Milwaukee's Juneteenth tradition commemorates culture and history

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Juneteenth comes from the word combination of June and nineteenth and it's a national holiday we all should celebrate.

This historical day matters because in 1865, Union Army soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas with the news that all slaves were free. This is important to know since this day took place two and a half years after the emancipation proclamation. 

One of the many barbecue stations at Juneteenth

Now, 148 years later, Juneteenth has become a national celebration honoring this victorious moment in our history that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. 

Every year, Milwaukee celebrates Juneteenth with one of the largest block parties in the city. Even though the weather was misty and cloudy at last week's event, it didn't stop the joyous spirit of the attendees. Thousands of people gathered together to celebrate, educate the community and to pay tribute to the past. 

Troy Johnson, Vice President of the League of Martin, an organization of African American police officers, attended to join the celebration.  

"We are here to enjoy Juneteenth," said Johnson. "We are here to show our presence and socialize with the individuals and spread the joy." 

Having a good time at Milwaukee's Juneteenth block party could mean different things depending on who you ask. It's indulging in one of the many barbecue food vendors, meeting new people through the multiple information booths, and listening to the live performances. 

To some, this day is a connection to one's cultural roots. A reminder of their history and identity. A time for self-love, respect and dignity. 

Kenia Mahdi, an attendee, was there for the cultural experience that isn't present throughout the year and for being around people who look like her. 

"It was about 10, 11 years ago when I got married when I start learning how to love myself and learning to love my culture," said Mahdi.  "It feels kind of spiritual and grounded right now." 

Janice Tompkins, another attendee, says that Juneteenth is a reminder to invest in black communities. 

"Milwaukee does not have a huge African American culture in regards to economic status," said Tompkins. 

Live performers at Juneteenth

This is a sentiment shared among many individuals I spoke with throughout the party. 

"I would like to see the segregation disappear," said Johnson. 

"I would like to see more of our own money being rejuvenated into our community but in order for that to happen we do need more businesses here," said Mahdi. 

Juneteenth Day is not a holiday exclusive to just the black community. It's a part of everyone's history. Being in Milwaukee, one of the most racially polarized cities in America, means that we need to unite together to uplift communities. 

"I like to see us support one another and love one another," said Tompkins. 

If you missed the Juneteenth block party, don't panic. Just make sure to attend Bronzeville week and the Black Arts Fest MKE. 

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Summerfest welcomes international performers at its Emerging Artists Series

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When most people think of Summerfest and its status as "The World's Largest Festival," their mind instantly goes to the well-known artists that take the stage every year, including performers from this year's festivities like Billie Eilish, Bon Iver, Lil Wayne, Lizzo and The Lonely Island.

However, it would be a mistake to consider this Milwaukee tradition as simply a festival for established artists to shine. This is where platforms like the annual Emerging Artists Series come in and provide a glimpse into the rising talent who may become the headliners of the future.

Now in its 13th year, the Emerging Artists Series on the Johnson Controls World Sound Stage with 88Nine Radio Milwaukee has highlighted acts like Walk the Moon, Maren Morris, BØRNS and X Ambassadors in the past before they became known the world over.

Local talent such as Browns Crew, Zed Kenzo and Amanda Huff join national talent like Sego, Dragondeer and Tyler Boone this year in hopes of becoming the next breakout stars and are accompanied by eleven international acts as well.

These international artists hail from eight different cities and cover genres ranging from indie-pop to electro-grunge. For many of these performers, this marks the first time they are playing a show in the Midwestern United States and provides them an opportunity to reach an all-new audience.

While the main attractions are the daily performances, audiences are also encouraged to vote in a Twitter poll for their favorite performances. Each day, the band with the most votes will receive an "Emerging Artist Series Care Package" that includes nearly $3,000 in gear, merchandise and services. Two artists will be lucky enough to win a College & Non-Commercial Radio Campaign from Planetary Group.

The complete list of international artists is below.

Matt Hoyles - Auckland, New Zealand

June 26 @ 5:30 p.m.
Blues singer/songwriter

The Beths - Auckland, New Zealand

June 28 @ 5:30 p.m.
Indie-pop band

Capitano - Frankfurt/Berlin, Germany

June 29th @ 4:15 p.m.
Indie-pop band

Dan Millson - Madrid, Spain

June 30 @ 3 p.m.
Indie-folk singer/songwriter

The Prussians - Palma de Mallorca, Spain

June 30 @ 5:30 p.m.
Indie-rock band

Tribe Royal - Ottawa, Canada

July 2 @ 4:15 p.m.
Canadian/Americana rock band

Jeremie Albino - Toronto, Canada

July 2 @ 6:45 p.m.
Blues-rock singer/songwriter

Royal Prospect - Lomma, Sweden

July 3 @ 4:15 p.m.
Arena-rock band

Hot Lips - Toronto, Canada

July 3 @ 5:30 p.m.
Electro-grunge band

Jordana Talsky - Toronto, Canada

July 5 @ 4:15 p.m.
Pop-jazz singer/songwriter

Thaikkudam Bridge - Kochi, India

July 6 @ 4:15 p.m.
Indian-hard rock

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

There's a network of tunnels underneath Concordia University

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It's pretty genius when you think about it.

