This stunning Washington Co. Courthouse resembles an old movie set

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The Washington County Courthouse is an 1889 architectural stunner, and and if you look close, you’ll see resemblances to Milwaukee’s City Hall.

That’s because they had the same architect — Henry C. Koch — who designed the castle like courthouse just a few years before beginning work on Milwaukee’s city hall.

A view inside the former courtroom. Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo / OnMilwaukee.

Inside, the former courthouse seems frozen in time, boasting intricate woodwork and gorgeous stone arches. Outside, the stately motif continues with soaring red steeples and a pristine hilltop view, almost as high as the famed Holy Hill.

Steeples stretch to the sky atop the courthouse. Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo / OnMilwaukee.

“It ceased operation as a courthouse in 1962 and after a number of other civil uses, the three-story building has, for the past nearly 30 years, been home to the Washington County Historical Society and the Old Courthouse Museum,” writes Bobby Tanzilo in his story at OnMilwaukee.

Tanzilo visited the museum for this week’s Urban Spelunking. Listen to the podcast below, and be sure to visit OnMilwaukee for more pictures and history.

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Understanding our alarming racial wealth gap

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Milwaukee is the most segregated city in America and one of the worst cities for Black people. Some could see that situation and believe that these disparities are the result of the decisions Black people make rather than racism. Andre M. Perry, a fellow in the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, challenges that perspective by assessing property and institutions’ value with Black communities his new book “Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities.” As Perry writes in his book, “there is nothing wrong with Black people that ending racism can’t solve.”

Radio Milwaukee’s very own Community Engagement Manager, Maddy Riordan, facilitated a discussion with Perry alongside Deatra Kemp, Homebuyer Program Manager with Acts Housing, and Keith Stanely, Executive Director of Near West Side Partners, Inc. and Avenues West Association to discuss home ownership in Milwaukee.

Home ownership rates by Race | Courtesy of Census Bureau

In June of 2019, the home ownership rate for Black Americans fell to 40.6%, the lowest in the Census Bureau’s quarterly data since 1994. To combat the alarmingly low rates, Act Housing empowers and supports homeowners through services such as home buyer counseling and home rehabilitation programs.

“Individuals and families who understand their power and value of their credit develop the behaviors and habits to maintain their credit in a manner that opens them up to a myriad of opportunities including home ownership,” said Kemp.

Credit scores are critical when purchasing a home and influence one’s mortgage interest rate. Although there isn’t a score that can guarantee a mortgage approval, on average, the lowest approved credit score is 620, landing someone in a fair range

“Black communities especially tend to be banking deserts that keep low income and minority families credit invisible,” said Kemp. “While offering an abundance of opportunities for them to access predatory lending.”

Let’s break down what that means. Banking deserts are areas without adequate banking services and predatory lending is a lending practice that imposes unfair loan terms on the borrower. Practices might look like false advertisements to pressure someone to take out a loan or having high late fees. When people live in areas without access to financial services, they become vulnerable to predatory lending.

Perry posed the point that racial wealth gaps are one of the key factors to the disparities of home ownership.

“When it comes to Black folk, the lack of wealth puts us in the negative position,” said Perry. “We’re more likely to take on debt because we are not afforded opportunities to build wealth. A lot of times it’s not about our financial literacy, it’s that we don’t have the wealth.”

Perry states that when it comes to financial literacy, it’s important to teach Black residents how to spot and stand up to predatory systems.

“There’s no shortage of opportunities to take on debt in the hood it’s just the bad kind of debts that are afforded to us,” said Perry.

Listen to our community story below.

Watch the full discussion below.

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How the recognition of human dignity is rooted in racial equity

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Ubuntu is a word derived from South Africa, one that translates to humanity and often means “I am because we are.” It was the idea and core essence of humanity centered around unity that inspired founder Monique Liston to create Ubuntu Research and Evaluation.

Ubuntu is a professional learning community run by Black women who use liberation and beloved community frameworks to evaluate, facilitate and strategize with communities. Essentially, Ubuntu designs programs while coaching and facilitating groups to help individuals challenge their mindsets and consciously uplift racial equity.

“We are just a bunch of Black women from all different backgrounds doing incredible work with the skill set that we have in areas we know best,” said Sojourner White, Ubuntu’s project and media strategist.

Portrait of Black women with Ubuntu | Courtesy of Ubuntu

Ubuntu at its core is facilitating accountably and strategically enforcing that Black people are valued, respected and treated ethically. It’s understanding how to serve Black people in all spaces and institutions, ranging from education to health and government.

