Photo by Yvonne Kemp
Compiled by MCJ Staff
The second six months of 2013 was about injustice, from a courtroom in Florida to the hallowed chambers of the nation’s highest court, where an iconic ruling protecting the sanctity of voting rights was stripped of its essence. The second half of the year witnessed the celebration of another iconic moment in American and Black American history, the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington where the nation first heard Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream of a world where one is judged on the content of his or her character, not the color of their skin. There were also notable local events, anniversaries and deaths, another mass shooting, this time in the nation’s capital perpetrated by a Black American (a rarity as mass shooters go, but no less devastating), and a changing of the guard in the Civil Rights Movement. The MCJ also celebrated its 37th anniversary with a focus on health and healthy living.
• Thanks to an impressive show of unity and support by activists and concerned citizens and parents for Milwaukee Public School Board President Michael Bonds, the board withdrew a resolution that would have stripped Bonds of much of his power. Led by former state legislator Polly Williams and 860 WNOV AM talk show host Sherwin Hughes, parents and activists filled the auditorium where the board holds its meetings on Vliet Street to near capacity to defend Bonds, protest the action being taken against him and remind the board of his accomplishments on behalf of Milwaukee public school children. Shocked by the showing of support for the embattled board president, board directors voted 9-to-0 to put the resolution “on file,” thus effectively killing any chance the measure would be reintroduced.
• The nation’s oldest civil rights organization responded to the acquittal of George Zimmerman with shock, anguish and a call to action. The NAACP called for the petitioning of the U.S. Justice Department to seek justice for slain teenager Trayvon Martin by filing civil rights charges against Zimmerman. In a message posted on the group’s website and circulated nationally within hours of the announcement of the verdict, NAACP President Ben Jealous declared, “We are not done demanding justice for Trayvon Martin.”
• A street sign was unveiled right across the street from the offices of your Community Journal honoring legendary local Black photographer and MCJ contributor Harry Kemp, the “Gordon Parks” of Milwaukee’s Black community. Family members and a number of dignitaries from the city and county, including photographers influenced and inspired by Harry, were on hand for the ceremony, which took place in the middle of King Drive.
• Milwaukee was one of 100 American cities to have demonstrations demanding justice for Trayvon Martin a week after a jury found his assailant, George Zimmerman, not guilty in his shooting death. Local political leaders such as Ald. Milele Coggs and activists called on the U.S. Justice Department to pursue federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman, as well as changes in the nation’s self-defense laws. Protestors gathered on the steps of the federal court building on Wisconsin Avenue to voice their protest. Among them was Patricia Larry, the mother of 13-year-old Darius Simmons, who was fatally shot by 76-year-old John Spooner, who was convicted the previous week in the youth’s death.
• The Community Journal published its 37th anniversary edition focusing on health and the power individuals have within themselves to take control and improve their health.
• The Community Journal held its 37th anniversary/scholarship celebration at the Italian Conference Center. Seventeen college students received scholarship dollars courtesy of the Terence N. Thomas Scholarship Fund. The keynote speakers for the anniversary brunch were Drs. Denise and Keevin R. Davis, doctors who shifted their medical practice from treating illness to promoting health and wellness.
• Though Milwaukee political and law enforcement officials recently announced strategies to corral the spike in gun violence, Black political and civil rights leaders called for just as an aggressive approach in addressing the root causes of the shootings. James Hall, president of the NAACP Milwaukee Branch, said the increasing violence in the community should not come as a surprise. Hall said it’s not enough to express outrage about violence. There must also be outrage at the circumstances contributing to the situation. “The poverty, unemployment rates and disparities in income and opportunity affecting Milwaukee’s African American community are among the highest in the nation,” Hall said. Echoing Hall, Ald. Joe Davis, Sr. called out local political leaders who “get tough on crime, but are soft on economics. The city of Milwaukee has a pathetic rate of growth in its private sector that is directly related to its crime rate. We want to spend $500,000 on police overtime, but fight not to invest the same amount in African American men and boys who will be the target of strict law enforcement because of our dismal local economy in their community,” Davis said.
• Representatives from the Milwaukee Branch of the NAACP and Milwaukeeans young and old attended the 50th anniversary March on Washington Festivities in the nation’s capital. The national event was organized by Civil Rights leader and broadcaster Rev. Al Sharpton and the eldest son of Dr. Martin Luther King, MLK III. Locally, Milwaukeeans of all colors and nationalities and persuasions celebrated the historic event in the city with speeches and a march up Dr. Martin Luther King Drive.
• James White, the executive director of Harambee Community Center (formerly Harambee Ombudsman project) died suddenly of a suspected heart attack at age 51. He was remembered by Dr. Patricia McManus, president and CEO of the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin, for his intellect. “He was a brilliant guy,” McManus said of White, who was also a former member of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors. “James wasn’t arrogant. He just knew a lot,” McManus said of her friend of 20 years. “I trusted him and appreciated his friendship.”
