The Laramie Project teaches students about the dangers of homophobia

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In 1998, Matthew Shepard was brutally beaten and left to die in Laramie, Wyo. He was killed because of his sexual orientation. The response was earth-shattering and led members of the Tectonic Theater Project to conduct interviews in the aftermath, turning the interviews into documentary-style theater. “The Laramie Project” is a 2000 play by Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project about the reaction to Shepard’s 1998 murder.

 Young Company cast in “The Laramie Project” | Photo credit: Paul Ruffolo

In December, First Stage’s Young Company presented “The Laramie Project” featuring advanced high school Milwaukee actors, making it the company’s first in-person production since the pandemic. I spoke to Young Company Director Matt Daniels to learn more about the core of the play: homophobia, violence and discrimination. 

“The more things change the more they stay the same,” said Daniels. “Our kids are having trouble because it is okay to accept their peers as who they are but they see the world around them still having trouble making those accepting gestures.”

An interesting aspect about this play is that everyone had a character: the folks in Laramie, the students conducting interviews and even Matthew’s parents. Everyone had a role except for Matthew. Daniels said that it was a purposeful choice.

“What it does is that it makes Matthew into a sort of every man,” said Daniels. “Every member of the audience gets to insert the image of Matthew Shepard into their mind. They can personalize him however they want to and abstracting him as a character makes it more personal for every audience member.”

Another intriguing element of the play was the sound design. Alongside your standard background music, there was a repeated intake of breath that the actors would perform with a sound effect. Daniels said that although he can’t speak on behalf of the playwright, everything in theater is intentional.

“So much happens in a single breath,” said Daniels. “Matthew Shepherd, all he had on the fence was his breath until he didn’t.”

With heavy topics such as this one, sometimes the best method of expression can be theater. A place where you’re stuck in a room with no escape, surrounded by people experiencing the same thing and truly facing the truth.

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Radio Milwaukee recognizes Kennita Hickman as Music Ambassador of the Year

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That’s a wrap for the 2021 Radio Milwaukee Music Awards! We’re proud of the entire Milwaukee music community, and on behalf of the Radio Milwaukee staff, we congratulate all the nominees, finalists and winners.

In addition to the music categories in our annual award show, the RMMAs also recognize the work of individuals who are working to elevate the Milwaukee creative community in three special award categories: Humanitarian of the Year, Music Ambassador of the Year and Rising Star.

Meet this year’s Music Ambassador of the Year in the Community Story below.

Kennita Hickman | Photo credit: Chris Siegel

When we think about the local music community, it’s easy to focus on artists’ music alone. But their success hinges on more than just audio. Social media, music videos, artists’ websites; each component drives their success and is arguably just as important as the music they create. 

And that’s where our Music Ambassador of the Year comes in. Kennita Hickman is the owner and chief content curator of Catera, a brand strategy and management company she launched nearly 15 years ago. She assists artists create a fully formed online presence, helping them to put the best version of themselves in front of their audiences.

But what makes Kennita’s work especially noteworthy is her ongoing commitment to artists of the “global majority” and her intentional work toward equity and inclusion.

Radio Milwaukee’s music education coordinator and local artist B~Free chats with Hickman about her work in the story below.

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These iconic Milwaukee neighborhood posters endure nearly 40 years later

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Let’s travel back in time. 1982 was the year of big hair, mullets, neon colors and Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.” On a local level, 1982 was when Jan Kotowicz and Milwaukee historian John Gurda were preparing the Milwaukee Neighborhood poster series, with historical essays on the back of each poster. The project was meant to connect folks to neighborhoods and foster city pride. 

I interviewed Gurda and Stacy Swadish from Historic Milwaukee to learn more about the posters and the process of creating them.

Why was Bay View selected as the first poster to make?

John Gurda: Because I lived there and Jan lived there.

Oh! So it was personal. I like the idea of starting with what you know.

Gurda: It was pretty circumstantial.