“The core part of Ubuntu is recognizing that Black people are not given the same dignity that we all deserve,” said White. “We help organizations figure out, ‘What does dignity look like in all these spaces for Black people?'”

Take the wage gap, for instance. Black women experience both a race and gender pay gap. According to the Census Bureau data from 2018, white women earned 79 cents for every dollar earned by a white man. If we factor race, Black women earned 62 cents for that same dollar.

In comparison to other women, Black women are also expected to work and have the highest labor force participation, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics 2017 report. This means that even though Black women are expected to work harder it doesn’t always translates to higher wages.

While the main substructure is teaching people and fostering an equitable world, Ubuntu is rooted in the fundamental concept of the beloved community, one that starts internally with Unbuntu’s staff.

“How do you move in a space that is more healing?” White answered when asked what she learned working with other Black women. “We understand that especially as Black women, the work that we do harms us because we addressing racial trauma in various organizations. We need that space to talk to each other and to cry together if needed. This is definitely a great space to be in especially right out of graduate school.”

To request racial equity consultant services, workshops and webinars, contact Unbuntu’s team.

Listen to our audio story below.

Watch the full conversation with Sojourner White below.

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Changing the conversation around disability

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Going to the movies is often a challenge for individuals with hearing loss. Brian Peters, who is deaf, has to call in advance to make sure his local theater offers caption readers before he sees a movie. Sometimes the devices are out of batteries or not functioning. If there is a problem with the captioning, Peters doesn’t find out until the movie has already started. 

“I have to get up and miss the beginning of the movie to go find an attendant to come and work out the problem for me,” said Peters. “My movie experience is very different than someone that can hear.”

Picture of Brian Peters | Courtesy of IndependenceFirst

Often when talking about disabilities, we picture ones that are physical and might not consider “invisible” disabilities such as hearing loss, cognitive impairment or autism.

Peters is the community access and policy specialist for IndependenceFirst, a Milwaukee program center for people with disabilities. The organization advocates for disability rights in Milwaukee, and over 50 percent of its staff identifies as having a disability.

“Our society tends to put people in different boxes, so even when we are talking about disabilities, people might automatically think that it’s only someone in a wheelchair,” said Gerald Hay, IndependenceFirst’s program manager.

Milwaukee is an old city with many historical buildings that are not accessible. Since the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed in 1990, title III has required public places to accessible and usable by people with disabilities. Harvey Ross, a paraplegic, said that even 30 years after the act was signed, new buildings in Milwaukee are not accessible.

“Even with all the laws passed and you can look at it in the same way as inequalities with LGBTQ and Black Lives Matter movement, society doesn’t seem to care,” said Ross.

IndpendenceFirst promotes the idea that accessibility benefits everyone regardless if you have a disability.

“Good design works for everybody,” said Hay. “Whether I’m in a wheelchair or I’m pulling my children in the stroller, curb cuts are a good thing. Ramps are a good thing because they work for everybody.  When we’re talking to folks about the ADA, it’s for inclusion in society.”

Picture of Harvey Ross | Courtesy of IndependenceFirst

Beyond creating a community that is inclusive, IndependenceFirst strives for self-empowerment and self-advocacy. Ross became paraplegic due to gun violence and he admitted that at first, he lost his will to live after he lost mobility. It was through interacting with other individuals who are disabled he realized a meaningful life looks different for everyone.

“People in our society fail to realize is that perception is everything,” said Ross. “You may have a goal of what happiness and what being successful is but I might have a different goal of what being successful looks like.”

Although many individuals still face discrimination, Peters advises that the first step for independence is to know your rights.

“When I was younger I used to work at a fast-food restaurant and I thought that I had the ability to become a manager,” said Peters. “I did all the paperwork and all the classwork that was required to become a manager, and it just seemed to me like I hit the glass ceiling.”

His experience was right around the time the ADA was signed and although Peters had the intention to move up in his career he was never given the opportunity.

“My advice to people who do experience discrimination is to find out what your rights are,” said Peters. “What is the stuff you need to take to make sure you can’t be discriminated against. Educate yourself because it’s really important to know what you can do.”

“What I want people to realize is when you see me don’t look at my disability first,” said Ross. “Look at me as a person.” 

Watch the full in-depth conversation below to learn more about disability rights, self-empowerment and how disability plays a role in one’s perception of masculinity.

Listen to the audio community story below.

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Dubbel Dutch boutique hotel opens on Milwaukee’s East Side

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This week on Urban Spelunking, we’ve got an update to a story we first talked about last October. The former Koeffler/Baumgarten family mansion, a unique 1898 side-by-side home, has been converted to a small-scale boutique hotel on the East Side of Milwaukee.

