What’s the deal with these mystery pillars on the East Side?

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On the corner of Shepherd and Locust on Milwaukee’s East Side sits a mystery — a collection of brick pillars of varying heights, just kind of sitting there, on an empty lot.

They’re surrounded by concrete steps, but they don’t appear to lead anywhere. So, pillars and steps, and that’s about all we knew.

OnMilwaukee’s Bobby Tanzilo said it best about the pillars on Shepherd and Locust, “Nice, but why?” Photo: Bobby Tanzilo.

But that changed when a reader recently asked OnMilwaukee’s Bobby Tanzilo to look into it. He then began the process of researching the the pillars’ origins, digging up old insurance maps of the site.

Did they hold gates? Or was it something else?

This week on Urban Spelunking, Bobby fills me in on this East Side mystery and gives us the results of his research. Listen below.

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Milwaukee keeps Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy alive with an annual birthday celebration

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For three decades, Milwaukee has celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday with a celebratory event hosted at the Marcus Performing Arts Center. The free program is packed with performances from numerous cultural arts organizations but at the core of the event focuses on contest winners.

Every year, the youth within our community interpret Martin Luther King’s words through a speech, writing and art contest. Anthony Smith, the Marcus Performing Arts Center’s director of community engagement and inclusion, says the theme of this year’s celebration is “Your Life Has Significance.”

“With the way that the world is going right now and all of the different challenges children experience we want to give hope and keep hope alive without sounding too cliche,” said Smith. “We want our families, we want  our children to realize that they mean something to someone and that their life actually has significance.”

Children on stage | Courtesy of Marcus Performing Arts Center

Smith says the theme was inspired by the passing of Sandra Parks, a victim of gun violence.

“She was one of our past winners,” said Smith. “One of the quotes she said is, ‘Little children are victims of senseless gun violence and we must not allow the lies of violence, racism and prejudice to be our truth.’” 

The contest submissions ranged from grades K-12, and often the work submitted came from a personal and deep place. Smith says the upcoming event gives kids a platform to speak up on topics that are difficult and an opportunity to not be ignored.

“If we want to learn we need to learn to listen,” said Smith. “If you just take a few minutes to listen to a child on what they are thinking and how they process those thoughts, you learn a lot.” 

Milwaukee honors this day to keep Martin Luther King’s legacy and mission alive but also it’s a celebration that gives kids a space to take his words and lessons and add on to it. To express themselves and tackle prevalent issues by using their art within a productive accepting space.

The 36 Annual Dr. King Birthday celebration will be at the Marcus Performing Arts Center at Uihlein Hall, 929 N. Water St. on Jan. 19. The celebration starts at 1 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

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Milwaukee Habitat will help over 200 families in the Harambee neighborhood

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Within the Milwaukee area, one in three Milwaukee families who are renting spend over 50% of their total income on housing alone. According to data, residents living in Harambee, the median household income is roughly $20,000. The average price point for a small one-bedroom apartment is around $850, at it’s lowest.

“Fifty percent is unacceptable because now you have a decision, ‘Am I going to pay for my medicine this month or eat healthily or invest in my child’s education or am I going to pay the landlord?,’” said Brian Sonderman, executive director of Milwaukee Habitat.

Milwaukee Habitat, a non-profit that helps families in need of safe and affordable housing, is on a mission to change that staggering statistic. This year it is focusing on the Harambee neighborhood. 

Volunteers helping Milwaukee Habitat | Courtesty of Milwaukee Habitat

Let’s break down what this entails. With an initial grant of $1 million dollars provided by Bader Philanthropies, Milwaukee Habitat will be putting in place 40 new homes and repairing an additional 20 homes in Harambee. In the next four years, this project will help more than 200 families access safe and affordable housing.

Sonderman says this is an expansion of Habitat’s Neighborhood revitalization strategy, focusing on certain blocks that contribute to a lasting communal impact.

“As homes are preserved and new are built that really brings stability to a block,” said Sonderman. “We’ve seen some amazing outcomes in previous works that really leads to not just a visible transformation but a ripple effect on so many different levels.”

Houses being built by Milwaukee Habitat | Courtesty of Milwaukee Habitat

Some of the changes that were impacted by past revitalization strategies throughout the Washington Park neighborhood were reduced crime by 46 percent, improvement in health and higher graduation rates. Daniel Bader, CEO of Bader Philanthropies, says their main priority is the families.

“You know, I think at the end of the day when you get to know people, everybody wants the same thing,” said Bader. “They want a home for their family, they want a home for their kids and grandkids, they want a safe place. That’s what we hear over and over again.”

