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What Milwaukee Means to Me

November 5, 2010

I’m soaking wet as I sit here writing my response to Adam Carr’s thought-provoking questions: “Who is Milwaukee? What is Milwaukee?” Yes, I was that inspired to share my thoughts and feelings towards Milwaukee that I scrubbed real quick and jumped out of the shower to begin writing my response. I didn’t want to stifle the creative juices that are apparently flowing right now!

So, “Who is and what is Milwaukee?”

I used to think Milwaukee was this stinking city that I would be stuck living in until the day my son turns 18 years old and moves away to college. That wasn’t always my mindset. You see, I moved to Milwaukee from Green Bay when I was 16 years old to marry my boyfriend at the time. We thought we were in love and started a family young. By 26, I was divorced and found myself stuck in a city that I did not enjoying living in, but stayed in to co-parent an amazing son.

Why did I not enjoy Milwaukee and why did I want to leave?

There are a few reasons for that. I originally moved to Milwaukee only to be with my husband. After our marriage ended, I defined Milwaukee as a city that belongs to my ex-husband. I honestly didn’t make the time or effort to become better acquainted with Milwaukee because I thought I knew everything I needed to know about the city and its people. I lived on the Northwest side near Midtown. I worked typically in the suburban areas like Brookfield or Menomonee Falls. I was friends with his family and friends. All I knew was all I knew, which was the fact that I lived in a not-so-great area of Milwaukee for so long, I worked in areas where I preferred to live—away from the city, and I was friends with a closed circle of friends. What I did not know was that Milwaukee offered much more than the neighborhood where I lived or the areas where I worked and went to school. I did not know how rich the city’s culture and heritage was because I stayed confined to my own neighborhoods and small circle of influence. I did not know what Milwaukee had to offer because I was ignorant and uninvolved in the community.

What are some of these rich things I speak of?

Milwaukee has an amazing creative sector having locally grown some of the most talented and globally recognized artists that include musicians, B-boys, writers, film makers, and TV stars. The art and music scene is so rich. If you have forgotten, Milwaukee is home to the largest music festival in the world. That’s a pretty big, friggin’ deal! But most importantly, Milwaukee has bred an incredible population of some of the most dedicated and committed progressive-minded professionals serious about shaping Milwaukee’s image, economy and its quality of living. The people who are connected to Milwaukee simply get involved for the sake of making a difference, which is something very unique and hard to teach. I’ve had the pleasure of working behind the scenes with over a dozen different non-profit organizations within the past two years. It is no coincidence that I’ve worked with some of the most passionate, generous and authentic people in my life. No matter what the cause or mission of each organization I supported, the goal in mind was always the same: “Let’s lead by example and give of ourselves to help make the world a better place to live.” Sounds pretty ambitious, I know. However, by no coincidence, I’ve surrounded myself with individuals who have that mindset because that aligns with what I set out to do in my life and profession.

Are we asking you to buy-in to Milwaukee?

Perhaps we are. However, when you really think about it, it’s not just the city of Milwaukee and its region we are all fighting to protect and support. It’s about helping our community to flourish. It’s about helping the people. It’s about making connections. It’s about being our best and leading by example so that we can enjoy the world in which we live, work, and play no matter where that is. I believe we are asking you to buy-in to the community in which you have chosen as your home for now.

I’ve traveled abroad as well as to numerous states across the country. I’ve experienced different cultures and people. I’ve seen the best of and worst of many cities. The truth is every city has issues. It was only through traveling, as extensively as I did, that I came to appreciate Milwaukee because I realized what it had to offer me. What had changed for me was that I had to become acquainted with Milwaukee as if I was a tourist so that I could discover its hidden beauty. Don’t be mistaken, I’ve fallen in love with many places far away from Milwaukee where the weather is better, buildings are taller, stores are cooler, and people are trendier. However, being exposed to the beautiful world out there is what helped me to realize that Milwaukee is equally beautiful.

Milwaukee to me is where my son was born and raised. Milwaukee is where I’ve built a strong network of friends and community after I chose to get involved. Milwaukee is where I’ve been able to drive and impact change more effectively and stealthily than I would be able to in any other city of its size. Milwaukee is easily accessible and convenient to travel throughout. I came to love Milwaukee because I stopped being ignorant and began exploring the city with a new set of eyes and ears. I reached out to the community and became a resource because that is what I lacked growing up and wanted so badly. I saw the challenges the city faced and instead of bitching and complaining about it, like I used to before, I got up and started being a catalyst of change.

All of those years I had been criticizing Milwaukee, I was always waiting for someone else to convince me it was worth supporting. I kept waiting for someone to pave the way for me and once convinced I would then wait for the right opportunity to get involved or find an inspiring subject to follow. Well, I got tired of waiting for this perfect line to form, so I decided to create my own line. You see, whether or not you buy-in to Milwaukee or see yourself staying here for long, the real question I would raise to you is whether you choose to get involved with your community. Will you choose to have some ownership in solving our issues or let our differences continue to divide us as people and as a country?

At the end of the day, no matter where you live, work or play, we all want the same thing. We all want a place to call home. We all want a place we enjoy. We all want a place where we have a strong network of friends and family. We all want to have some sense of connectedness, security and familiarity. We all want and expect a lot from the city we live in, but how much work are we willing to put into driving the change we want to see? Wherever I decide to live, one thing you can count on is that I’ll get involved in my community. I won’t give up on being a catalyst of change whether or not I ever see the fruits of my labor.

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