Editor’s note: At the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, we intentionally celebrate ordinary people who do extraordinary things. We are especially interested in our neighbors who are making a difference as we all deal with the effects of COVID-19. Please let us know by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story has been updated to reflect the dollar amount raised for Love on Black Women.
Shavonda Sisson has a way of spreading love to those who need it most all year-round — and a global pandemic isn’t stopping her.
Sisson has given out more than $6,300 since last Monday to about 50 black women and their families in need and continues to receive an influx of monetary donations to her organization Love on Black Women. Founded in February 2019, the program gives black women and children a quick response to relief— listening to their needs and connecting them with funds through her website and mobile payment services.
“It’s really easy to get bogged down and really frustrated when you see so much that is going wrong,” said Sisson, who is also the director of programming at Public Allies Milwaukee.
While scrolling Facebook, she would see that people needed certain resources or financial help. “I would just post a CashApp, and people would donate money,” she said, surprised by the response. “I was like ‘Wow, people really want to do this.’”
That’s how she first connected with Nikki Walker last year. Walker, who is a single mother, had just gotten major surgery and was out of work when she posted a brief Facebook status and Sisson answered — by paying Walker’s electric bill.
Although the two women have still not met in person, Sisson has been a consistent friend and “a wealth of knowledge” as a fellow parent and woman, Walker said. “No matter who you are or what it is, she goes that extra mile,” she added.
Creating Love on Black Women was just a way to formalize the process, Sisson said. With this model, she gets physical and financial resources to individuals fast— sometimes within an hour.
“There are really quick responses to things that can be life changing,” Sisson said.
A real-time response
As the spread of COVID-19 alters life in the community, that quick response that Love on Black Women provides has not slowed down.
Sisson continues to monitor updates on the needs of individuals. So far, donations have provided direct funds and grocery support for families, as well as some educational opportunities like online art lessons for children impacted by schools closing. Sisson used funds to pay for an online anime course for Walker’s 12-year-old-son, much to Walker’s surprise.
“You don’t even have to ask for help,” Walker said. “If she sees it’s going to benefit you, benefit your child, benefit your household, she makes sure that it’s taken care of.”
“One of the things she is really good at is, in the middle of chaos, finding the thread to allow people to feel still connected and grounded,” said Monique Liston, who serves with Sisson on the board of Leaders Igniting Transformation, also known as LIT. Liston is the chief strategist at Ubuntu Research and Evaluation, one of eight community organizations that sponsors the Love on Black Women Project.
“It’s like, here goes another challenge I know is going to impact these folks a little more than it normally would— here’s my opportunity to make sure that they have a little bit of stability while all of this is happening,” Liston said.
Even in her most tired and difficult moments, Sisson has always remained committed to helping black women, Liston said.
“She really wants all black women she is in community with to be well,” Liston said. “She is looking for ways for them to be celebrated, for them to enjoy pleasure, for ways to connect with one another.”
Help spread the love
Through Public Allies and a grant from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, Sisson has helped create the Healing Justice Workshop Series. It is a new mindfulness group for people of color engaged in social justice work within an organization or community around the city, and she is still accepting applications here.