What did that look like for you to capture the charm of each neighborhood? What was important to you?

Gurda: First of all, it was written on a very tight deadline. I had about three weeks per neighborhood. It was something where you didn’t have a great deal of leisure to poke around. I would either in good weather bike or drive or walk every single street in every single neighborhood. Some are pretty good-sized neighborhoods so I got to know them pretty well on the ground. During that process, I would talk to some of the people. The obvious ones, the politicians, the pastors, people who had some kind of responsibility for the larger area. A lot of it was falling into a conversation. One thing I would do near the end of the process, I’d bar hop. Wherever I was, I’d stop by a variety of bars and it was kind of an application of mine. That was a lot of fun seeing the unvarnished, spontaneous.

How were the landmarks chosen for each poster? 

Gurda: I would go on the ground, look at what’s in the neighborhood and then pick something that was relatively representative of what each neighborhood was. I would make suggestions but it was always Jan’s choice. She would look at the list or she would pick something entirely independent.

I feel like I’m growing up with the city and even though I am from here, I still feel like a newbie. Do you see the city changing and what does that look like for you both?

Gurda:  The reality is that cities are always changing. It is what it is. They say you cannot step into the same river twice and you can’t step into the same city twice. I remember doing a tour for the Shorewood High School 55th class reunion and I took them all around town and the reaction was that they were in a different city from what they had been when they were in adolescence.

Stacy Swadish: It is a different city. My children are adults and tell them stories as I worked at the Milwaukee Sentinel as a reporter and they were building the Bradley Center which is now gone. I would park under the park east freeway which is now gone. The only bar on Water Street was the Harp Irish. I think these posters capture a little point in time.

Gurda: That’s just the nature of things. I have no regrets or sour about that. In the introduction of the book back in the depression times, WPA hired writers, people like me who would do this sort of thing and those became in some ways a sealed record of what life was like back then. That’s the nature of being human.

I have to ask, do either of you have a favorite poster?

Swadish: It’s like picking your favorite kid. I think there are so many ways to look at it. Geography, where you grew up and where you’re living now. There are just colors and the design and that’s one thing I think about is Jan’s incredible artistic ability has made these posters stand the test of time. And there are other things you joke at and you look like at a rummage sale or a thrift store, and you’re like that’s so ’80s.

Gurda: One word for it is bold. She’s not doing watercolors. So these had to be kind of dimensional and very sharp-edged.

Swadish: Sherman park is one of my favorites just because it’s the classic bungalow and the planter. That one always speaks to me. It’s very Milwaukee.

The monumental thing is that these posters are that they still hold their charm. They are everywhere, maybe at your dentist’s office, local cafe or even your own home. Art that was created 39 years ago still represents our city. I guess that shows that Milwaukee’s pride runs for generations. 

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How the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling could affect Wisconsin

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Being a woman in the 21st century can mean a lot of different things. The experience of a woman isn’t universal; we all have different experiences that shape our womanhood. However, one thing that still stands is that the fight for women’s rights is still prevalent. 

This week the Supreme Court is hearing arguments on a Mississippi law that effectively outlaws abortions in the state after 15 weeks of pregnancy. If the court upholds that law, it could overturn Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision ruling protecting a pregnant woman’s right to choose to have an abortion. Another case this would affect is Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in which the court introduced a new standard determining the validity of abortion law by asking if any restrictions place an undue burden. 

With states like Mississippi and Texas implementing anti-abortion laws, how does that influence the future of Wisconsin? I spoke with professor Sara Benesh, the chair of the Political Sciences Department at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, for a Supreme Court crash course. 

What’s happening right now in Texas?

To put it in perspective, this year we have seen the most state regulations of abortions ever in our history. Texas has one but it’s different because first, it bans abortions very early. Six weeks from the last menstrual period and then second, the state is not enforcing the statute. They have empowered private citizens to enforce it. 

The bill is being challenged in federal court. What does that look like?