The Dubbel Dutch Hotel | Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo / OnMilwaukee

Now open as The Dubbel Dutch, 817-9 N. Marshall St., the home has been been beautifully restored. Led by developer Juli Kaufmann, architect Patrick Jones and contractor Andy Braatz, the hotel offers 17 guest rooms.

“The south-facing guest room windows offer great views of the Downtown skyline and glimpses of the lake,” writes Bobby Tanzilo in his column on

Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo |

“The gorgeous woodwork that was everywhere, in the form of moldings, paneling, hardwood floors, newel posts, staircase balustrades and the like are all still there,” he writes.

Listen to this week’s podcast below, and visit OnMilwaukee for more history and photos.

Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo /
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How to answer big questions kids have on masks

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The conversation around the COVID-19 pandemic is a difficult subject to address with your kids and can result in a lot of fear or confusion. Adding Milwaukee’s mask ordinance, stating that under law everyone over the age of three is required to wear face-covering in public, doesn’t make that conversation any easier. Kids have a lot of questions and we have the answers.

Why is everyone wearing a mask?

Wearing a mask helps keep everyone safe, like our friends, family, teachers and essential workers. Although wearing a mask doesn’t entirely eliminate the risk of COVID-19 it does help lower the risk. We are all doing our part to make sure everyone is safe. 

I’m not sick, why do I have to wear a mask?

Even if you’re not sick, it can help you stay healthy in case you get sick. Sometimes you might be sick without feeling any symptoms, that’s called being asymptomatic.

Do I have to wear a mask at home?

Great question! Although, most of us usually don’t wear a mask when we are at home, it’s good practice to wear a mask when people are visiting you at home. Also, sometimes families wear a mask when isolating from other family members. For example, if a parent is a doctor, they might wear a mask at home to keep everyone safe.

Is it a costume?

Hmm never thought about that. I guess some face coverings can be part of a costume and some people cover their faces for religious reasons but for the most part, people are wearing a mask to stay healthy.

Can I still talk while wearing a mask?

Yes, silly, You can absolutely talk while wearing a mask. 

Why do I have to wash my hands so much?

We wash our hands to remove all the yucky germs. Think about everything you are touch throughout the day. Sometimes we can see things on our hands like dirt or food but sometimes they are invisible. When we forget to wash our hands, those lingering germs can make us sick. A good rule of thumb is to wash your hands for 20 seconds. If you can’t remember try singing the song, “If you’re happy and you know it, wash your hands!”

For more information on the mask ordinance, check out our detailed article.

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DACA recipients explain what it means to be undocumented

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Many defining moments impact your life as an adolescent. For undocumented children, it’s the constant anxiety that one day you might face deportation. In the case of Nour Kalbouneh, that gut-wrenching scenario was a reality that happened at the age of 12 when she and her family were stopped for removal. 

The impactful moment for Iuscely Flores, a DACAmented womxn, was her eighth grade trip to D.C. Flores spent months selling empanadas to save money for the upcoming school trip. She had all her bases covered and when she waited with her classmates to tour the White House, she realized she didn’t have a form of identification and had to spend the rest of her day on the school bus with a chaperone.

During her senior year of high school, Flores said that image haunted her when filling out Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms with her guidance counselor. 

“I kept telling him I can’t fill out FAFSA because I was undocumented and he still filled it out,” said Flores. “I had to process the same emotions when sitting on the bus in D.C. all over again.” 

Let’s break down the history of DACA, an acronym for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. DACA is an immigration policy that allows children who are undocumented to receive a renewable deferred action from deportation. It all began in 2001 when the Dream Act was first introduced to congress. Although it had some support, the proposal was rejected. In 2012, President Obama signed the executive order for DACA, which intended to be a temporary solution to protect immigrant children. Flash forward to 2017, the Trump administration redacted DACA, and the policy immediately faced the Supreme Court. This past month, the Supreme Court blocked the cancellation of the DACA program on a 5-4 vote. 

In 2012, when the Obama administration signed the executive order, many students felt that it was an opportunity to go to college, but some individuals like Kalbouneh felt conflicted. Kalbouneh stated that being a recipient eased some fears, but it didn’t secure the safety of her parents.

“How was I supposed to live here without my parents?” asked Kalboneh. “The system didn’t care. They tried to deport my parents, but they couldn’t, but had they been able to you, I would have been left here with the younger brother at the age of 12.” 

Although under DACA, recipients have work permits, can obtain a driver’s license and can apply for college without the fear of deportation, recipients are not eligible for federal benefits such as financial aid. Amaerani Torres, another DACAmented womxn, often said when economic opportunities are available it’s hardly publicized. 

“I think that they definitely are profiting off of having a demographic on campus but not serving us in the most obtainable way,” said Torres.

“There are so many barriers that if we don’t put in a hundred times more than people with citizenship, we are not going to advance,” said Kalbouneh. “Now that I’m back at school, I’ve completely done it differently than my first time around. I wasn’t as involved and didn’t take leadership positions, but now has made such a difference for the amount of opportunities that have been open to me.” 

When I asked the question how does being undocumented affect your identity, both Flores and Torres recalled always compensating for their names, either by changing the pronunciation or providing nicknames.

Kalboneh said that when allies attempt to stand up for immigrants by claiming that they are also American, it erases someone’s identity and is inherently problematic. 

“Yes, I do contribute to this country but I’m still Palestinian,” said Kalboneh. “We also struggle with that because we want to be accepted and we want people to have a permanent pathway to citizenship but also don’t take away who we are in the process of doing that.” 

DACA recipient Cendi Tena said although she is mindful of her status she is never shamed by it.

“I don’t care you know how society views immigrants or what their expectations are of us,” said Tena. “Anything I’ve ever done has been for my family and for them to feel like it was worth coming here.”

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Major redevelopment coming to Horlick Malted Milk campus in Racine

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Did you know that malted milk — the key ingredient in Ovaltine, Whoppers and chocolate malt shakes — originated just south of Milwaukee in Racine?

The food product, developed as a critical protein source for babies, was invented by English immigrant brothers William and James Horlick, who set up shop in Racine in the 1870s. The factory campus would eventually expand across 18 acres, as the plant produced malt powder for more than a century.

Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo /

Now the factory site is seeing a massive redevelopment, led by developer Josh Jeffers, with plans to transform it into a town square, complete with apartments, restaurant space and retail. Demolition work is about to begin at the campus, with plans to restore the historic buildings to their original beauty.

Learn about the plans, plus more about the sprawling site in this week’s Urban Spelunking podcast. For more, be sure to visit to read Bobby’s complete story and watch a video tour or his visit.

Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo /
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This ‘book fairy’ has collected more than 1,000 books for South Side kids

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Once you begin to notice them, you see them everywhere — Little Free Libraries. They’re scattered all over Milwaukee, in people’s front lawns, in parks and outside businesses, and chances are you have one in your neighborhood. The happy, house shaped boxes are usually colorfully painted and, as you’d expect, filled with books that anyone can borrow for free.

Photo courtesy Barby the Book Lady’s Facebook page.

But who is maintaining them? Where do the books come from? It’s a bit of a mystery, and that’s the beautiful thing about them. No single person is in charge. Instead, the community keeps them stocked.

But the downside, if there is any, is that sometimes the libraries are too popular, and all the books get checked out or picked over. And that’s where Barbara Cerda, and her alter-ego Barby the Book Fairy, is stepping in.

Barbara Cerda, aka Barby the Book Fairy. Photo courtesy of her Facebook page.

Over the last year, she has taken a handful of little libraries on the South Side under her wing, keeping a steady flow of culturally appropriate children’s books stocked on their tiny shelves. To date, she has collected or purchased more than 1,000 books, with plans to distribute them all back to her South Side community.

Tag along with Barby the Book Fairy in the community story below.

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How we’re making the most of this extremely unusual summer

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If this summer had gone as we’d imagined it, this week we’d be witnessing some of the biggest crowds the city has ever seen as part of the Democratic National Convention. It didn’t work out that way, of course. Instead we’re entering the fifth month of relative isolation as the city continues to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

Still, summers in Milwaukee are too short and precious to waste, so how are we making the most of this unusual summer? Radio Milwaukee’s Ayisha Jaffer, Salam Fatayer, Justin Barney, Kenny Perez, Amelinda Burich, Lucas Seidel and Evan Rytlewski caught up on Slack to share our tips for staying active and enjoying the outdoors. Even in these scary, unprecedented times, it turns out there are plenty of ways to stay occupied when the weather’s warm.

Read our conversation below.

Evan: Alright, so this wasn’t the summer that any of us imagined. From music festivals to weddings to tailgates, there’s a good chance that whatever you were looking forward to the most this summer has been canceled. So what have you all been doing instead?

DJ Kenny Perez: I am appreciating the outdoors these days, especially away from the city and the crowds. Camping, hiking and biking our my new passions!

amelinda: I’ve spent nearly every day out in nature to feel a little freedom.