When Concordia University in Mequon was built, it included a web of interconnected underground tunnels. It was originally a convent, and at the time, Mequon was much more rural than it is now.

So rather than have the nuns walk outside during the winter, they could instead pass between buildings using the tunnel system.

Photo via OnMilwaukee/Bobby Tanzilo

And they appeared to have enjoyed the trek. OnMilwaukee's Bobby Tanzilo found some pictures of the nuns zipping through the tunnels on roller skates and riding on bikes, sporting big smiles on their faces.

We head underground this week on Urban Spelunking, plus visit the rest of the Concordia campus.

A few other highlights from this this week's podcast:

  • There's a specific reason the Jesus is wearing a blue robe in the stained glass image in the chapel
  • Each tile in the mosaics below was laid by hand
  • Students come to Concordia from Sri Lanka, South Korea and many more countries

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88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Looking back on Ramadan

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Although Ramadan is over, the lessons one can learn from participating in this month shouldn't be. In order to understand what one can gain from this month, what exactly is Ramadan?

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is considered the holiest month amongst Muslims since the holy book, the Quran, was revealed during this month. Simply put, it's a month of fasting from dawn till sunset.

Picture this: It's close to dawn and you're groggily rummaging through your kitchen to make yourself a meal. Your main concern is the contents in that meal, that will make you full, rather than the flavor. You know that once the clock hits dawn, it's over.

No more food, no more water for roughly 17 hours. From dawn till sunset, you're fasting, abstaining from sexual activity and staying away from generally sinful behavior. This is a typical routine for Muslims participating in Ramadan.

Tareq Yaqub, a physiatrist resident at the Medical College of Wisconsin, has been annually fasting for 22 years.

"It's a really cool collective communal experience," Yaqub said. "People get together, they pray together, they eat together. Honor tradition together. So it's pretty cool."

Beyond fasting, Ramadan is a time to connect. A connection with yourself, roots and religion. It allows Muslims to practice self-control and to improve their spiritual and mental self. It is also a month of giving back and gratitude. Muslims who have a financial advantage is required to give back to those in need.

"I think there is something like some sort of cleanse," Yaqub said. You're denying your body some sort of gratification so you have to search elsewhere for gratification. I think that really forces you to be quite introspective."

After the month is over, Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr. This celebration translated to the "Festival of Breaking Fast" and it's a big deal. It's the Met Gala that meets Christmas. Kids get an Eidee (gifts or money) from elders and family members. Sadly, I have reached the age where I no longer get an Eidee but now have to give an Eidee. Most of the adults grasp to their cup of coffee, humble to be able to enjoy one during the day.

So now that it's over, what's next?

Muslims spend the entire month praying and building on their character and morals. But what is the point if it doesn't continue throughout the year? The goal of this month is continuous growth throughout the year: to make a conscious effort to give back to communities, focus on personal goals and generally be a good human. 

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Ms. Lotus Fankh explores mental health in 'Lost in Home'

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88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Look inside Saint Kate, Milwaukee's first arts hotel

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It's a first of its kind in Milwaukee -- a hotel dedicated to the arts, and arts of all kinds.

This week on Urban Spelunking we visit the Saint Kate Hotel, a newly reimagined hotel in downtown Milwaukee. It just opened in the former Intercontinental space at 139 E. Kilbourn Ave.

Listen to our conversation and check out photos below.

The 221 room hotel prominently features artwork throughout -- inside the rooms, in the lobby, at its own dedicated art black box theater and in an on-site art gallery. There's even a guitarist on staff, says OnMilwaukee's Bobby Tanzilo, who wrote about the hotel ahead of its opening.

"Five of the property's rooms will be designed by Milwaukee-area artists and makers -- including Lon Michels, Reed Skocz, Rosemary Ollison and John Grant," writes Tanzilo. "And some of the revenue generated by those rooms will be shared with area arts nonprofits like 88Nine Radio Milwaukee, Artists Working in Education, Milwaukee Artists Resource Network and the Milwaukee Rep."