Litigants which included abortion providers had asked the Supreme Court to enjoin this statute because it was violating constitutional rights. The Supreme Court decided not to get involved because it thought that there were a lot of procedures. Problems that would need full briefing and argument. And so they wanted the lower courts to handle that. The district court then wrote a 113-page opinion where the judge went through it systematically and showed how the federal courts could enjoin this law. Now the fifth circuit is trying to decide whether or not they’re going to permanently lift that injunction.

How does that affect other states?

States will use the Texas statute as a model, and we know that policy diffusion happens. So when one state makes a new policy, other states might follow. We know that there are a lot of states that are sympathetic to the Texas ban and would like to have a ban. Also, there are many states that already have sort of a trigger ban so that if the court were to overturn Casey immediately abortions are banned in their states. So there’s a lot of states that are looking for an opportunity to regulate abortion even more than they have.

What about Wisconsin?

Wisconsin has a lot of regulations on abortion. The Wisconsin attorney general joined a bunch of states at the district court urging the district court to enjoin this Texas statute. So we have a split government. The attorney general is under the purview of the governor who is a Democrat and the legislature is under the purview of Republicans so it’s unlikely we’d see any sort of progressive change in abortion law in the state. So we still have waiting periods and ultrasound requirements and requirements on facilities that are offering these services and we don’t have very many facilities and most counties don’t have one but the fact that the governor is a democrat means that he would veto any further limitation on abortion. So elections matter.

I wanted to go a bit into Roe v. Wade. We know that there isn’t a reference to abortion in the constitution, so how does something legally become constitutional?

The Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade recognized that whatever a privacy right is and we don’t have a right to privacy in the constitution. This is something that judges have deemed emanates from many of the provisions of the bill of rights. So they deemed in Roe vs. Wade that, that privacy right applied to a woman’s decision over whether or not to terminate a pregnancy in the first trimester. The constitution provides a right to privacy. That privacy right adheres to a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy of a non-viable fetus. And so there, the court said states can regulate abortion, but they cannot put an undue burden in the path of a woman. Choosing to, uh, terminate a pregnancy of a non-viable fetus.

What are some examples of an undue burden?

Parental consent is not an undue burden on a woman, as long as there’s a judicial bypass procedure where a minor can go to a court and ask for permission instead. Other things are undue burdens. So a spousal notification, for example, has been deemed an undue burden because if a woman chooses not to inform or obtain assistance and consent of her husband, The court has assumed that that means that there’s something going on in terms of her safety in the relationship. So you can’t place that burden on a woman, attempting to abort a non-viable fetus. So the court has on a case-by-case basis has to decide which of these state laws cross that line into becoming an undue burden.


Need a local perspective on what it means to be a woman in today’s age? I asked 88Nine’s Lily Grant and Element Everest-Blanks on their thoughts. Listen down below.

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Let’s get personal: Radio Milwaukee DJs explain why they got vaccinated

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We hear about COVID-19 and vaccines all the time — what they are, how they work and why we need them. That information is critical at a time like this, when according to Johns Hopkins University there have been more than 5 million COVID-related deaths across the globe. In fact, we compiled a resource page with important information about the vaccine and how to get one in Milwaukee.

But it’s equally as important to hear from people and understand why they got vaccinated, which is why our DJs have shared their own stories about what persuaded them to get the vaccine. You can hear their stories below.

Dori Zori and Marcus Doucette

“We didn’t see our family except for sidewalk visits,” said Zori. “We missed a lot of events but it was the one thing we could do. The one thing we could control.”

Justin Barney and Element Everest-Blanks

“I think a lot of people especially people in the African American community given the history with science and medicine in our community are so hesitant to get vaccinated because they don’t understand there’s a lot of research and history that has gone into this vaccine,” said Element.

Nate Imig and Anthony Foster

“I was kind of leery about it because it was so new and rolled out so quickly,” said Foster. “At the end of the day, I wanted to see my family and see my grandma and my aunts.”

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Here’s all you need to know about COVID-19 vaccines, according to the CEO of Hayat Pharmacy

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Nineteen months into what the World Health Organization officially declared a pandemic on March 11, 2020, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that we are eager to have a sense of normality. Normality is something that we are trying to get back to here at the station, where we wear masks and are socially distant. We clean our mics and equipment and incorporate added safety measures into our routine. Seeing familiar faces daily, even if it’s half of their face, brings back some of that regularity of everyday life. One thing I’ve done to get back to our habitual day-to-day routine was getting vaccinated. I did it because I was itching to get back out there. I am a natural homebody, but you avidly long to start socializing again when stuck in a tiny apartment for a few months.

I spoke to Dr. Hashim Zaibak, pharmacist and owner of Hayat Pharmacy, to learn more about COVID-19 vaccines. Dr. Zaibak graduated from pharmacy school 23 years ago and, in 2011, opened the first Hayat pharmacy to assist underserved communities in Milwaukee. There are over 20 locations throughout the city, which makes sense because “Hayat” is the native Arabic term for life.

Salam: How do COVID vaccines work? 

Dr. Zaibak: Just like the other vaccines, the COVID vaccine works by stimulating your immune system to create antibodies. So, when you are exposed to a real virus, let’s say two weeks or three weeks after you get vaccinated, your body would be like, “Oh, I know this. I can fight it.” It’s not a surprise for your immune system. Maybe you’re in a room with somebody who has COVID and sneezes or coughs, there’s a better chance of you not getting the disease versus somebody else by building those antibodies. 

Salam: We hear a lot about side effects, like a sore arm and fatigue, but can you speak a little bit more about the benefits that come with COVID vaccines?

Dr. Zaibak: Vaccines are just like any medication. Every medication has side effects and benefits. If a drug is approved in the United States, the FDA has to look at it and say, “The benefits outweigh the risks.” There are people who get very mild side effects and some people who get severe side effects from the vaccines, but overall, the benefits are a lot more significant than any risk.

Salam: Can you recall an interaction where someone was fearful about the side effect?

Dr. Zaibak: We get questions sometimes from pregnant ladies that say, “I’m in my first, second, or third trimester and should I get vaccinated or not?” I let them know, “This is what you should think of if you get COVID today because you’re not vaccinated and you get dehydrated and you end up in the hospital and you increase your risk of miscarriage.” Those are really significant risks versus getting the vaccine.

Salam: That’s a fair point. Let’s just say you got your vaccination, is there a chance that you can still get COVID? Do you have to test for COVID if you’re vaccinated? If so, how often? 

Dr. Zaibak: We test anywhere from a hundred to 200 patients a day, and we do see people who actually get what we call a breakthrough infection. They got vaccinated a few months ago and they still are testing positive. Most of these people who end up getting COVID after the vaccination end up with very mild cases. My suggestion is you really don’t need to test unless you have symptoms or if you’re traveling, a lot of destinations do require proof of the person being negative before traveling to them.

Salam: That’s good to know. That’s something that often confuses me because I didn’t know if I should be regularly testing. I think a lot of our listeners would benefit from that clarification. 

Dr. Zaibak: Many companies now require you to prove that you are negative on a weekly basis. A lot of companies say if you decide not to get vaccinated, you can still work with us. You just need to show us a negative PCR result every week.

Salam: What’s the difference between the PCR test and, let’s just say, testing kits you can do at home? 

Dr. Zaibak: That technology is different. The vaccination tests that you do at home are called antigen tests. So they’re quick, they’re rapid and they get you an accurate result. Sometimes we get false negatives with those where it doesn’t catch certain strains of the virus versus the PCR. The PCR is a gold standard. If it is positive, the person is truly positive. If you want more accuracy, then avoid the stay at home and go to a clinic. The challenge with the PCR test is that it takes longer. 

Salam: Yeah, I think that’s something folks have to factor in and treat it as a case-to-case basis. Wow, 200 people a day, that’s a lot of interactions! Have you dealt with anyone that has some hesitancy around vaccines? 

Dr. Zaibak: A lot of people are concerned about their children and being infertile after the vaccine. Vaccine hesitancy is a lot more significant amongst minorities, whether you’re talking about the Black community, the Hispanic community, the Arabic community, the new immigrants, and the Russian community. For us as healthcare providers, we just have to be respectful of their opinion. Some people are on the extreme, where they say, “No matter what you tell me, I’m not going to get vaccinated.” Then there are other people on the other extreme. They’re like, “As soon as the booster is available, sign me up.” And there are people in the middle and those are usually are the ones that you can work with and try to convince them to get vaccinated. I would be lying to you if I told you it hadn’t been a challenge.

Salam: With those hesitant folks, have you heard their reasoning on why they got vaccinated? 

Dr. Zaibak: People, for example, say I want to travel overseas to see my family in India, and  I just want to make sure that I’m protected and they’re protected. We have people who say my wife just got pregnant and I just want to make sure I don’t pass the disease to her. My mother just got diagnosed with cancer and I just want to make sure that I’m not passing any disease to her. Sometimes it’s like, “My job made me get vaccinated and I really don’t want to get vaccinated, but I’m going to lose my job next week if I don’t get vaccinated.” Different people have different reasons and different incentives. 

Salam: Yeah, I know a guy that honestly did it because of the risk of losing your job and I have a friend who believes in these conspiracy theories but didn’t want to miss out on Summerfest concerts. FOMO (fear of missing out) can be a great motivator.

Dr. Zaibak: For a lot of people, the only reason they didn’t get vaccinated is that they’re busy. Seriously! I hear this all the time. Another reason they did not get vaccinated is that the system was too complicated. They don’t know how to register for an appointment. Sometimes we forget about those people. For some people, it’s mobility. So we have a lot of home-bound patients and the only reason they didn’t get vaccinated is that they can’t leave their homes. Work with an organization or a pharmacy that actually sends a pharmacist to the patient’s house to get vaccinated or a nurse.

Salam: We spoke a lot about fear with vaccines and challenges around hesitancy but let’s talk about positive interactions.

Dr. Zaibak: Lots of positives! You know, “Thank you for allowing me to give my grandchildren a hug.” We had a beautiful card from a lady and she said, thank you for allowing me to just walk in without having an appointment because I don’t own a computer and a smartphone. I’m 70- years old and this changed my life. Those are why we come to work every morning.

Salam: That was very beautiful. The one about hugging your grandparents struck a nerve because it’s sometimes a simple thing that we forget. I wanted to ask a question that I frequently hear: if you’re already vaccinated, why do you need to wear a mask? 

Dr. Zaibak: When you wear a mask, you’re protecting the others. You’re just really making sure that if for some reason you get the virus, you’re not transmitting it to somebody else. A vaccinated person can be a carrier and can carry the virus from person A to B.

Salam: The last thing I wanted to talk about is boosters. What are they? Does Hyatt pharmacy offer them? 

Dr. Zaibak: The immunity that we get from the COVID vaccine drops gradually over time. With Pfizer, six months after the second dose, their immunity drops to a level where we need a booster. And the booster is the same volume, the same concentration of the vaccine. It’s not any different from the first and the second dose. It’s a booster to boost the immune system. That’s different from a third dose that immunocompromised patients need. So it’s, it’s different. Everybody’s going to need to get a booster in the future. Science is self-correcting and what we know today about the COVID vaccine is significantly more than what we knew six months or 12 months ago.

Hayat Pharmacy has multiple locations where they are providing COVID testing and vaccinations. These federal resources are free and available to everyone regardless if you are insured or your immigration status.

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Meet three local artists clashing the worlds of harmony and dissonance in an exhibit

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The term “struggling artist” was first introduced to me when I was in high school, flirting with the idea of venturing into a creative field. I, like many of my high school classmates, was told that in order to become an artist, you inevitability will struggle before you succeed. That’s if you’re one of the lucky ones.

