Editor’s note: This is one of an occasional series of pieces about grassroots leaders in Milwaukee.
In a patch of grass between houses in the Amani neighborhood, Lavita Booker slowly paces between small garden beds, admiring the growing plants. Booker is standing in the Marcus Garvey Garden, which she created for more than just growing flowers and vegetables.
Lavita Booker is 56 years old and has lived in Milwaukee her entire life. She left her job after she was injured at work, and said that was when she began looking for something new to keep her occupied. Booker developed the idea after she had a dream in which a voice told her to create a garden to honor African-American history. The voice gave her specific details for every aspect of the garden, she said. Shortly after, she began figuring out the steps she needed to take to bring her dream to life.
In spring 2017 she began to build the Marcus Garvey Garden with the help of community organizer Camille Mays and staff from Groundwork Milwaukee.
Booker calls the garden beds the “hero” and “she-ro” beds, each named after a significant African-American historical figure, such as Harriet Tubman or Malcolm X. The garden, located at 3052 N. 37th St., also honors Milwaukee icons Mother Scott, Jeannetta Robinson and Vel Phillips.
Booker’s goal is for African-American children to learn about and respect their “rich and very important” history.
“If they don’t learn about and respect the past, how will they be able to respect themselves?” Booker asked. She plans to provide pamphlets at each garden bed with information about the historical figure each bed is honoring.
Booker also intends to grow flowers and vegetables in the beds beginning next spring. She said that anyone will be able to claim a bed, although people will have to provide their own seeds. She also plans to start a program called “Farmacy,” where she will have experts come to the garden and talk about agriculture, growing produce and how people can “live to be healthy and wealthy.”
After putting in the first eight garden beds, Booker contracted with Groundwork Milwaukee, which worked with Engineers Without Borders, to help her build a rainwater harvester unit. The device will collect rainwater with a system of gutters and pipes, and store it so it can be used to water garden beds. This method of irrigation will keep the garden watered while being environmentally friendly and saving money. Booker also intends to add more garden beds and paint them red green and black to represent the colors of the Pan-African flag.
Booker credits Ald. Khalif Rainey for playing an important role in creating the garden. He donated money to build it, and helped her acquire the land. Assuming the garden remains an asset to the community, Booker will be able to buy the land for a dollar after one year.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the role of Groundwork Milwaukee on this project. We apologize for the error.