Saint Kate is open now.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Representing black and trans women, meet this year's PrideFest individual of the year

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Milwaukee PrideFest itself may have wrapped up, but that doesn't mean the celebration is over. Pride month continues through June -- here in Milwaukee and around the world.

One way Milwaukee Pride (the producing organization of the festival) uplifts the LGBTQ community beyond the fest is by recognizing leaders in the local community.

Meet this year's individual of the year, Elle Halo, a proud supporter of transgender women in Milwaukee.

Elle Halo, Individual of the Year

Elle Halo. Photo courtesy of her.

"I really was very shocked," said Elle, speaking about her honor at PrideFest.

But her award should be no surprise. She has dedicated her career to public health and prevention, specifically in the transgender community. She works at a health clinic serving trans patients, and works for Black AIDS Institute.

She also sits on the board of Diverse & Resilient, a LGBTQ organization in Milwaukee, plus she runs a support group for trans women called SHEBA, or Sisters Helping Each Other Battle Adversity.

"I'm definitely very interested in the wellbeing of us, of black trans people and LGBT people," Elle said.

Photo of SHEBA, courtesy of Diverse & Resilient.

Elle says the fight for equality in the LGBTQ community is far from over, and it didn't end, magically, when the Supreme Court struck down the bans on same-sex marriage in 2015.

"[Marriage equality] is definitely not the sum of our fight," Elle said. "As a trans women myself and other trans women in Milwaukee face instability, safety concerns, domestic violence, theft. We face discrimination in work, in school, at home, on the streets."

Those disparities, Elle said, are why building community among trans people, and being visible to the rest of the world are so important.

That's pride.

Which is why it's frustrating to many LGBTQ people when TV and radio hosts -- or people from the internet -- question the purpose of Pride month. I asked her for her reaction to why there's no "straight pride."

There is no straight pride because that's stupid.

Her frank response prompted a laugh from me. She continued:

"That's number one. Number two is you have the rest of the year. The feeling that that particular host or whoever else feels when they are excluded from something, that is the feeling that people feel when they're LGBTQ every day. That is the feeling you feel when you're a person of color every day.

"And living in a world where you may not see the discrimination happening in front of you, does not mean that it doesn't happen," Elle says.

Here's the rest of this year's award winners.

Ally:  Karen Dettmer of the City of Milwaukee, who advocated for the Rainbow Crosswalks Initiative, overcame bureaucratic red tape and roadblocks, and ultimately implemented the city's first permanent, visible monument for LGBTQ people;

Organization:  Bi+ Pride Milwaukee, for restoring the long-silent "B" to the local LGBTQ community through online awareness campaigns, outreach events and social outings that support bisexual identity;

Valor:  Nat Werth of Sheboygan, whose high school silenced his valedictorian graduation speech for containing LGBTQ content;

Legacy:  Mark Mariucci, 25-year publisher of QUEST Magazine and former owner of ZA's Videobar in Green Bay, for his lifetime commitment to the Wisconsin LGBTQ community.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Meet the Milwaukee designer dressing Solange, Grimes, Kali Uchis and others

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Video by Lucas Seidel/Radio Milwaukee

Last year we met Milwaukee designer Elena Velez in New York for New York Fashion Week. The creative entrepreneur has done an impressive amount of work since then, with a new collection based on Milwaukee's industrial roots and high-profile artists wearing her pieces in magazines and her custom designs on tour.

Radio Milwaukee interviewed Velez to go behind-the-scenes on her process.

In the Community Story interview last year Velez told us, "The fashion industry is so quick to forget. You have to keep outdoing yourself and keep impressing people and keep doing bigger and better things or else become a has-been." It's clear Velez is fighting obscurity relentlessly. The last few months the artist has worked with or dressed Solange, Grimes, Kali Uchis and Brooke Candy. What people may not see is the rejection and "tiny heartbreaks" on the road to success.

Solange | photo by Marcus Cooper

In a post on Facebook, Velez shared screenshots of rejections before the now iconic image of Solange wearing her design, which was chosen after five attempts. "Being approached to loan to a project is ultimately a lottery when there are ten other designers contributing to the same shoot and there will only be four images in the final spread or one look chosen for the red carpet. Over the last six months I've loaned to projects for Rihanna, Ciara, Halsey, Ella Mae, Cardi B... Making it into the final styling is super lucky and in an Instagram culture where we can only claim that which we have an image of, it's important to keep realistic expectations." She adds, "I wanted to share that with my friends and creatives in my community as a reminder that the road to success is paved with lots of rejections and tiny heartbreaks but good things are around the corner if you keep at it and protect yourself from discouragement."

