Andrea Waxman

“I Am 53206”

Young people from MICAH march for equality in city’s most impoverished and segregated zip code.

By , Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service - Jun 28th, 2016 10:34 am
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Youth leader Tracey Davis told a crowd that filled Incarnation Lutheran Church on a recent rainy evening that the young people in the 53206 Zip code are suffering.

“Help us!” she implored the adults in the room. “We are your future leaders. Ask for our opinions, advice, perspective.”

As she named the problems that plague them, four young men walked down the aisle bearing a casket on their shoulders.

“Goodbye mass incarceration, homelessness, violence. There have been too many tears, too much blood shed …” Davis intoned.

At the altar, a “pallbearer” opened the empty casket and Davis invited youth participants to place inside index cards on which they had written words and phrases such as “poverty,” “stray bullets,” “poor schools,” “drugs.”

The symbolic funeral for issues that oppress young people took place at the end of the recent “I Am 53206” march organized by the young adults who make up Milwaukee Inner City Congregations Allied for Hope’s (MICAH) Holy Ground Youth and Young Adult Organizing Project. About 250 people participated in the event.

Working to address the city’s racial and economic disparities, the group is outlining “a set of concrete policy solutions shaped by young people in the Milwaukee community who are impacted by these inequities,” according to youth leader Elisha Branch, who also spoke at the church.

Citing statistics that illustrate inequality in poverty rates, black male incarceration and black-white achievement gaps, Branch said, “We believe this must end now. … We are committed to shaping a better Milwaukee.”

Branch invited Supreme Moore Omokunde, 10th District county supervisor, and State Rep. David Bowen to the podium to ask them if they would commit to working with the group on its economic development plan. They both said yes.

MICAH’s 53206 Holy Ground Youth and Young Adult Organizing Project leaders gather outside Incarnation Lutheran Church before addressing elected officials. Photo by Andrea Waxman.

MICAH’s 53206 Holy Ground Youth and Young Adult Organizing Project leaders gather outside Incarnation Lutheran Church before addressing elected officials. Photo by Andrea Waxman.

Other issues addressed at the event included inequality in education and the criminal justice system. Marcelia Nicholson, 5th District county supervisor and a 4th grade MPS teacher, and Laresha Love, a MICAH youth leader, spoke about barriers to achievement in the public schools, including supply shortages, traumatized students and low expectations.

Love, a senior at Bradley Tech High School, noted that only the top 10 percent of students there are given information about ACT prep courses and only those with grade point averages of 3.0 and above are eligible to take them. “This must change. If we want the youth of our city to succeed, we must give them the tools,” Love said.

MPS board president Mark Sain and vice president Larry Miller committed “to bring young people to the table to address the need for ACT prep for all students in the class of 2016 and 2017.”

The group of 15- to 34-year-olds from seven churches located in or near the 53206 ZIP code was formed by MICAH in late 2014, according to organizer Dakota Hall.

Hall said that the march was intended to show the community that most of the young people who live in the 53206 ZIP code are not car thieves or otherwise up to no good. “They want people to know that they are working to improve their neighborhoods.”

This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee.

5 thoughts on ““I Am 53206””

  1. WashCoRepub says:

    I’d lean towards granting Ms. Branch one of her platform planks… just eliminate black male incarceration. Altogether. If you’re African-American, you’re out, never to return. Crime in 53206 should plummet, education rates and outcomes among the races should promptly equalize, and peace and prosperity will finally make an appearance in this beleaguered area.

    I’m weary of hearing about it. Let’s just do it! Forward, Wisconsin.

  2. Vincent Hanna says:

    WashCoRepub either forgot about or ignores one major component of the plan. After letting literally every African-American out of prison and jail, which of course is exactly what people are demanding, they must live in affordable housing in Washington County.

  3. Josiah Washington says:

    Grew up just west of this neighborhood and am now a licensed architect. The attitudes of people like WashCoRepub are part of the struggle of this areas because of the belief that nothing good can come from it. No. We are people with possibilities and futures. You grew up easy. Have some respect.

  4. Jim Asbury says:

    Everyone gets free everything! Free house, free car, free food and piles of money. Education standards will be lowered to accommodate the less brilliant and all Black men will be released from prison. Somehow I don’t think that will happen anytime soon. Maybe some folks should go to parenting class. Maybe some folks should be discouraged from starting families. I was born in a shack on the side of a mountain in West Virginia. I had rickets. I was fed government surplus powdered eggs and surplus peanut butter. I sat on the playground in 1st grade and ate mud, I was so hungry. We also lived in public housing. One of nine children, my parents packed us up and moved out of the hills to where it was better. My dad worked at three jobs to support us. There is only one way out of poverty and that is to work your way out. My father packed us 9 kids up and moved us out of West Virginia. If 53206 doesn’t work for you then get out of it.

  5. Milwaukee Native says:

    Jim Asbury, Thanks for sharing your family’s bootstrapping story. Obviously, moving is always an option. But where might it be better for Milwaukee’s tens of thousands of poor black people to move?

    As this article notes, young people are trying to improve their situations through education and commitment to change. They are working with others in the community to try to make positive change. Let’s support that. Tactics like limiting access and information about college prep does NOT help.

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