Venice Williams is the director of Alice’s Garden and The Body & Soul Healing Arts Center. A lay minister, teacher, healer, and facilitator who works to improve the lives of young people, formerly incarcerated people and others in the central city, Williams says the recent violence in Sherman Park is not about the incident that sparked it.
Each night, I put my head on my pillow with city sirens as my background music. Last night, it was a symphony.
Let us be clear: the “unrest” in this city began decades ago. Throughout my 27 years of serving this city consistently, even when flawed, I have been holding spaces for healing, bridge building, supporting small businesses and dreams, training a new workforce, challenging systems, nurturing families, strengthening girls, fostering healthy passages for brown and black boys. They are spaces that encourage naming, not labeling; spaces that set tables of dignity in the midst of a broken humanity.
If we are to be honest on this Sun Day, where truth should illuminate, we must confess, we have not all been about the same business. As I have been about the work I am called to do, others have constructed more unaffordable housing in neighborhoods, where people who look like me could, once upon a time, afford to live. Others have deconstructed life-supporting employment and reconstructed a system of welfare that will continue to cripple generations of urban families. Funding for incarceration increased alongside decreased resources for holistic, artistic public education for our children. Even some of the leaders and organizations our urban village birthed and trusted, lost track of their mandate.
Earlier this year, I invited the community to gather at The Body and Soul Healing Arts Center to revisit the film “Crash.” The center sits in the Sherman Park neighborhood and is home to many incredible organizations that hold events, programs, classes and conversations that foster a more robust, vibrant Milwaukee. I am honored to midwife that space.
My appeal to come gather and view “Crash,” and then join a conversation co-facilitated by Adam Carr and me, was made with a clear understanding that unrest was stirring in our neighborhoods. The matches had already been struck and the fire was being flamed. That which is illuminated should not have to be torched for pertinent attention to be paid and rightful action to be taken.
Calm is the absence of confrontation. So much needs to be confronted in this city and in this nation. Yet, it is systems, not property, that need to be “burnt down.” We are capable of confronting without being violent and destructive but we can no longer be calm. We have been restless for a long time; too long. What happened in Milwaukee Saturday night has very little to do with yesterday’s shooting of a black man by a police officer. Although participants chose a distressing way to express their frustration and anger and I do not agree with the choices made, the folks who awakened the city of Milwaukee last night did not strike the first match. Those matches were struck decades ago and the flames have been fed by policy and power, racism and classism, apathy and intentionality. Let something purposeful rise from the ashes.