• The Milwaukee Board of School Directors for MPS extended the contract of the district’s superintendent, Dr. Gregory E. Thornton, through 2016. “Working with the board, Dr. Thornton has made significant progress on development and implementation of a strong academic plan designed to increase student success,” said board President Michael Bonds. Said Thornton of the contract extension: “I’m appreciative of the support of the board of directors and excited to continue the work we’re engaged in to improve outcomes and opportunities for our students.”
• NAACP National President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous announced plans to step down from his role at the end of December of 2013. “The NAACP has always been the largest civil rights organization in the streets, and today it is also the largest civil rights organization online, on mobile and at the ballot box too,” stated Jealous in a press statement announcing his resignation.
• The federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has substantiated a complaint by MICAH (Milwaukee Inner City Congregations Allied for Hope) that charged the city Housing Authority was in violation of minority hiring goals for the Westlawn Housing redevelopment project. HUD has been investigating the hiring practices of the city Housing Authority’s oversight of the $82 million project since March in response to a compliant field by MICAH. The HUD report revealed that “no Westlawn residents or Housing Authority residents from any other Housing Authority developments were hired to work on the Westlawn project.” The Westlawn renovation project on 60th and Silver Spring is considered a showcase for the city, although numerous civic leaders had questioned what appeared to be an absence of Black workers and construction firms at the site. MICAH also questioned the percentage of contracts awarded to Black vendors on the project. The HUD review declared the city’s inability to hire minorities was in contradiction to Section 3 regulations, which call for any training, employment and contracting opportunities underwritten by HUD should prioritize the hiring of minorities and residents of the area.
• As a result of Gov. Scott Walker’s decision to reject an opportunity to strengthen Wisconsin’s BadgerCare program through a federal partnership, an estimated 92,000 Wisconsinites received letters from the state telling them that someone in their household will be dropped from the BadgerCare coverage they have relied on. In response to the state initiative, U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin sent a letter to Walker calling on him to take “responsibility for the path he has taken and ensure that the Wisconsinites who are being kicked off the BadgerCare program are enrolled in the new health insurance marketplace built through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Baldwin also raised concerns about the Walker administration’s commitment to engaging in effective outreach to the Wisconsin citizens who will lose their BadgerCare.
• Just three years after its inception, Wisconsin’s online organ and tissue donor registry has reached the 2 million member mark. The milestone was recognized by Donate Life Wisconsin (DLW) and its affiliate organizations as an example of the generosity of the Wisconsin people and an opportunity to intensify efforts toward educating the public about the importance of registering as an organ, tissue and eye donor. African Americans, particularly in Milwaukee, are disproportionately in need of organ donations, although Black Milwaukeeans are less likely to register or declare themselves organ donors on their driver’s licenses.
• Much-needed policy or heavy-handed lawmaking? That was the debate surrounding proposals to charge mothers with a felony if their children die while co-sleeping, and if it is discovered the child’s mother was intoxicated. Milwaukee Ald. Bob Donovan says it’s simple. If an infant dies because she was co-sleeping, and the parent was intoxicated, criminal charges should be filed. “If this isn’t neglect, I sure as hell don’t know what it is,” Donovan said, calling for the criminalization of co-sleeping. “We don’t need more restorative justice. We don’t need any more hand-holding. We don’t need more parenting classes. We don’t need more free cribs. The answer—what we DO need—is pure and simple: Jail,” Donovan said in a press statement. But Clarene Mitchell, director of collaboration and communication for the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin, says lawmakers like Donovan who are proposing criminalization of co-sleeping are missing the point. “There are larger issues that—yes there should be outrage—but there should be outrage at the larger social issues that are feeding into this.” She listed a number of factors that lead to infant mortality: The lack of affordable and decent housing, extreme unemployment, poor educational outcomes, the lack of coverage and access to health care, and previlance and impact of violence in economically depressed neighborhoods.
• Enrollment in Milwaukee Public Schools grew between 2013-14, reversing a decline that lasted nearly a decade. MPS’s fall enrollment count submitted to the state this year was 78,502, up from 78,461 submitted at the same time last year. The modest increase came after the district lost 1,000 or more students each year for the last nine years. “Milwaukee is arguably the most competitive K-12 education marketplace in the country,” said MPS Superintendent Gregory Thornton. “We are grateful that families recognize the significant improvements we’ve made and the successes we’ve seen by choosing Milwaukee Public Schools.” Part of the district’s success in attracting students has come from expanding and replicating successful traditional schools and charter schools thanks to strategic use of underutilized or unused facilities.
• The Common Council approved a resolution establishing Motorcycle Safety Awareness Week in Milwaukee every year during the first week in May. The resolution, authored by Ald. Milele A. Coggs, was recommended for approval by the Council’s Public Safety Committee. Coggs said she was moved by the family of Vinencia Dawson, who was killed in a motocycle accident June 30.