Velez was commissioned to design custom pieces for touring performers Ariana Grande and Kali Uchis. Uchis was seen in a custom corset set designed by Velez on her recent tour with Jorja Smith. Velez points out, "Ariana's tour will extend through the summer and although I designed and produced six different garments for her Sweetener World Tour, I haven't seen images yet -- another moment to highlight the importance of checking expectations and staying realistic! Once you get to that level of styling there are all sorts of politics, brand alignments and big money promotional contracts that these celebs have to consider. As a recent graduate sewing out of her bedroom on a machine she's had since the age of 13, it's virtually impossible to compete so I'm just appreciative of the consideration."  

Kali Uchis on tour styled by Corey Stokes in custom corset set by Elena Velez

Many of the designs created by Velez have an easily recognizable signature look, one she describes as "an aggressively delicate aesthetic signature." The newest collection "Vessel" is inspired by her upbringing in Milwaukee as the daughter of a ship captain. The materials used in the line include repurposed sails, boat covers, salvaged ship steel presented in a way that's equally soft and draped along with cold hard steel -- "aggressively delicate" is pretty apt.

..."the road to success is paved with lots of rejections and tiny heartbreaks but good things are around the corner if you keep at it and protect yourself from discouragement."

Elena Velez

Velez returns to the city with a homecoming runway show for Milwaukee Fashion Week this fall, which will include many local collaborators. "I really want it to be a By Us For Us moment to celebrate the fact that creativity can thrive in underrepresented creative communities like ours and that the world is starting to take notice."

Grimes styled by Jessica Worrell in Elena Velez | Photo by Charlotte Rutherford

While fashion design has taken the artist around the world, she still tags her posts "#MilwaukeeCreatives" and her native city is still essential to her brand. "It informs the work conceptually, collaboratively, and is the backbone of my design identity," she says. "My work incorporates an appreciation for the craftsmanship and the artisanal heritage of the rustbelt as epitomized by the metalsmith industry, a historically iconic trademark of Milwaukee. A lot of my peers and critics in the fashion industry are very curious about the creative message of designers from the American Midwest and I really believe that our perspective adds an interesting and needed component to the global fashion narrative."

You can find more about Elena Velez and her work at

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Art abounds inside this gorgeous Milwaukee mansion

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How often do you get to walk inside a stunning Milwaukee mansion? Unless you own one or are looking to buy one -- or get the invite to a bougie dinner party -- it's probably pretty rare.

But on Milwaukee's East Side, a gorgeous Italianate mansion is open to the public. And almost every surface inside is covered in art.

This week on Urban Spelunking, we visit the David Barnett Gallery on Prospect Avenue.

Photo courtesy of David Barnett Gallery via

Pharmaceutical magnate Henry Button built the home in 1875 for $30,000, seven years after he "made the Sentinel's list of the 48 most prosperous men in the city," writes OnMilwaukee's Bobby Tanzilo. He lived there until his death.

Fast forward about a century, the home became vacant in 1985. That's when it was acquired by art dealer David Barnett, and the work began to create a gallery inside.

Now every wall and nook is adorned with art -- from paintings, to sculpture, to photography.

Take a look inside, and be sure to visit OnMilwaukee to read Bobby's complete story.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

'Together, we can put an end to discrimination' says Sheboygan valedictorian honored at PrideFest

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Speaking at the PrideFest opening ceremony -- surrounded by state and city leaders -- Sheboygan Lutheran High School valedictorian Nat Werth finally got to deliver a speech he earned.

Two weeks prior, he was not allowed to give a speech at his high school graduation for its LGBT-related content. School administrators took issue with him sharing his own coming out story, the difficulties he faced as a gay student at a Lutheran school and his interpretation of certain bible passages.

But he was greeted with a standing ovation Friday at PrideFest when he was presented with this year's Valor award.

"I would like to stress that I am in no way trying to get revenge on my high school. I want to use my voice to create change and to speak up for those who can't do it for themselves," he said in his acceptance speech.

Werth called for a national ban on conversion therapy, which remains legal in parts Wisconsin.

"No child should have to fear being disowned by their child should be taught at school they need to hate themselves to be loved," he said.

Immediately before taking the podium, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele announced he would personally pay for Werth to attend the World Pride Festival in New York City and to march in the pride parade.

Now Werth says he is looking forward to spreading his message of acceptance to a national audience.

"My advice to anyone trapped by their circumstance, know that there's nothing wrong with you. Know that speaking up can cause change to take place."

Listen to his complete speech below.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee