This is what Milwaukee’s quarantine sounds like

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I’ve been in quarantine for roughly five months and I’ve nearly mastered dealing with all the stages of isolation. In the beginning, I stocked up on essentials, made banana bread, and went through this craze faze of being productive or at least attempting to. Then I took a break for self-care which consisted of watching reruns of my favorite TV shows and listening to Lorde on repeat. It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions and like most people, I’ve found my moments of peace by walking around Milwaukee.

At first, I would take a stroll, listen to my favorite tunes, or put on a new podcast, but something changed and I started to pay attention. My focus became on the wind, birds, cars and people around me. Then I started recording these sounds, and my coworker Justin Barney did the same. This is a compiled sound package of Milwaukee during a pandemic. Take a deep breath and listen. 

If you enjoyed this Community Story, which I think paints a picture without words, use it as a reminder that, sometimes, listening is all that we can do. It may seem that we are stuck in an eerie loop, but nature is constantly evolving and there’s life beyond what meets the eye.

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Wisconsin youth urge peers to vote

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Millennials and Generation Z make up one-third of eligible voters, however, studies show that roughly 1 in 5 youth voted this past Super Tuesday. There are many reasons why young people don’t make it to the polls. It could be a case of misinformation. barriers that prevent people from voting or simply a lack of interest.

Vote Mob is a youth movement that provides a network of local partners to inspire students and young people to vote. Vote Mob paints a parallel image similar to throwing a birthday party or a huge Facebook event. Essentially, it’s aim is to amp up young voters for the big day. 

“It’s to bring students together and help build their political power,” said Amanda Ali, Vote Mob’s Wisconsin regional coordinator. “We aim to increase the student vote.” 

The main strategy this movement uses is a private Facebook group, Wisconsin Youth and Students Power. Students from UW campuses such as UW-Milwaukee, UW-Stout and UW-Madison use this digital space to advocate change across the Wisconsin community. Currently, the primary discourse is about the uncertainty of college campuses and healthcare.

“They care about tuition, funding their education and their student loans,” said Ali. “They also care about their family and their families’ health in this pandemic.”

Vaughn Hess Jr. emphasizes that the goal of the group goes beyond the voting poll. Yes, it’s important to cast a vote and to amplify voices, but Vote Mob encourages students to advocate for their political power by stepping in leadership positions. One way this is done is by connecting students to local partners such as Leaders Igniting Change and Voces de la Frontera.

“In just over a month we have over 200 people,” said Hess Jr., regarding the Facebook group. “It’s to help get resources, share articles with one another and also to connect with one another.”

“That is what is most important to us,” said Ali. “We are connecting the youth with each one of our organizations with one another. To have a cross-collaborative state network.”

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Explore the ‘haunts of nature’ at Seven Bridges trail

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This week on Urban Spelunking, we’re heading outdoors to one of Milwaukee County’s most beautiful and unique public green spaces — Seven Bridges Trail at Grant Park in South Milwaukee.

The trail began to take shape in the 1914, designed by Frederick C. Wulff, the first-ever Superintendent of Horticulture for Milwaukee County Parks. His family even lived on the trail in a small cottage, which is still in use today.

“Enter this wild wood and view the haunts of nature,” reads the inscription above the entrance to Seven Bridges Trail. Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo/OnMilwaukee.

Seven Bridges trail is a well loved attraction, for good reason. It offers a particularly scenic yet manageable hike, winding through a quarter mile of ravines, streams, tree covered paths and, of course, bridges. The trail opens up to the shoreline of Lake Michigan, giving a crescent shaped view of Milwaukee’s harbor.

Learn more about the trail’s designer and its evolution over the last century — plus more about those “haunts” — in this week’s podcast below. For even more pictures and history, head to to read Bobby Tanzilo’s complete story.

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How to recognize your privilege and responsibility as a white person

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This past Tuesday, Radio Milwaukee hosted a virtual conversation called “Solidarity in Action” to create a space where white people can educate other community members about how to improve their work in solidarity with Black and Brown people.

The panel featured local leaders from different sectors talking about their continuous journey to betterment in the space of race, operating in solidarity with Black and Brown people, and how you can become active in your community.

