From ‘Chocolate City’ to ‘Vanilla Village’

Lack of cultural amenities, economic opportunities has many graduating or retiring Black folks saying ‘BYE’! I’m batting 0.000 in my recruitment efforts for the class of 2023. That’s consistent with […]

From ‘Chocolate City’ to ‘Vanilla Village’

Lack of cultural amenities, economic opportunities has many graduating or retiring Black folks saying ‘BYE’!

I’m batting 0.000 in my recruitment efforts for the class of 2023. That’s consistent with last year when I didn’t have a single hit. 

For those who need help understanding baseball terminology, my analogy references my sales pitch to a dozen African Americans to consider moving to or staying in Milwaukee has not borne fruit. 

Not even rotten apples. 

All of my hyperbole about Milwaukee being the freshwater capital of the world fell on deaf ears. As did my introduction of Milwaukee as the new ‘Chocolate City ‘of the north, complete with a Black mayor, county executive, sheriff, police chief, and ‘government’ school superintendent. 

I explained that we are primarily an African American metropolis with professional baseball and basketball teams, a world-class zoo, and a beautiful lake. 

I explained that the cherry (or watermelon) on top is two Black history museums. 

To which one brother asked: “What cultural attractions are there to see after you visited the Holocaust or Wisconsin Black Historical Society/Museum? 

How many four-star Black restaurants are there in Milwaukee? What about a spoken word or jazz club where you don’t have to walk through a metal detector. 

What Black professional fraternities are available for Black college grads, he asked? 

And can you get to any of those outlets without being racially profiled or carjacked? 

Embarrassed by the questions, I responded in Wolof, hoping to confuse the matter. Instead, one West African migrant asked in Yoruba what had happened to our African World Festival? 

Is it true that African Americans are the largest ethnicity in the city but the only group without an ethnic festival? 

Call that response strike three. 

My next inning appeals to prospective Black retirees didn’t result in a hit either. 

And it didn’t help that they passed a Journal Sentinel newspaper box at the airport with a headline about our nation-leading homicide rate. 

My presentation to the retirees ended abruptly when one asked about national news reports declaring Milwaukee the worst city in the country for African Americans. 

Before I could refute those reports, he asked if any entity or Black leader was addressing the recent NAEP report that showed Milwaukee hosted the widest academic achievement gap for Black children in the United States! 

Strike three!…I’M OUT!!! 

While this scenario is fictitious, a couple of decades ago, I was hired as a consultant to introduce prospective Black attorneys to move to our city. 

A major law firm was attempting to diversify its staff, and my job was introducing Black recruits to the city. 

I still recall one asking if Milwaukee’s status as the most segregated city in the country went beyond physical proximity. 

He eventually decided to take a job in the south. 

This is pretty much what I would expect today as a coalition of civic leaders is undertaking a campaign to increase Milwaukee’s population. 

One published report revealed the mayor aims to reach one million residents! 

When I first heard about that ambitious goal, I was taken aback. Until I realized it was not about us. 

It’s not about a new Chocolate City, but a Vanilla Village. 

I mentioned the goal to several members of the Call-to-Action organization Tuesday, prompting community leaders Mac Weddle and Saleem Alim to declare in unison that I needed to read between the lines of the campaign strategy. 

Go back and reread the press release about the new campaign. 

With reading glasses in place, I would discover a consulting report that revealed our population decline (from 13th to 31st largest U.S. city) wasn’t just attributable to White flight to the suburbs following school desegregation but because educated Black folks and retirees with or government pensions have been leaving the city in droves. 

In fact, as we discussed the situation in greater detail, we jointly agreed the process of ‘regentrification’ has been orchestrated by entities who see the city’s future through colorless prisms. 

Mac posited that the handwriting was on the wall when former Mayor Henry Maier bulldozed our ‘Black Wall Street’ and middle-class neighborhood for an expressway. 

Just before the school desegregation process (it wasn’t integration), board members started closing central city schools systemically. 

Over the next few decades, the plan was to purchase property near downtown—starting with Brewer’s Hill—and force poor Black residents to the north and northwest sides. 

Then they intentionally allowed the ‘government’ school system to deteriorate as White students boarded buses for suburban schools under chapter 220, intra-district transfers, and open enrollment. 

The school choice movement upset that apple cart. But it speaks volumes that each of the last Democratic governors and state superintendents has sought to block its growth or allow inept schools to participate in hampering the brand. 

Is it a coincidence that both former Governor Jim Doyle and current ‘guv’, Tony Evers have all but ignored the abysmal state of Milwaukee education while attempting to block the escape of students to school choice? 

Indeed, Evers announced in his budget his intent to cap school choice admission. 

Don’t assume I’m turning over rocks looking for conspiracies. 

Go to Sherwin Hughes’s podcast from last week. 

He lays out a frightening analysis of Milwaukee’s abysmal education system with the suggestion it provides additional evidence of a scheme to eliminate job competition for local tech jobs. 

In case you haven’t noticed—or ignored–nearly half of our young adults are not qualified for anything other than menial jobs. 

Put some blame for that dichotomous situation on their ‘parent’ who has not prioritized education as our parents did. 

The result has been a generation who ignore higher education or skilled careers to instead spend their time demonstrating outside McDonald’s and Burger King ‘demanding’ $15 an hour to flip burgers. 

Before you dismiss my theory, consider also that the most significant ‘civic’ improvements of the last decade have been a nonsensical street car created to allow eastsiders to venture downtown without fear of being carjacked. 

And more money has been allocated for downtown redevelopment and safety than in any central city district. 

Oh, excuse me, I forgot. City officials did extend Martin Luther King Drive a half mile south. If you recall, downtown businesses like Mader’s fought to have the street name changed because it would imply they were located in a ‘black’ area. 

One other point: Is it by happenstance there are no movie theaters in the heart of the city, even though most customers are African American? 

Likewise, outside of Walmart, can you name a department store chain that has opened up in ‘the ghetto?’ 

What about grocery stores? Meijer, Woodman’s, and Sendik have each opened new stores in recent years. But none in the central city? Is it because we don’t eat pork and beans anymore? 

Pick ’n Save gets the overwhelming majority of my grocery dollars because they serve our community and reinvest in it. 

By the way, Chick Fil-A has opened a half dozen restaurants in Milwaukee, but none in the central city. Have they not heard Black folks like chicken? Or is there something else going on? Are there plans to invest in the town after we leave? 

You can debate all day long if the current paradigm results from a conspiracy or if the new campaign is ‘ethnically sensitive.’ But the reality is reality, whether in English or Ebonics. 

Milwaukee continues to have great potential, but that’s all it will hold until we have Black leadership that is not under the thumb of special interests or have a vested interest in the status quo. 

That’s cool, but we should note that most of them take their pensions elsewhere, leaving in their wake a dying and desperate city that is losing its melanin. 

And for those who stay, the challenge is reinventing or giving up. 

NBA great Kareem Abdul Jabbar angered folks and announced his decision to leave the Bucks—Milwaukee—because it is a cultural desert for Black folks. He said he didn’t see city leadership or Black ‘leaders’ investing in changing that reality. 

To which I say, ‘if nothing changes, nothing changes.’