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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This former convent is home to a unique housing nonprofit

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It would be a shame to let a perfectly good convent go waste.

This week on Urban Spelunking, we visit the former St. Michaels convent on 24th and Vliet Street, now home to ACTS Housing.

Founded in 1995, ACTS Housing helps people with barriers to home ownership “by providing counseling, expertise in rehab, real estate brokerage services, loans and other services,” writes OnMilwaukee’s Bobby Tanzilo.

For the last six years, the nonprofit has been located inside the 1885 convent and has kept most of the original details intact.

Inside, you can see lots of original craftsmanship such as colorful stained glass windows, wood floors and heavy door hinges. Even the Mother Superior’s former office is still in use by ACTS’ chief development and marketing officer.

Learn about the building’s past, plus more about the work ACTS Housing does in this week’s podcast below. And visit OnMilwaukee for more pictures inside the former convent.

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Get to know ACLU of Wisconsin

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You probably have heard about the ACLU. The ACLU stands for American civil liberties union. This year Wisconsin marks its 90th-anniversary protecting people’s civil rights and liberties. Some of the issues the Wisconsin chapter tackles revolve around voter rights, LGBT equality and reproductive justice. Molly Collins, ACLU’s advocacy director, says our city has been addressing police accountability for some time. 

“In Milwaukee, we had a really strong focus on policing for the last 30 years,” said Collins. “Bringing a series of lawsuits on the way police interact with the community and very recently entering a settlement on a stop and frisk and racial profiling of Brown and Black folks of Milwaukee,”

To understand how it works, think about the ACLU as a web diagram. In the center is the union and the branches are the resources. One branch is education. Teaching people their rights, how to vote, and providing training such as informing public schools on their five freedoms, (speech, religion assembly, press and petition).

“The youth are really engaged in so many different ways and one thing that I think we help them is the leavers in power and who has control over the things you wanna change,” said Collins

Other branches within that web diagram focus on the next generation, with youth programs, and student alliances in high school and college campuses.

“The amazing thing about young people is that they are super brave and they are not limited in the same way adults might be,” said Collins. “I might be like, ‘we are never going to get the legislator to do anything about gun violence ‘ and the youth are like, ‘I am not going to take that as an answer.'”

Sean Wilson, ACLU’s smart justice statewide organizer, says becoming engaged starts with one simple thing. 

“I think that one of the ways that folks get actively engaged and involved is to get informed,” said Wilson. “Get informed on what is happening and ask yourself, ‘How does this affect me?’ Because we are all affected by the things that are happening in the streets right now.”

To learn more about ACLU, watch the full unedited Zoom Community Stories Live below.

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How an act of kindness goes a long way for protesters

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Like most people lately, my attention has been focused on the Black Lives Matter Movement, and rightfully so. I’ve had time to reflect my own position as a person of color in this movement, I’ve stayed informed by reading books and listening to podcasts, and I’ve attended a few protests in support of ending police brutality.

One thing I have noticed while marching with Milwaukee locals is the essence of community and how quickly our city has shown of what it means to advocate and step up for one another.

An example of support has been the endless supplies and first aid kits donated by everyday individuals such as Madeline Redell, who provided supplies and aid to protesters around the city. 

“Being a white person its sometimes difficult to navigate because you obviously want to show solidarity and amplify Black voices but you definitely not overshadow them,” said Redell.

Redell wanted to assist the protesters, but being immunocompromised, she knew she couldn’t attend any of the protests herself. With the help of her two friends, Chloe Wilkerson and Zachary Ochoa, she decided to create a fundraiser to support local activist Darius Smith after seeing a social media post on an upcoming protest hosted and created by Smith.

They set out a goal to raise 200 dollars, a goal they far exceeded. In three days they raised more than $3,000 dollars for supplies.

“We wanted to create an environment for Darius’s message to be heard by as many people as possible,” said Redell. “We hoped that if people saw that there were medical tents and supply cars and everything that they may need along the way, we could convince a couple of people to come out that was the goal.”

Preview of one of the supply bags for protesters | Courtesy of Madeline Redell

Redell used the majority of the funds for the initial protest hosted on June 6, but even after purchasing water and items for first aid they still had a little over a thousand dollars remaining.

To help create an impact, they donated the remaining funds to Leaders Igniting Transformation, a youth of color independent nonprofit that helps organize young people to build independent political power for social, racial and economic justice.

Madeline says it’s important to note that the spotlight should be on the Black community and everyone should be participating to spread their message.

“It’s something that white people need to have conversations with themselves on how their role in this can develop,” said Redell. “It’s not our emotions, it’s not our grievances that need to be heard. It’s supporting and amplifying black voices.”

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How Juneteenth took root in Milwaukee and why it means more now than ever

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Being recognized as a Milwaukee County holiday earlier this week and for the first time being observed by major American companies such as Twitter, Nike, NFL and more, Juneteenth has entered the national consciousness like never before.

Since 1865, Juneteenth (June 19) has been a day to celebrate the emancipation of slaves in the U.S. following news of the Emancipation Proclamation reaching Texas — subsequently leading to widespread celebrations. Despite the significance of the day to the country’s history, it has largely remained a regional celebration in the South and some pockets of the Northern U.S. recognized only by Black communities.

However, the recent resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and a newfound global discussion of systemic racism in America has created circumstances perfect for the 155-year-old holiday to finally receive its due. And in regard to the celebration, Milwaukee has been largely ahead of the curve for the past 49 years.

County Executive David Crowley |

Starting in 1971, the Northcott Neighborhood House community center began celebrating Juneteenth as a result of a thriving Black community according to County Executive David Crowley (the city’s first Black elected county executive). But why specifically Milwaukee? The answer includes a range of factors

There are the Milwaukee industries which employed Black citizens at the time and created a community around themselves, Wisconsin’s own history of African-Americans striving to be recognized as citizens as far back as The Underground Railroad and the Midwest’s connection to the Great Migration of Black Southerners from 1916 to 1970 bringing celebrations and traditions with them from the South. As a result, the city gained a reputation as a place to celebrate the traditionally Southern holiday and this reputation has continued until today and made the city’s annual celebration one of the longest-running in the country.

Of course, this year’s celebrations have been altered due to the ongoing pandemic. Yet in spite of this, the day is more important than ever. This is due to the aforementioned global discussions on racism in America which have created greater awareness around the Black experience — and this aligns with what Juneteenth is ultimately about.

Dr. Robert S. Smith, Associate Professor of History at Marquette University and Director of Center For Urban Research Teaching and Outreach |

While a celebration of emancipation, Dr. Robert S. Smith of Marquette University explains that it is also a celebration of the “operationalization of freedom.” In other words, Black communities exemplifying freedom beyond the 13th Amendment. This includes being recognized as equal citizens, owning property, playing a role in the economy and labor market and being educated among other basic rights as a citizen of the U.S. — basic rights which the recent protestors have been organizing and marching for

Juneteenth celebrations touch on all of these facets of Black lives and shows a commitment to improving democracy as it is ultimately based in America’s first exploration of a racial democracy through the 13th Amendment; as Dr. Smith explains: an actualization of what a democratic process is supposed to look like.

Dr. Smith adds that Milwaukee’s own celebration is unique due to the urban experience which accompany it and coalesce with the holiday’s rural roots in the South. Electoral politics and especially policing come with the urban space which Milwaukee occupies and Juneteenth allows Black communities to signify their presence and permanence in this space through reconnecting with the family, culture and generations before which brought them here.

Turkey legs being grilled during last year’s Juneteenth celebration

This isn’t to say that the celebrating of Juneteenth is strictly reserved for Black individuals. In fact, David Crowley encourages everybody celebrate Juneteenth in some way as ultimately he believes it is a day of giving back to the Black communities and an opportunity to help break down the barriers which infamously segregate Milwaukee.

Enjoying Black art and entertainment, learning about the past, considering the future, supporting Black restaurants and attending digital Black events are just a few ways that anyone can celebrate Juneteenth this year in place of the famous festival.

Similarly, Dr. Smith expresses that Juneteenth is a day to reflect and understand your own personal circumstances while taking a close look at what citizenship should be in this country. Moreover, he recognizes that this specific Juneteenth is a day for white Americans as a whole to confront their past and decide if the country must stand for something better.

For more regarding Juneteenth, including a producer chat with David Crowley and Dr. Robert S. Smith and a discussion regarding the 13th Amendment with Dr. Smith, listen to the Community Stories below.

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Black leaders take charge of their community

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We are adding a new and exciting addition to Community Stories. Each week our team will be highlighting organizations that are doing the work and creating transformative changes from the ground.

This week we spoke with Keisha Robinson from Black Leaders Organizing Communities, known as BLOC. Just like the name suggests, BLOC is a community-based organization with an emphasis on face to face conversations to uplift Milwaukee’s Black community.

The zip code 53206, north of Downtown Milwaukee, is known to be the most incarcerated zip code in the country. In 2017, organizers and activists came together to address disparities in the area. Their method was to take a neighborly approach, knock on front doors and directly talk to the community.

Robinson said it all started with one simple question: “What would it look like for your community to thrive?” 

“They kind of looked at us when we showed up to the doors like, ‘really what is the ask?” said Robinson. “We are an organization that is coming out to find answers. We know that we need answers before we find a solution.”

Image of a mural in the 53206 zip code | Courtesy of BLOC

After lending an ear and listening to concerns, they created their BLOC agenda reflecting 10 basic human needs, ranging from education to dignity, health and housing. This year some of the allocated focus has been directed to voter education, specifically debunking the myth that individuals with a felony are ineligible to vote.

“Half of the folks in our community didn’t even know about the spring election,” said Robinson. “The information has been held so long from these communities when in fact they needed to know and have a seat at the table.”

Another pocket of resources is directed toward mental health. Since the pandemic, BLOC adapted toward a virtual space and provided a text message program to guide the community to resources depending on their needs. The resources range from shelters to nearby food pantries. The list of resources can be found on their website.

“Some people are left without employment and told to go home,” said Robinson. “Not knowing how they are going to pay bills. Not knowing what they are going to do next.”

“So many people have negative experiences, I guess in their head about these communities until they come to the community and see,” said Robinson.” “More people want to live and they want to be sustained. That’s all it is.”

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