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Race relations in Milwaukee

| Tuesday, February 12, 2019

As we begin February, we also embark on a celebration of Black History Month. As I read the many different sorts of posts dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr. on his birthday, and I see Hulu’s rebranding of shows with African-American leads as a “Celebration of Black Stories,” I am reminded of a moment that I had alone in a car a few months ago that brought me to tears.

I grew up on the North Side of Milwaukee, the side of town that prevented my private school friends from visiting me after school. Though I never witnessed violence, it always loomed over my neighborhood’s heads like a haze. Growing up white on the black side of what is debatably the most segregated city in the nation did not gift me any insight on race relations, or on life in general, but it did contribute to my show of emotion when I heard the story of Sandra Park, a 13-year-old who was killed by a stray bullet while watching TV in her home in November on Milwaukee’s North Side.

I was driving home from Target and had already vaguely heard about her passing which I shrugged off as sad, and regrettably wondered if they were going to build a park for her like they did for a boy that was killed in a gang-related drive-by shooting a few years prior. I thought the park would be a nice way to give her a legacy, assuming she did not already build her own. I was wrong. In 2016, Sandra wrote what would be an award-winning essay about the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and his dream. As I drove and listened to the radio announcer stop playing music and read the essay with a short description of what happened, I found myself overcome with emotion. She did have a legacy, and her legacy was not just the tragedy of her death, but the words and insight of that essay.

I want to share some of that paper with you.

“We are in a state of chaos. In the city in which I live, I hear and see examples of chaos almost every day. Little children are victims of senseless gun violence. There is too much black on black crime. As an African-American, that makes me feel depressed. Many people have lost faith in America and its ability to be a living example of Dr. King’s dream! The truth is faith and hope in what people can do, has been lost in the poor choices we make. We shall overcome has been lost in the lie of who we have become! Now, the real truth is, we need to rewrite our story so that faith and hope for a better tomorrow, is not only within us, but we believe it and we put it into actions.”

Sandra’s speech and life has made it abundantly clear that building nicer parks is not a solution to this problem of violence. The truth is violence effects every city, not just my hometown, and it is the duty of every city’s person to take steps to help end it. As we spend day in and day out working towards our futures, maybe we should spend a couple minutes ensuring that everyone has a future. I do not know what I will do about it yet, but I feel the need to do something, because of Sandra.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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