These days with the power of social media and online stores like Etsy, you can promote your work to a large-scale audience and turn a passion into a living. However, does accessibility translate to gallery spaces? Bridge Work-Milwaukee, generated by Plum Blossom Initiative and Var Gallery and Studios, aims to address this need by bridging the gap between Madison and Milwaukee art communities to support local artists. Every year featured artists receive artist-in-residence benefits, a free studio space, other perks and an exhibit featuring their work at Var Gallery. This year’s exhibit is Harmony / Dissonance.

Meet the artists

Helena Baka

An explosion of colors, that’s what you will see when you look at Helena Baka’s work. Her abstract paintings are a mix of acrylic and oil paint to cover themes of innocence, naivety and grief all translated through color. As a first-generation American to Albanian immigrant parents, her work reflects her culture, girlhood and complicated impact on her identity. One of her pieces takes a closer look at bathrooms as safe spaces.

“I’m just thinking about how public bathrooms can be a safe space for girls and a place where we can unwind,” said Baka. “I think about how when I’m with my friends, we’ll be like, ‘Can you go the bathroom with me?’ and I was thinking a lot about the punk scene too, and just how all the graffiti in bathrooms can be silly but interesting and its own art in itself.”

Lindsey Yeager

Building stories through line and color is what Lindsey Yeager knows best. Yeager is a fine artist and illustrator from Madison, and upon looking at their work, it’s whimsical. The canvas has bright colors like red and orange with a field of animals like rabbits and lambs running around but if you take a closer it’s a deadly reflection. The skies are hot fire, clouds of fog and the rabbits are fleeing. Yeager’s work is about greed.

“I wanted to talk about essentially this idea of what happens when human beings, especially greedy ones, get their hands on a perfectly good world, and then it just like inevitably falls apart,” said Yeager.

Anna Siemsen

The word “divided” sums up the feeling that Anna Siemsen brings out of you when you look at her collection. Siemsen’s work is heavily influenced by her heritage, having grown up as a Chinese adoptee, and living in a biracial family, she has spent years feeling torn between two cultures. To her, it made sense to use her upbringing as a source of inspiration showcasing Western and Chinese-influenced garments. 

 “I thought a lot about like typical Western wear,” said Siemsen. “Looking at like Western TV shows and like popular culture from the 1950s but I also combined it with aspects of Chinese culture. The pants are made out of paper cutouts that are used for the Chinese new year celebration. The hat is also made out of the same cutouts. The outfit is all red because in China, red is the luckiest color.”

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La Revo Books makes space for BIPOC writers

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2021 has been a remarkable year for the sister twosome behind La Revo, a Latinx BIPOC-focused pop-up bookstore. It all started when Valeria Cerda and her sister Barbara, who you might know as Barby the Book Fairy, sat down at their kitchen table. 

I just came over and brought my laptop and I’m like, ‘let’s just do this,’” said Valeria Cerda. “It started as a brain dump where we spilled everything we had in our heads. I remember Barbara was cleaning her kitchen at the same time and her kids were running around.”

At some point during this passionate brainstorm session, their father called with unfortunate news. Their grandmother passed away. The sisters decided to start La Revo books in honor of their grandmother’s spirit, even down to the name La Revo, which is short for la revolution.

When I interviewed the sisters, I was intrigued by the idea that both of them were constantly centered around books. Before this venture, Barbra collected 1,000 books for Southsidekids with Milwaukee’s free libraries. Barara said it’s revolutionary to learn about yourself and to be able to share the stories of where you came from.

“It’s such a treasure to be able to share culture and identity with each other,” said Barbara. “There aren’t any bookstores in Milwaukee that focus on or that specialize in Latin X literature. So through books, we’ve been able to bring that to Milwaukee and kind of fill in a space that we almost didn’t know that we needed.”

