Venice Williams came to Milwaukee 30 years ago to serve as a youth minister for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. She met Demetrius Brown in church. Eventually, they became a couple.
Throughout their time together, Venice and Demetrius have devoted themselves to their community. One centerpiece of their efforts is Alice’s Garden, an urban farm just off West Fond du Lac Avenue at the corner of North 20th Street and West Garfield Avenue.
The garden is on a lot that was cleared for the Park West Freeway, which was never built. Now, the empty ground has been reborn as a place for growing food, and growing community. Along with rental plots for gardening, the site hosts an endless variety of activities, including community healing circles, yoga classes, labyrinth walks, dance sessions, cookouts and open-air workshops.
“Gardening is the carrot to get people to come through the gate to impact their entire quality of life,” Venice said.
The garden also is a place for Venice’s formal ministry. She hosts a worship there on Wednesday evenings when the weather allows it.
“As a minister, I’m quite out of the box,” she said, “and fortunately part of a national church that wants to birth new things.”
Uniting Garden Homes is Demetrius’ pet project. It focuses on workforce development, housing, health and wellness, education, recreation and more.
“We’re now working in gardening,” he said, “creating urban gardeners in other neighborhoods.”
With all that going on, the couple spends a lot of time comparing notes, and making plans, to keep their initiatives on track.
“There are no separate lives for us,” Venice said. “Because of how much we love each other and love community, it’s just all interwoven. And love of children, love of young people. We have that time for ourselves, but this is who we are. We’re serving. And hopefully we’re serving one another’s needs as we’re serving the community’s needs.”
On top of all their other duties, Venice and Demetrius are a role model, to some, of a successful and enduring black couple. Folks come up to them sometimes and gush, “We’re just so glad you’re still together! It’s wonderful to see two people who serve the community and love one another. Man, this gives me hope.”
“It’s a blessed burden,” Venice said.
Venice and Demetrius grow and market a wide variety of herbal products under the “Alice’s Garden” brand – teas, bath salts, body creams, hair spritzers, seasoning salts – all grown in what they call the “production garden” with the help of paid apprentices and packaged at their kitchen table.
But with all that going on, Demetrius still rents his own, personal garden plot. And that’s where Venice likes to see him most of all.
Venice Williams won the MANDI Navigator award in 2015 for her work in the community. Demetrius Brown was right beside her on the stage when she accepted the honor.
“I made sure that everyone in that room understood that we’re a team,” Venice said.