High School now can take a mini-tour of Milwaukee neighborhoods.
Early last month, Robert Lang, social studies department chair at South, wrote to HMI director Stacy Swadish, asking for a set of the 15x22-inch neighborhood posters that have become so beloved in Milwaukee to be displayed to be displayed in the school’s 9th Grade Academy area.
"We have wonderful artwork and displays in most areas of the first and second floors," Lang wrote. "I'd love to be able to decorate the hallways (of the third floor) in a way that celebrates the culture and diversity of the neighborhoods of Milwaukee."
Lang also told Swadish that he always encourages students to attend HMI’s annual Doors Open Milwaukee event, which allows visitors inside a wide range of historic and interesting buildings and sites all across the city.
Swadish was quick to honor the request, donating a complete set of 39 posters to the school.
"I can't tell you just how much of a difference the posters have made for our building in the short time period they have been displayed," Lang says. "It is no secret that Milwaukee has faced some challenging events over the past few years. With the protests in Sherman Park this past summer and some of the crime that impacts our city, I felt that our students needed a reminder of just how great the City of Milwaukee is. Despite some of the challenges, our city offers a level of diversity that often goes unnoticed. Our neighborhoods have rich histories and each offer their unique story of Milwaukee history and culture."
Lang adds, "The posters that Historic Milwaukee Incorporated donated last month are now a daily reminder for our students that Milwaukee is a city that is truly great. Each neighborhood – from Sherman Park to Bay View – offers a unique culture and community. It is this sense of community that we hope to instill in our students. We want them to be proud of where they come from. We want them to feel like they belong. We want them to realize that they are a part of the community and play a role in not only keeping it safe, but also are responsible for improving it for future generations.
"As my ninth grade students walk down the freshmen hallway at our school, they look up and see a celebration of Milwaukee. Just in the past two days I've heard countless students pause as they are walking past a certain poster. They'll look to the person next to them and say, 'That's my neighborhood.' This often then transitions into a short conversation between friends regarding what makes their neighborhood great."
The posters were originally designed and printed by the City of Milwaukee in the 1980s and last year, the Common Council voted unanimously to turn over the unsold inventory of the posters to HMI so that they could be sold and given as donations to schools and nonprofits around the city.
Additionally, HMI tapped artist Jan Kotowicz to design posters for 11 more neighborhoods to coincide with the publication of John Gurda’s latest book, "Milwaukee: City of Neighborhoods," published by HMI.
"I love the fact that these neighborhood posters have been installed in the 9th Grade Academy floor," Swadish says. "The posters celebrate the neighborhoods of Milwaukee's students – from the Historic South Side to Sherman Park to the Upper East Side."
The posters are available for $10 each at historicmilwaukee.org and at the new HMI store and office, 235 E. Michigan St., which also stocks note cards, tote bags and magnets with the images.
Once the posters arrived, Lang set to getting them all framed and displayed in the school.
"If we hope to improve our neighborhoods, one of the easiest ways to do that is to take pride in who we are and where we came from," says Lang. "The posters donated from Historic Milwaukee Incorporated do just that."
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.