Some of you may not want to admit it, but for many people of color, Milwaukee is a “terrible city.”
When ESPN’s “First Take” discussed the possibility of traveling to Milwaukee for the NBA Finals on Tuesday, Stephen A. Smith, Max Kellerman, Molly Qerim Rose and Damien Woody quickly dissed the city.
Woody, a former NFL player, asked Smith if he really wanted to travel to Milwaukee and Smith responded with “hell no.”
Host Rose quickly jumped in.
“Steven A, you know what I just thought about. Which is actually kind of funny. The only two times, the one time I didn’t go to the Super Bowl it was Minnesota and this is the first year I’m not sure what our plans are for ‘First Take,’ but I don’t think we’re going Max and I, we’ll see. And it’s going to be terrible cities,” she said.
Those harsh comments hurt some feelings in Milwaukee, and people responded by highlighting some of the city’s many amenities.
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Don’t get me wrong. I was born and raised here — I love this city, too, but if you look at the statistics for how people of color fare in Milwaukee, it’s not hard to see why 80% of Black respondents rated the city “fair” or “poor” in a Suffolk University/USA TODAY poll conducted with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
That poll revealed deep racial disparities: More than half the white and Hispanic people polled said the city is “excellent” or “good.”
Instead of a petition to ban the ESPN crew from coming to Milwaukee, maybe we should recognize how much work needs to be done.
‘Moving from Milwaukee was one of the best things I did’
Antonio Daniels, 53, moved from Milwaukee to a suburb of Atlanta because as a Black man raising a family in Milwaukee, he felt there was no growth for him.
“To be honest with you, I never looked back. Moving from Milwaukee was one of the best things I did for my family and myself,” said Daniels, pastor of The Place of Promise Church in Duluth, Georgia.
Daniels’ family moved to Atlanta in 1999. Before the move, he lived in a home near North 30th Street and West Lisbon Avenue in the Washington Park area.
Over the years, the neighborhood changed. Crime grew, and there was no political will to address the needs of African Americans.
“Year after year, things got a little worse. My mother moved first, and she convinced us to follow, and it was a big step, but we left with no regrets because Milwaukee is not progressive at all when compared to Atlanta,” Daniels said.
Daniels, who now lives in Lawrenceville, Georgia, said one of the biggest changes he noticed was a larger Black middle class.
“I live in a suburb with mostly Black people and nobody’s house is under $300,000,” he said. “The thing is there are a lot of areas like this around here and not just one.”
Every time Daniels comes back to visit family members and friends, he leaves even more disappointed.
“The crime in Milwaukee is out of hand in certain communities and the reckless driving is just crazy. I have to be honest with you, when I come back to visit, I be ready to head out for my own safety,” he said.
Daniels said he is not surprised by the statements made by the ESPN sports journalists.
“Milwaukee makes national news a lot for the wrong reasons. The part that surprises me is that you guys still have some of the same political leaders in place and nothing is getting better, but you are scared to make any changes. How long has (Mayor) Tom Barrett been in office? It’s embarrassing,” he said.
Dozens of my friends and family members, like Daniels, have left Milwaukee.
Heads in the sand in defense of Milwaukee
It didn’t take long for our local leaders to respond to the ESPN broadcasters after they criticized the city.
Here is what some of them had to say:
“Our eclectic and exciting neighborhoods, one of the best dining scenes in the country, and our spectacular Lake Michigan waterfront, you’ll experience it all. … There’s a reason people are moving to this welcoming gem of a city in record numbers,” said Peter Feigin, president of the Milwaukee Bucks and Fiserv Forum.
“We don’t really care about what your opinion is of our city or of any of the other possible NBA Finals cities. Please just talk about the basketball, because that’s what we are hyped about!” said 7th District Milwaukee Ald. Khalif Rainey.
“You know, we are putting a lot of energy and effort into rebuilding this city and making it a vibrant place where folks want to live, work, raise a family,” said Milwaukee Common Council President Cavalier Johnson.
I get the reflex to stand up for your city, but reality is closer to these comments from the past couple of years — both of them from the Milwaukee Bucks organization.
Two years ago, then Bucks player Malcolm Brogdon said he’s never lived in a city this segregated.
“Milwaukee’s very behind in terms of being progressive,” Brogdon said in a 2019 interview with The Guardian. “There are things that need to change rapidly.”
In 2016, Feigin, speaking to a Rotary Club in Madison, said: “Very bluntly, Milwaukee is the most segregated, racist place I’ve ever experienced in my life.”
Milwaukee turns its back on good ideas
Racism and segregation are two chronic problems holding Milwaukee back — keeping us from becoming a premier city. My Milwaukee’s Promise project showed why everyone must be valued, regardless of race.
And yet time and again political leaders fail to act on ideas that are working in other cities.
In 2017, I wrote about the Evergreen Cooperatives of Cleveland, which are a model for creating more sustainable regional economies where residents can earn an ownership stake in a thriving business.
Anchor institutions in Cleveland worked together to help employ some of the hardest people to employ, giving them green jobs that paid a living wage.
One Milwaukee alderman said he was interested in the Cleveland idea, but the only thing that happened was a resolution promising to look into the program.
We don’t need more resolutions. We need action.
And no more excuses.
Whether the Bucks recover from their loss to Atlanta in Game 1 and move onto the NBA Finals or not, the real victory would be molding a city that works for all its residents. Until then, there’s a good argument that Milwaukee really is a “terrible city” — at least for people of color.
James E. Causey started reporting on life in his city while still at Marshall High School through a Milwaukee Sentinel high school internship. He’s been covering his hometown ever since, writing and editing news stories, projects and opinion pieces on urban youth, mental health, employment, housing and incarceration. Most recently, he wrote “What happened to us?” which tracked the lives of his third-grade classmates, and “Cultivating a community,” about the bonding that takes place around a neighborhood garden. Causey was a health fellow at the University of Southern California in 2018 and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in 2007.
Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @jecausey.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: James Causey: Milwaukee really is a terrible city for people of color
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