Neighborhood sign | Courtesty of Milwaukee Habitat

Sonderman said although there are many neighborhoods within the city that face the same challenges, the decision to focus within Northern Harambee were the residents.

“I think the thing that Harambee has that we really look for are residents who really want to come together to put together a plan to help transform their neighborhood holistically,” said Sonderman. “There are resident leaders who are ready to step up and that’s true for Harambee.”

The term Harambee comes from Swahili translation for “pulling together” and that perfectly describes the neighborhood. Harambee residents actively pursuing change and working together to create a safer place to live.

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Milwaukee’s streetcar will remain free to ride in 2020

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Visitors to Milwaukee during the Democratic National Convention won’t have to pay to ride the city’s new streetcar. The Hop will remain free to ride for the rest of 2020, City Public Works Commissioner Jeff Polenske confirmed to the Milwaukee Business Journal.

During its first year The Hop was free to ride thanks to an advertising sponsorship with Potawatomi Hotel & Casino. Although no new sponsorship agreement has been announced for this year, Polenske told the Business Journal the city will continue to seek new sponsorship deals that will cover the streetcar’s operating costs.

“Projected sponsorship revenue could take a variety of forms, including a potential ‘free fare’ designation, but the city’s commitment to maintaining The Hop as a free asset for the entire community is not reliant on any single sponsorship asset or category,” Polenske told the paper.

The Hop | Wikimedia Commons

At an event celebrating The Hop’s first year in November, Mayor Tom Barrett said that he would like to keep the streetcar free to ride as long as possible. Barrett announced that there were 802,541 rides in The Hop’s first year, exceeding the city’s goal of 600,000.

“Surely, part of that success is due to free fares,” he said. “Free fares make the streetcar more inclusive to the entire community.”

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Proposed food-delivery app fee gets cold reception from Milwaukee committee

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A proposal to add a service fee to food deliveries from third-party services like Grubhub, UberEats and Doorhub in Milwaukee met resistance at a Public Works Committee meeting Wednesday morning.

Under the ordinance, which was proposed by Alderwoman Nikiya Dodd, consumers would be charged a 60 cent fee for all deliveries made by third-party services like Grubhub, with that revenue being dedicated to non-rail public transportation and street maintenance, including potholes.

State Sen. Lena Taylor argued with Dodd in support of the ordinance, citing complaints she hears from her constituents about potholes. She pointed to cities that have adopted a similar fee, including Chicago, and said the proposal could potentially bring in millions to offset cuts to shared revenue from the state that have hit Milwaukee since 2004. “We need the revenue,” Taylor said.

Alderwoman Nikiya Dodd testifying Wednesday morning

But Alderman Bob Bauman, the chair of the Public Works Committee, threw cold water on the idea, saying that proponents of the ordinance had not provided adequate research in support of it. And Adam Stephens, a deputy city attorney for Milwaukee, testified that the ordinance as written would not be legal and enforceable under current Wisconsin law, although he added that his office was not taking a policy position on the issue.

The hearing ended with a motion to hold. Despite the cold reception from the Public Works Committee, at least one member of the committee indicated he might be open to supporting a revised version of the ordinance that was enforceable.

“Any motions to bring more dollars back to Milwaukee are something we will seriously look at,” Alderman Cavalier Johnson said.

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Cultural diversity is the norm inside this MPS elementary school

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Walk into any school in the Milwaukee, and it’s like looking into a crystal ball. The kids truly are the future of the city, and the future they’ll experience is anything but homogenous.

Like most MPS schools, Hamlin Garland School, 3120 W. Green Ave., is a melting pot of ethnicities and culture on Milwaukee’s far South side.

The school’s main entrance. Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo.

Immigrant students learn alongside lifelong Milwaukee residents, dozens of languages collide in the hallways on any given day and the classrooms are filled with students holding an array of perspectives and life experiences.

This week on Urban Spelunking, we learn more about Garland — what’s going on there now, how it is using diversity as a strength and the unique history that led the school to where it is today.

A glimpse inside a Garland classroom. Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo.

Click the player below to listen, and check out Bobby Tanzilo’s complete story at OnMilwaukee.

Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo.
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This self-taught Milwaukee coder created a mobile payment app

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Like most kids living in Milwaukee during the early 2000s, Ruben Flores lived a typical life. He was born in Guadalajara, Mexico and his childhood smells like tortillas being made. At the age of 13, Flores immigrated with his family to the United States for better opportunities.

