On the evening of Aug. 13, 2016, my wife, Linsey, and I stopped to visit my sister Barbara. She was in hospice care at the Jewish Home on Prospect Avenue. Barb had a long medical history: Born with spina bifida, a life-threatening birth defect, she contracted polio soon after. These two would have been enough to deal with, but there was more. With a lack of mobility she had to face various health problems her whole life, which she did bravely and with a sense of humor. The last one she battled was cardio-pulmonary disease. She was on oxygen and struggling to breathe that night.
She was her usual sweet self that night, but we had to cut it short — I was on my way to Company Brewing to participate in an event organized by the talented saxophonist and entrepreneur, Jay Anderson. It was a minifestival meant to heighten awareness of police violence against young black men. Though it hardly describes me, a white guy no one would call young, I was honored to be a part of it. I had written a song called “Don’t Throw Shade” and was going to perform it with Sistah Strings and Mrs. Fun. If you know either of these two duos, you understand why I was excited.
Monique LaDora Ross and her sister Chauntee Ross are two young classically trained string players. They have the added advantage of growing up singing and playing Gospel music. The combination of cello, viola and two of the finer voices in town is a beautiful thing. Mrs. Fun are veterans like myself. Keyboardist/vocalist Connie Grauer and drummer Kim Zick are conservatory trained jazz musicians and have been entertaining Milwaukeeans for a long time.
As you might expect, the number went well. When I walked back in from the courtyard where the stage was, I was met by Jay who let me know Sherman Park was in flames. A peaceful protest had escalated and turned violent. The senseless shooting of Sylville Smith had raised the temperature in that community and when it reached the boiling point, it erupted.
As Jay filled me in, I thought about the sad state of affairs in our city. Here was a young, gifted and socially committed black artist putting his heart and soul into an event he hoped would improve the world. We both knew, though nothing was said, what the story would be the next day — it would not be his festival.
The next morning I received a call from my older brother Bill. Barbara had passed in her sleep. She was very religious and it had helped her make a peaceful exit. That was a comfort as was being able to see her once more the evening before, but it didn’t make it any less sad.
I still haven’t processed what I felt on that complicated weekend, but an hour or so after receiving that call, we heard people were gathering peacefully in Sherman Park. It felt like the place to be. Linsey and I grabbed some bottled water to hand out and headed over. If you were there you may have seen what we did. An emotional speech by Sylville’s brother, people circling around to comfort him and a community that gathered around them in support. It made me both proud and sad.
This would be a nice spot to say something wise, but I have nothing. I care about this town and appreciate the gift of having a vibrant and diverse population. When I travel to places that don’t have it, they don’t look or feel right. There are many people who are trying to make it better here, they give me hope. Let’s get behind them and make that night mean something.
What are your memories?
It’s been almost three years since Sherman Park was thrust in the national spotlight after a weekend of unrest.
We’ve asked for you to share your memories and will feature your voices all week.
What do you remember about the weekend? How has Sherman Park changed? What do you feel the media missed when reporting about the neighborhood? What is the legacy of the unrest?
Do you have photographs from the unrest you want to share? Would you like to talk with an NNS reporter for a story?
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