• The Milwaukee Public Schools and 2760 Holdings, LLC will develop a robust public/private partnership that will bring new opportunities for educational excellence and residential housing options to the Harambee neighborhood of Milwaukee. Under this partnership, the former Malcolm X middle school building will be built out in two phases. The first phase will create affordable housing for area residents and a school, which will be an International Baccalaureate middle school for 600 students.
• Wisconsin State Represenatatives Leon D. Young and LaTonya Johnson of Milwaukee introduced a bill (LRB 3309) for co-sponsorship that will benefit victims of human trafficking by allowing them the opportunity to petition the courts and have their records expunged when the charges brought against them are directly linked to them being trafficked. “Human trafficking is a growing concern in the state and it is time to start rethinking the issue and providing some relief to those who are unfortunately forced into this servitude,” Young said in statement.
• Not to be outdone by Assembly Republican’s reintroduction of a voter ID bill that could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters, Wisconsin State Senate Republicans recently launched their own witch-hunt against voter rights in Wisconsin. Senate Bill 324, limiting the hours of early voting in Wisconsin, and all but eliminating evening and weekend voting options used to reduce election day congestion in communities across the state appeared before the Senate Committee on Elections and Urban Affairs for a public hearing. Said One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross: “The people behind this legislation apparently don’t get that voters are not the enemy and that legal voters doing their civic duty and voting is not a problem.”
• Rev. Joe Allen Games, pastor of Providence Baptist Church, and one of the founding members of the Milwaukee Innercity Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH), passed peacefully. He was 72. In 1969, with only 17 members, Rev. Games founded Providence Baptist Church in the living room of his home. The church quickly grew, moving from a living room, to a basement, to a storefront at 3267 N. Green Bay, to a location at 2429 W. Hampton, to their present location at 3865 N. 82nd Street, where 30 ministries meet to serve the needs of not only the congregation, but the community. “It is a loss to Providence and to the community,” said current MICAH President, Rev. Willie Brisco. “He was the spiritual consciousness of this city.”
• The son of retired attorney and community activist Beverly Njuguna, 73, said his mother was being taken advantage of by the Milwaukee County Department of Aging. She was removed from her home without justification and given mind/mood altering prescription drugs such as Ambien and Lorazepam that excelerated a preexisting condition of Dementia. Her son, Joseph Njuguna in a First Person article on the MCJ’s front page, claimed his mother was the victim of an elaborate scheme orchestrated by those in the Black community trusted to keep the elderly safe.
• The head of the Wisconsin Black Chamber of Commerce (WBCC) said no elective office holder or candidate should be invited to speak to churches, clubs or groups and family members if they’re unwilling to address issues directly impacting the Black community. “You will not get the Black community’s vote if you do not serve the Black community’s interests,” declared WBCC chairman/CEO Reuben Hopkins. His statement was aimed at incumbent lawmakers and office seekers who have their eyes set on the coming spring primary and general elections scheduled for February 18 and April 1 of 2014 respectively. Hopkins said the candidates who will run must do more than articulate the issues. They must have doable, realistic plans and the commitment to push them to improve the economic, educational, health and social outcomes of the community.
• A number of local leaders expressed their sorrow and rememberences of former South African President Nelson Mandela who died after a long illness at age 95. “…The world lost a hero and a champion for equality and justice,” said State Rep. Mandela Barnes, who was named after the freedom fighter and the first Black president of the former apartheid country. “His message of peace has not only forever changed South Africa, but enhanced world diplomacy, and been an inspiration for millions around the planet, including myself.” Said Cong. Gwen Moore: “His courage and strength freed a nation and reshaped our history. In 2005, I had the honor and blessing of meeting this remarkable man. It was powerful moment that left an indelible mark.”
• Senators Nikiya Harris of Milwaukee and Robert Wirch of Racine, along with several of their colleagues held a news conference calling for a hearing on the Minimum Wage Bill (Bill 4), which would increase the state’s minimum wage to $7.50 an hour while indexing it to inflation. “It is unacceptable that individuals that work full time cannot support their families and are forced to rely on public tax dollars in order to get by,” said Harris.
• The Salvation Army announced plans to host the annual Christmas Day Family Feast at the Wisconsin Center District, 400 W. Wisconsin Ave. A tradition in Milwaukee for 24 years, the Christmas Family Feast is free and open to the entire community. “What started as a dinner to feed those in need has evolved into an important holiday event where a great meal serves as the focal point for a wonderful day of fellowship, fun and community,” said Major Dan Jennings, Salvation Army Divisional Commander for Wisconsin and Upper Michigan.
• Lauri J. Wynn, the first African American to become president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) in 1973, died from complications due to breast cancer, according to her daughter Hillary Wynn. She was 83. Wynn was a teacher and longtime civil rights activist. She was active in the desegregation movement in Milwaukee in the 1970s. “She has always been willing to tell it like it is and be strong,” said another woman of firsts, Vel Phillips, the city’s first African American elected alderman. (Caption for photo: Milwaukee Ald. Milele Coggs addresses the gathering at the Federal Courthouse during a rally protesting the not guilty verdict for George Zimmerman that was handed down in the Trayvon Martin case.