He went to Riverside High School and became valedictorian. He loved playing the piano and was passionate about robotics. In 2009, during his senior year of High School, just like many of his peers, Flores started applying for college. That was when Flores faced the reality of being undocumented when he didn’t have a social security number and couldn’t continue his education. However, Flores’s story only begins.

“I refused to believe that my parents risked everything to get me here so I can end up doing what they are doing,” said Flores. “It’s not that it’s bad but you should want more for your kids. I was driven by that.”

That summer of 2009, Ruben accompanied his girlfriend to the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. He was determined to get any form of education even if it was self-taught. When his girlfriend would go class, he would go to the student union, open YouTube and after six months, Flores taught himself how to code.

“The year I graduated high school was the year the app store dropped,” he recalls. “The idea that any person could start creating apps and solving real-life problems, that’s an incredible power to have.”

Coding wasn’t the only thing that was self-taught. His father had a screen print shop back in Mexico and he was figuring out things to print that that were representative. One day, Flores was inspired by motivational speaker Simon Sinek from his talk about logos and brands, how we as consumers connect with the items that we buy and how our products tell us more about what type of person we are. After listening to that talk, Flores began finding his identity in correlation to brands and logos. 

“I was just searching, like ‘Who am I? What’s my personal logo? What defines me?,’ and I was going through the whole thing and I just said ‘Immigrant’,” said Flores. “I screen printed the giant bold Immigrant on a shirt and I started wearing it everywhere.”

That single heavy statement, “Immigrant,” created a movement in our city that propelled individuals to tell their stories and to have pride in their roots. The Immigrant Project has brought a community together that is intersectional and extremely diverse. Milwaukee immigrants, across multiple generations, wore the designed shirt and shared their stories through the platform of Instagram.

Ruben Flores wearing an Immigrant printed hooded sweatshirt | Courtesy of Immigrant Project

As the years went by, Flores went back to that version of himself that taught himself how to code. Flores decided to take a big risk, quit his job, put his college education on hold and put everything he had into developing the app, Cash Drop.

If I could use a word to describe the app Cash Drop it would be convenience. It follows the model of Venmo but catered to businesses. Many times you see big corporations with high tech kiosks, that let you self serve or maybe enlist in a rewards program, but it’s only limited to big corporations and often leaves out local businesses. Cash Drop has local small businesses in mind on every level.

Here’s how it works. Customers use the app without the extra step of creating an account and logging in. With just a name and phone number, you’re all set to start. Customers scan a QR code, skip the line and get notified when their item is ready.

“Instead of greeting them with a line, we are going to greet them with comfort,” said Flores.

With both the Immigrant Project and the Cash Drop app, Flores has the community in mind. After meeting Flores, above all, he emphasized the notion of creating opportunities for upcoming generations. Opening doors, both in the world of technology and storytelling. Flores’s main goal isn’t to be the first immigrant to create a successful app used by many but to inspire younger generations to see themselves in spaces they are often underrepresented.

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Stories told through pottery, painted by breast cancer survivors

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When Lynn Tachick started her own pottery business about 10 years ago, she didn’t realize her home pottery studio would turn into a space for breast cancer survivors to share their stories.

“It’s allowing people to come, be creative, have fun and also give back,” said Tachick.

Bowls of Hope is one of the three paint series of Painting for a Purpose. When Tachick started her business, she intended to find imaginative ways to give back. Tachick said she sites her spark for using pottery as a means to spread joy from her initial project called “I Found It.”

“I would put little pieces of pottery anywhere I could with a little note that says, “If you found it let me know,’ and about 30 to 40 percent report that they found it,” said Tachick. “Now there are over 745 pieces out there.”

What started from her objects trickling throughout the state, navigated throughout the country. As of today, all of Tachick’s pottery pieces are in every continent. Yes, that includes Antarctica.  

Fast forward to Tachick at a charity event this past November, she noticed breast cancer survivors painted a variety of things and that’s when it clicked.

Tachick had her own pottery business, why not extend her space for survivors to paint pottery pieces for free? Better yet, why not have survivors paint and then auction off the pieces?

“I offered breast cancer survivors and those directly impacted to come and paint a bowl,” said  Tachick. “We are going to auction them off Feb. 23 and all the money will go to Making Strides.”

Making Strides of Milwaukee is affiliated with The American Cancer Society, Tachick said she selected this organization because she felt it impacted breast cancer patients from investing in cancer research and offering a ride service to treatment centers.