The panelists include Jonathan Brostoff of the Wisconsin State Assembly, Stephanie Roades of SURJ MKE, Kirsten Helgeson of Just a Girl Inc., Dr. Stephanie Baran, an instructor of sociology, and Kyle Pfister of Ninjas for Health. The conversation was moderated by Renee Scampini, a PhD candidate at the UWM Urban Studies Program.

Panelists at Solidarity in Action

For some, having an in-depth conversation about race, acknowledging one’s inherent privilege and using it to dismantle white supremacy can be tough and awkward. However, it’s vital to step past the uncomfortable.

There was one question moderator Scampini asked that stood out to me: “What mistakes did you make and how did you learn from them?” Dr. Stephanie Baran said throughout her experience, a big hurdle was navigating and understanding her role in the movement.

“There’s a time where listening and reading is key,” said Baran. “That is something that I have learned over time. At the beginning of my learning, I would respond and I would try to be there as a voice. Now its, ‘Okay I see this as a problem, I see that people are on it. What do you need me to do?'”

Kyle Pfister adds that mistakes are unavoidable and it’s important to recognize mistakes and use them as lessons.

“The only thing I know for sure is that I am usually going to make mistakes and create harm because of the lens of whiteness that I see the world through,” said Pfister. “I learned to focus on how I react to when I am wrong or creating harm and try to de-center myself.”

Kirsten Helgeson said she learned how to motivate change with herself and her community by looking at it from a head, heart and hand perspective.

“The head piece is how you mentally build the rationale that can connect with people on moving things forward,” said Helgeson. “The heart is around emotionally connecting to people in a way that resonates with experience or situation deep within their heart to motivate them. It’s also about hands, teaching people how to use the information in their head and in their heart and transform that in community action in meaningful ways.”

Watch the full zoom conversation below and if you would like more resources to help broaden your perspective, visit our tools page.

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Community art brings the Muslim and Black community together

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To some, it may seem like the fight for social justice has died down. But even if there hasn’t been much coverage, protesters are still out on the streets marching for their lives. Not only are there demonstrations, but Milwaukee’s public art scene continues to display its support.

Milwaukee artists and activists have spent this past month using their craft to show support and stand in solidarity. One example is the Muslims for Black Lives mural, organized by Fanana Banana, an art collective led by two Muslim women. Co-founder Amal Azzam said the recent George Floyd mural inspired the group to reach out to building owner Ihsan Atta.

“He offered to cover all supply costs and allow us to paint the fence,” said Azzam. “It was a week and a half before that Sunday. Sometimes you have to reach out and say you want to support.”

Once Fanana Banana received approval to paint a community mural, they wanted to make sure they included as many voices as possible, including Black Muslims, who are often misidentified and unrepresented. They reached out to Milwaukee Muslims via Instagram and began their planning stage.

“Everyone was really involved which was amazing,” said Azzam. “I didn’t know what to expect. That Sunday, we still had to wing it, to be honest.”

“Our Kids Will Not Be Next” Fanana Mural | Courtesty of Fanana Banana

I was one of the Muslim artists who participated and helped design the middle panel titled “Our Kids Will Not Be Next” recognizing Black children who are affected by targeted police brutality looking toward a brighter future where they are not received as a threat.

During the July 14 community event, Fanana left two side panels empty for the public to join in and design on the spot. The final outcome had hopeful messages and honored Malcolm X, James Baldwin and Black women.

“It just shows that if you give people the opportunity to work together for something and give them supplies and support it can happen,” said Azzam.

Azzam stressed that it was vital to allow community members to participate, paint and heal because art is a reflection and representation.

“A perfect example that I can think of is when you’re watching a movie,” said Azzam. “When the main character is someone that doesn’t look like you, have the same lifestyle, share the same beliefs as you, you’re not looking at something and thinking, ‘I am the main character of my own story.’ Representation is important because you see someone or even a piece of artwork and you’re like, ‘Wow, I relate to that.'”

This was my first time being part of a Milwaukee mural and when working with the community I realized that public art is an extension of storytelling. Murals become part of the neighborhood ecosystem, it connects community members and sometimes its a display of public demand and advocacy.

The Muslims for Black Lives community mural is located on Holton and North Avenue.

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These emergency call boxes used to be everywhere in Milwaukee

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At one time, more than 2,500 of these handsome metal telephone boxes dotted the city sidewalks of Milwaukee. Police and fire call boxes like the one pictured below meant, for the first time in history, getting help in an emergency was just a phone call away.

Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo / OnMilwaukee

Imagine how innovative that must have felt in the late 1880s.

Over the last 100 years, the telephone boxes and have gradually yet steadily disappeared from the Milwaukee landscape, either deliberately removed by the city, falling into disrepair or stolen. Today it’s unclear exactly how many remain on the streets, but there are enough around that you’ve probably encountered one.

This week on Urban Spelunking, we discuss these little relics of Milwaukee history, and we answer the question: Do any of them still work? Listen to this week’s episode below, and be sure to read Bobby Tanzilo’s complete in-depth story at

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An artist and an activist, two LGBTQ leaders on keeping the momentum going

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This June has been an unusual LGBTQ Pride Month in Milwaukee. Instead of the usual PrideFest and Pride parade, thousands of people from the LGBTQ community — and their allies — took to the streets earlier this month to march for Black lives, starting outside of the Summerfest grounds where Pridefest is normally held.

In the weeks that followed, local leaders mobilized thousands more with daily marches in support of Black Lives Matter, and the protesting appears likely to continue into July and beyond.

As we close out and look back on Pride month, I connected with two local Black leaders from the LGBTQ Community — Adonis Timone, a male identifying rap artist, and Elle Halo, a transgender community activist and former Milwaukee Pride “Individual of the Year” honoree.

I asked them both for their takes on how Black Lives Matter intersects with the LGBTQ community and how all people can come together to build on the unique momentum established during this unusual pride month.

Listen to both audio stories below.

If you’re interested learning more about social justice in Milwaukee, 88Nine has prepared a toolkit here. On that page, you can find a recording of a virtual event called Solidarity in Action, plus links to countless other resources and tools.

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As state park campgrounds reopen, here’s where Milwaukeeans can escape to nature

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With Milwaukee’s trademark summer festivals canceled, the Brewers and Bucks yet to resume play and the DNC being scaled back into a largely virtual event, the city is facing a much quieter season than normal amidst a still ongoing pandemic. This leaves the question of “What is there to do this summer?,” and perhaps more importantly “What is safe to do?”

On June 10 this question was made a bit easier to answer as Wisconsin State Park campgrounds reopened to visitors. Although neither Lakeshore State Park or Havenwoods State Forest within Milwaukee offer campsites, within approximately 50 miles of Milwaukee there are six parks alone which offer more than a dozen campgrounds allowing for tents, truck campers, pop-ups, RVs and everything in between.

To help ensure the safety of guests, check-in is now automatic — allowing campers to proceed directly to the campsite they have reserved, group campsites will remain closed until at least June 30 and the Department of Natural Resources assures that restroom facilities will be cleaned every day. Directional signage is also placed which will promote social distancing.

Below are the six state parks closest to Milwaukee that offer campsites and simply require a reservation, nightly fees, and an annual pass to enter.

Harrington Beach State Park

One of Harrington Beach State Park’s trails | Wikimedia Commons

Running along Lake Michigan and sitting about 35 miles north of Milwaukee in Belgium, WI, Harrington Beach State Park offers the state campground closest to Milwaukee.

Per the DNR’s official website, the park “…features a white cedar and hardwood swamp, old field grasslands with restored wetland ponds and a scenic limestone quarry lake.” The campground itself houses 69 units including 31 sites with electrical hookups, 33 non-electrical sites and 3 first-come, first-served sites. Each site (as does nearly every site in this list) also comes with a campfire ring and picnic table.

Kohler-Andrae State Park

A video tour of both the Harrington Beach State Park and Kohler Andrae State Park |

17 miles north of Harrington Beach lies Kohler-Andrae State Park in Sheboygan. This campground is nearly double Harrington Beach in terms of available campsite with 137 sites, 52 of which have electric hookups, and one tepee site which allows guests to rent a canvas and pole if you don’t have your own equipment or truly want to “rough it”.

Richard Bong State Park

Richard Bong State Park | Wikimedia Commons

Moving approximately 47 miles southwest of Milwaukee instead will land you at Richard Bong State Park in Kansasville, Wis., which offers a whopping two campgrounds offering 217 campsites. As opposed to the beaches of the last two parks, much of Richard Bong State Park’s campsites are nestled in or around wooded areas — although the park also houses multiple bodies of water with beaches of their own.

Sitting on opposite ends of the park, the area between the two campgrounds holds horse and ATV trails in addition to hiking trails for every skill level. These trails offer views of the park in which guests can see remnants of the unfinished Air Force base which previously occupied the space and was abandoned in 1959.

And yes, the name is pretty funny too — leading to us going beyond the novelty in a Community Story.

Kettle Moraine State Forest – Pike Lake Unit

Pike Lake | Wikimedia Commons

The closest State Park to Milwaukee which offers camping is actually one of five park “units” within the 56,000-acre woodland that is the Kettle Moraine State Forest. Of the campgrounds on this list, Pike Lake Unit’s “Sunrise” campground is the smallest with 32 campsites — 24 wooded and eight open, eleven of which have electricity. Moreover, Pike Lake also has three backpack campsites along the 2.6 mile Ice Age Trail.

One of the parks landmark features is Powder Hill and its accompanying observation tower which sits relatively close to the campground. The tower offers a gorgeous view of the park and the 522 acre Pike Lake itself which alone may make the trip here worth it.

Kettle Moraine State Forest – Southern Unit

Kettle Moraine State Forest’s Southern Unit Sign | Wikimedia Commons

In contrast with Pike Lake unit’s nearly 700 acres of land, the Southern Unit occupies a massive 22,000 acres of “…glacial hills, kettles, lakes, prairie restoration sites, pine woods and hardwood forests…” and is 30 miles long. As a result, it’s no surprise that the park includes four campgrounds totaling close to 300 campsites. These range from the more accommodating Ottawa Lake campground with electrical sites, showers, toilets and an accessible cabin to Whitewater Lake campground which offers “primitive camping” (think vault toilets and no showers).

Although accessible cabins are available at most State Park campgrounds, the Southern Unit goes one step further and offers accessible campsites with paved paths to and from restrooms, parking, beaches and an accessible pier.

Kettle Moraine State Forest – Northern Unit

The Northern Unit’s Henry S. Reuss Ice Age Visitor Center | Wikimedia Commons

Being the furthest away State Park on this list at more than 50 miles, it makes sense that the Northern Unit of Kettle Moraine State Forest would also have the most campsites of any in the area.

With more than 350 campsites across four campgrounds, the Northern Unit offers perhaps the most comprehensive offerings of any State Park in the area including watercraft rental, a teepee campsite, accessible campsites, five backpack shelters and a horserider campground with the means to ride your own horse along the vast trails, among much more.

Recently updated guidelines from the Wisconsin DNR on camping at State Parks |

It’s important to note that despite the remote nature of these parks, properties within them have a predetermined capacity that when met, will close until capacity is reduced. Therefore, the DNR stresses that it is important to have a backup plan no matter what you plan to do in order to make the most of your experience. You can check capacity beforehand here.

For more info regarding how to best camp during COVID-19, check out the DNR’s guidelines here and to make a reservation, visit

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Reggie Jackson gives a crash course on Milwaukee’s segregated history

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How did we get here? That’s the big question. Milwaukee is one of the most diverse cities in the country and a 2013 census stated that Milwaukee was rated number one in segregation.

This February, on a snowy negative 15 degree night, Radio Milwaukee hosted an event titled “How to Have Better Conversations About Race.” The conversation was prompted by The New York Times’ 1619 Project but the event emphasized Milwaukee. One of the speakers was Reggie Jackson, and he talked about the past and how Milwaukee became segregated.

“To me, the greatest thing we can do to lead to more productive conversations is to learn more,” said Reggie Jackson. “We don’t know enough to have real, productive conversations about race.”

The conversation started with Jackson showing a racial dot map of Milwaukee in order for the audience to understand how we got to this point.

“The reason it looks like that is because white people wanted it to look like that,” said Reggie Jackson, in reference to the racial dot map.

Racial dot map of Milwaukee | Courtesy of Weldon Cooper Center For Public Service

If we break down Milwaukee’s population by race, according to the United States Census, Milwaukee’s make up is 44.6 percent white, 38.8 percent Black or African American and 18.8 percent of Hispanic or Latino in population. However, Jackson says when you take a look at the suburb within Milwaukee County it doesn’t look like that.

“I tell people the best way to see segregation in Milwaukee is to get in your car,” said Jackson. “Drive down to the lakefront get on North Avenue and drive all the way to Brookfield, in just a straight shot.”