Valeria added that not only is it important to learn about your culture, it’s also political.

“I think books are really, and specifically our books, Brown people’s books, Black people’s books, indigenous books, they’re very political,” said Valeria. “One of the themes that we talk a lot about is like the sanctity of books and literature. It has been political from the start. How can we not do a book store?”

La Revo Book Recommendations

Recommendations from Barbara Cerda

Recommendations from Valeria Cerda

88Nine Staff Book Recommendations

Recommendations from Maddy Riordan

Recommendations from Lily Grant and Justin Barney

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Milwaukee’s Talking Book and Braille Library keeps making books accessible

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There are a ton of misconceptions about the visually impaired community, one of them being that blind people don’t read. The Wisconsin Talking Book and Braille Library confirms that’s a myth. Zarina Mohd Shah, the management librarian, said just like the National Services for the Blind and Print Disabled tagline, “that all may read.”

The library first opened its doors in 1961 and is celebrating its 60th anniversary in conjunction with blindness awareness month this October. The library provides reading materials for the blind community and visually impaired individuals with permanent or temporary disabilities.

“We have close to 7,000 patrons,” said Shah. “We serve the whole state of Wisconsin and nationwide.”

Not only does this library have books in braille, a form of written language for blind people, but it also offers talking books. These digital audiobooks are incredibly easy to access. You sign up on the library’s website, answer a few questions like your preferred genre, and then the library mails you six books to start with. Alongside books, patrons receive a digital playbook, a pair of headphones and you can even download the books with an adapter. All you have to do is register and they have you covered.

“It is one of the best free federal programs that are for people who are blind and visually impaired and who have physical disabilities,” said Shah.

Accessibility is one of the reasons why libraries are loved. To think that there are only 55 libraries nationwide that offer these services and Milwaukee has one of them means that regardless if you have visual or physical limitations, you can still seek adventure that comes from reading a book.

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BattleBox, Milwaukee’s nerd safe haven

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A “nerd safe haven.” That’s how Bryant Wilcox describes BattleBox, an all-in-one Milwaukee enterprise centered around geek culture. BattleBox has two components. The first is a buy-sell-trade video game, action figure and anime business. The second integration is the BattleBox Cafe and Lounge, 5431 W. Lisbon Ave., where like-minded folks can nerd out.

Wilcox and his family have always surrounded themselves with video games. “I was talking to my sister about this the other day,” said Wilcox. “We just always had video games at our house. I can’t take responsibility for that. Mario, like the original Mario Bros., was there. Frogger was there, Donkey Kong and stuff like that. Those games were in our house already.”

Opening up a business didn’t happen by accident. Not only were there games in the household, but Wilcox was also a collector. He bought his first action figure, Batman from the Tim Burton film, as a teenager. He then noticed on the back of the package that there was a Joker figure. From there his collection grew alongside a few comics. Wilcox said he didn’t have a lot of money growing up and decided to start trading his collection as means of passive income. 

“That probably was the moment or the catalyst for the actual business, because trading was huge for me as a kid,” said Wilcox. “I looked forward to the new school year. That was like the main thing to find the new kids with the Garbage Pail Kids. We had Garbage Pail Kids before a Pokémon.

Wilcox stressed that making BattleBox inclusive and a sanctuary for all folks was a main priority. The lounge is members-only, however becoming a member isn’t complicated; you just need to speak to Wilcox himself. To date, there are over 1400 members and that number is growing daily.

“The whole idea is to create that safe place for folks like us,” said Wilcox. “Not necessarily folks who look like us but who are into the same type of thing. We need a spot. Like all of these guys are coming through that are into Dragon Ball. We really don’t have a spot.”

Wilcox looks forward to expanding BattleBox in order to continue fostering an environment that’s welcoming to all regardless of race and gender. Just as long as you’re willing to get your game on. Follow BattleBox’s Instagram page for more information on its upcoming October schedule with events like karaoke and a superhero versus villain costume party.

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