In 2019, a statistic showed that one in eight women living in the United States develop breast cancer over their lifetime. This project allowed Tachick to meet women from all walks of life that have been affected by that statistic. Tachick says one of the common fears among women is how unpredictable breast cancer can be but many obtain a positive mindset.
“They are amazed at what their bodies have been through, of what they have overcome, what they continue to overcome. The biggest thing is that they always talk about their support system,” said Tachick.

Bowls of Hope have successfully painted 70 bowls and will be auctioned on Feb. 23 at the New Berlin Ale House, 16000 W. Cleveland Ave. All proceeds will go to Making Strides of Milwaukee.

Bowls of Hope currently have 70 bowls to be auctioned. Here are some of the stories.

Ann Rakowiecki pictured with wife Jennifer | Courtesy of Lynn Tachick

“Jennifer and I have been together for eight years, we went on one date on a really snowy night in Waukesha and we never looked back,” said Ann Rakowiecki. “We got married on April 12, 2014. Jennifer was diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast Cancer on June 19, 2014. She had just turned 39. Within three days, our vocabulary changed. Our priorities changed. Our worries changed. There’s so much that doctors and nurses never tell you about cancer and treatment. How your life is never just about cancer anymore. It’s about side effects, it’s about infections. It’s about torn skin. It’s about botched reconstruction. It’s about blood clots. It’s about blood transfusions. It’s about being too weak to eat. It’s about being mad at the world. It’s about fear. Mostly now I’m over it. I’ll never forget the crying, the pain, the fear. I’m happy that we’re able to sit on the couch together, run errands. My wife has done some pretty big things. She got a master’s degree, made a career change and is now pursuing a Ph.D.”

Kelly Gramblicka pictured with her painted bowl | Courtesy of Lynn Tachick

“I was diagnosed in March 2010 at the age of 39 with Stage 3 Triple Negative breast cancer, ” said Kelly Gramblicka. “The day I received the call that I had cancer, is the day that I became a survivor. I survived that call, chemo, multiple surgeries, and radiation. I would not have been able to survive all of that without my faith. I have faith in God, my family, and my friendships. Without those relationships, I am not sure my strength to keep going would be as strong as it was. I knew I had to beat the odds I was given to get to the next road on my journey to help others. I am now an avid fundraiser and advocate for the American Cancer Society and Making Strides. I am also a mentor to many other women facing this insidious disease. I want to someday see a world that is cancer-free.”

Anne Bartlett pictured with her painted bowl | Courtesy of Lynn Tachick

“Cancer Sucks!” said Anne Bartlett. “There is really nothing more to be said, however, great experiences can come from cancer. Having cancer allowed me to participate in Team Phoenix, a triathlon team for patients and survivors. Waves of Hope is the journey of learning to swim and training for a triathlon that I would have never done without a cancer diagnosis. There is life after cancer.”


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Donald Trump will host rally at UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena on Jan. 14

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Donald Trump will host a campaign rally Jan. 14 at Milwaukee’s UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena, his campaign announced.

According to the press release, doors for his “Keep America Great Rally” will open at 3 p.m. The event will begin at 7 p.m. The event will take place the same night as a Democratic presidential debate in Iowa.

Donald Trump at a rally in North Carolina | Wikimedia Commons

Wisconsin is seen as a pivotal swing state in the 2020 election. Trump carried the state by just 23,000 votes in 2016. Democrats, too, are targeting the state, with plans to host the 2020 Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee July 13-16.

Those interested in attending Trump’s rally can register online.

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Milwaukee County Zoo will offer free admission from Dec. 25 – Jan. 1

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Entertaining family over the holidays and looking for some cheap options? The Milwaukee County Zoo wants to help you out. From Dec. 25 through Jan. 1, the zoo will offer free admission to all guests as part of its Frosty Free Week. Parking and concession fees will still apply.

The forecasted mild weather for that stretch, with predicted highs in the 40s for at least a couple of days, makes that proposition even more enticing. And as the zoo writes on its website, there are some perks to visiting the zoo in the winter. Cold-weather animals are more active this time of the year.

Polar bear at Milwaukee County Zoo | flickr.com/photos/beigephotos/

“Visit the zoo’s cold-weather animals, like polar bear, Snow Lilly, and our caribou, and then warm up inside any of the Zoo’s animal buildings to enjoy your favorite indoor exhibits,” the zoo writes. “Visitors will notice Snow Lilly, as well as the caribou and elk herds, are most active during the colder temperatures. Be sure to visit the Zoo’s North American river otters in their year-round outdoor exhibit, Otter Passage. You won’t want to miss these lively and animated animals as they slip, slide and frolic in their outdoor habitat!”

During Frosty Free Week, the zoo will be open Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

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