During the presentation, Jackson points out that Milwaukee is different than other cities because Black communities didn’t arrive until the ’40s, when companies needed to recruit individuals for labor. In the 1950s, Milwaukee had a thriving Black middle-class community with a business and jazz district known as Bronzeville.

“Blacks in Milwaukee had the highest per capita business ownership rate of any Blacks anywhere in the United States of America,” said Jackson.

 Local businesses located near 12th and Walnut Streets in 1958 | Courtesy of Historic Photo Collection of the Milwaukee Public Library

Jackson debunks the myth that freeways destroyed the booming business district, which many of the audience members believed, including Jackson himself.

In his presentation, Jackson showed he showed aerial photos that showed the district yet no freeway. It was being built from the south side to the north side, while Bronzeville was destroyed beforehand to make way for an upcoming Park West Freeway.

“They tore down 8,000 houses to build Interstate-43 and then they decided to build the park west freeway,” said Jackson.

The Park West Freeway was never built however the district was left abandoned until 1985 and turned into a commercial district.

Restrictive zoning sign in Wauwatosa | Courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Another reason is the restrictive housing ban throughout the state, where restrictive zoning was enforced. For example in the city of Wauwatosa, it meant that Black people could not live in Wauwatosa.

“These were legally binding documents that said only white people could occupy these spaces,” said Reggie Jackson.

Racial covenants were also used throughout Milwaukee County. According to a University of Milwaukee publication, 16 to 18 covenants were used in Milwaukee with the exception of Oak Creek and River Hills.

Jackson showed the attending audience an example in South Milwaukee written in 1937 set to expire in 2024, Jackson asked the audience to read the prompt together which stated,

“At no time shall any such lot or building thereon, be purchased, owned, leased, occupied or used by any person other than citizens of the United States of America of the white race. This provision shall not apply to domestic servants which may be employed by their owner or occupant of any such lot or building thereon.”

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A guide to supporting Black women

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Black women have always been on the frontlines across all movements yet they frequently don’t get the recognition they deserve. A few of my personal inspirations have been Angela Davis, Marsha P. Johnson and Vel Phillips. It wasn’t until college that I was introduced to any of these historical figures, let alone the Black women in our city who are making a difference today.

I spoke with Shavonda Sisson from Love on Black Women, a people-driven fund that supports Black women in Milwaukee, across all intersections. The fund was inspired by one that Sisson’s friend in New York started to help women with rent or groceries, and within a year Love on Black Women was created to do just that.

“People always want to support the folks in their community but just don’t know how,” said Sisson.

It started with posting links to individuals Cashapp or Venmo accounts across social media platforms. However, Sisson wanted something more sustainable. A donor platform was created, with the help of Leaders Igniting Transformation for the public to donate a one-time or monthly donation. Sisson then allocates 100 percent of the fund to women in need, distributing amounts depending on priority.

“I do prioritize if there is intimate partner violence and if someone is looking for a safe space,” said Sisson. “If there are children involved it gets you to a higher priority.”

Sisson said that the majority of donors are folks who used the funds before and see it as an uplifting community. However, beyond that, Sisson often feels that Black women are often invisible and erased from conversations.

“We are innovators and then someone else comes along and they are able to do it bigger just because people don’t trust, believe, or have faith in Black women or just don’t see us.”

Love on Black Women logo | Courtesy of Love on Black Women

Black women also face emotional tolls and stress within their gender and race identity by experiencing emotional labor. Sisson says she feels a heavy responsibly when opening up emails and hearing stories about domestic abuse or job loss during the pandemic.

“Very recently I found myself a therapist because I need to have somewhere to put all these things that I am carrying but I am not unique in that as a Black woman,” said Sisson. “We are carrying so many things and we are often caught stuck holding the emotional bag.”

Sisson says the way we can support Black women is by donating to local organizations and funds like Love on Black Women because the community knows what they need and it’s important for Black women to direct their own resources.

Another way we can step up and support the Black women in our lives is by advocating for them.

“I would say get out of a Black woman’s way and I don’t think that’s talked about enough,” said Sisson. “Folks who are leadership positions, sometimes in order to sustain the support of a Black woman you have to get out of the way in order for her to take that spot.”

Watch the full, unedited zoom call with Shavonda Sisson below.

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