Across this world, this state and this city, there are people who want to experience black Milwaukee in a unique, safe, warm and friendly environment.
What is the “black Milwaukee experience?” And are people interested in such an experience, as the statement above claims? If they are, how can this be a good thing for black Milwaukee?
First, the “black Milwaukee experience” or shall we say, the “Brownsville” experience, is everything black Milwaukeeans enjoy about our communities, families and culture. It is not just about a particular location. It is our foods, faith, music, language, style, culture, dress, etc.
It is the greens, chitterlings and all the fixings. It is “stepping in the name of love,” “dropping it like it hot.” It is our Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal and other faith experiences. And it is so much more.
There are both local and national examples in which culturally driven economic activity in a community has been led and implemented by black folks. Locations locally include MLK Drive, Fond du lac Avenue and North Avenue over the years. There are also areas in Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., and many other cities across the country.
From Sydney, Australia to Toronto, Canada there are Chinatowns across the world that — in addition to keeping Chinese traditions alive — give many of us a chance to “smell and taste” a foreign world in our own backyards. These culturally driven, place-making, tourist attracting, commercial corridors are financial opportunities for local Chinese communities across the world. Other ethnic examples include Little Italy in Chicago and Cesar Chavez Drive in Milwaukee.
It is these experiences that many people outside of the community would like to enjoy. These people have money to spend and want to support businesses that provide such opportunities.
People are willing to pay a premium to enjoy the “black barbershop” experience and attend clubs and venues that highlight the latest local jazz, pop, blues and gospel musical talents. Afterwards these folks will drop good money to enjoy a soul food dinner, all the while engaging the community in a way that can’t be done via the television or Internet.
There have always been people from every culture, ever since we as humans could travel, who look for unique cultural experiences. It is just as much a part of being human to try unique foods as it is to love. People want to be able to smell and taste, try and critique, and explore and compare. Black Milwaukee should be providing these opportunities.
However, the black community in Milwaukee must work towards an asset-based perspective. In other words, “What do we have and what assets in our community can be strengthened or replicated?”
Our actors, producers and directors need a stage. Tyler Perry is not the only one who can make a play. Our musicians, dancers and singers need to perform and record. Beyonce is not the only diva. Our chefs, wait staff and hosts need kitchens and restaurant space. Miss Robbie of Sweetie Pies does not have the peach cobbler market cornered.
Going even further, opportunities that may start with entertaining and serving can grow into production, manufacturing and development. Food and clothing can still be produced locally.
Communities that understand this dynamic can and will continue to generate dollars that support stable jobs, wealth creation and a legacy for generations to come. And although I support higher education, there is something to be said about the millionaires without a degree who just make it happen.
This is a desire of mine: to see my community, the black community, have culturally driven economic growth engines that create jobs and wealth. It is ambitious to even think about how, and even crazy to mention when and where, but it is so relevant and so needed, now more than ever before.