88Nine Radio Milwaukee

How an old letter changed thoughts on race in Milwaukee

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88Nine Radio Milwaukee
Cultural Commons sparks conversation and stories of inclusion

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Last week, Radio Milwaukee hosted another Cultural Commons event. Alongside various members of the community, we discuss important topics about Milwaukee and brainstorm how we can bring change to our city.

The topic this week was “Stories of Inclusion.” Here’s one story we heard from Ex Fabula storyteller Elaine Maly:

“I was searching through old photos and I discovered some old letters I sent to my grandparents from Girl Scout camp almost 50 years ago.

Mostly I wrote the typical stuff, ‘It’s really cold, we went swimming, my camp counselor’s really nice…’

But there’s one letter I can’t get out of my head:

Dear Grandma and Grandpa,

I’ve already made many friends and the food is good.

We have one Negro here in our unit.

She’s here on charity from St. Boniface Church where Father Groppi is. She only brought her clothes, she doesn’t have a sleeping bag or any other equipment. I feel very bad for her.

My cot is very comfortable! I slept with my flashlight all night long.

Love,

Elaine.

While I was out hiking and swimming and singing songs around the campfire, did she find a way to have fun? Or did she cry herself to sleep in her bunk every night?

So I’ve been telling this story for a while now, and after one telling, an African-American woman, about my age, came up to me. She asked what camp I went to and when I said ‘Camp Baleschester’ she said ‘mmmhmm…’.

      Elaine Maly tells her story at Cultural Commons

We’re the same age. We could be the girl in each other’s story.

Indeed, my cot has always been very comfortable and I have always had all the equipment I needed.

I’ve learned I have a responsibility to keep that flashlight on and to examine the legacy of racism in my family, and [to examine] the society that we live in that values being white over any other color of the rainbow.”

To hear Elaine’s full story, click the podcast player above.

For more on Cultural Commons, check out the recap from last week’s event or learn more here.