Justin: Me too!

amelinda: I have even run into Justin on our daily walks.

Justin: I have never been so aware of proximity. Like, I live a couple blocks from the lake in Bay View here and I have gone on LONG walks every day along the lake and every day feels different and new outside and I’m understanding my surroundings in a way that I never really paid attention to before.

amelinda: After walking 4-9 miles a day, I’ve started to feel the same way. After awhile I felt like I was wearing out the same places, so I researched Atlas Obscura. Has anyone been to the Sculpture Spectacular?

My friends Shea and Kelly and I were feeling bored and looked up places on the Atlas Obscura map and found this one. It was amazing and self guided so you can keep your distance.

Ayisha Jaffer: I’m an avid road tripper so I’ve taken advantage of exploring the southeast and beyond. I’ve camped and kayaked in the Driftless, and up in the north. I’ve explored near my hometown and have kayaked most weekends in Big Bend, I put my skates back on and practiced some old roller derby moves. I’ve never jet-skied, so I did that in Oak Creek and felt like I was in an actual ocean (pretending there were sharks there, there totally are bull sharks in Lake Michigan), and have had some pretty fancy picnics.

Salam: So I’ve been missing a sense of adventure, which is how I typically spend my summers BUT I recently found this app called Zombies, Run! and you basically run or walk in real life but the more you do it you collect supplies and get chased by zombies while listening to your mission via headphones.

amelinda: Haha that sounds amazing

Lucas: Salam is taking the “pandemic” real seriously.

Salam: Please download it so we can save humanity haha

Evan: Wait, is this a huge trend, like sourdough and roller blades? Or just an extremely niche Salam thing?

Salam: I found it from Tik Tok so I know a ton of people are doing it!

Evan: Last week my family had a picnic at Lake Park and we were reminiscing about the days when that park’s biggest problem was too many people playing Pokemon Go there. Simpler times.

Salam: I feel like picnics are everywhere! I’ve done it with a few friends. What’s your favorite picnic spot? I love going across north point water tower because it has a beautiful, safe distance view of Bradford Beach.

Justin: I have been walking South Shore park every day and things are good over there. Unlike some of the other beaches there is a lot of room and coastline for everyone to spread out and do their own thing. Plenty of room to picnic. Also, the water is finally warm so I have been swimming almost every day.

Ayisha Jaffer: Where are you swimming Justin? I need more of than in my life.

Justin: Some of my friends have their qualms about the water, but I read in John Gurda’s book that the biggest problem with the lake right now is that it is too clean due to muscles. I don’t know if that is right or wrong or if I just made that up, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I’ve been jumping in off the path by South Shore. I like to go on the beach like where the path goes up by the seminary cause it’s the most secluded.

Salam: If you don’t mind driving for a bit I would recommend Lake Sinissippi in Dodge County for swimming! I rented this beautiful cabin up there.

Justin: Lucas, how are you doing without baseball?

Lucas: To me, it still feels like we are in the longest March of my life. I never realized how much I process the passage of time through sports milestones. I never thought I’d be so invested in labor disputes before but the lack of any sports has done this to me. Thankfully, it’s coming back soon enough and I’ve been able to use a lot of the time and money saved to do some landscaping. Mulch isn’t a Miller Park brat but it will do…

Justin: I saw two kids throwing rocks into a garbage can and I stopped to watch for 10 whole minutes and was like, dang, I miss sports.

Salam: Okay real question, any tips to avoid getting quarantine blues? What has helped keep things exciting?

DJ Kenny Perez: Great question! Find like minded people that share your passion, whether it’s in art, music, food, etc.. Have several conversations, be it virtually or old school on the phone. Staying in touch with someone is so important especially if you’re alone. Even though I can’t relate to loneliness with the two incredible people I live with, I can say that talking to a friend or someone different gives me a little spark. Shutting negative energy out is always a good thing… TV off, social media breaks etc. Everyone is doing it.

DJ Kenny Perez: Oh yeah I almost forgot… invest in a hammock!

Lucas: My strategy is to just try and accomplish something every day. If I can reach the end of a day and say that I did X, Y, & Z and those weren’t done when the day started — I consider that a win. It helps the days from bleeding together.

Salam: Absolutely, I also have given myself some leniency in understanding that things are out of my hand but also being intentional with how I am spending my days. I will say I am enjoying the slow down because now I have time to try new things or explore my city.

Ayisha Jaffer: I feel like I’ve gotten to work on the relationships I have and make them more solid. I’ve really loved that global solidarity with my friends and that we have more time for each other. They keep me sane, connecting and sharing our stories.

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