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Milwaukee's Black creative 'brain drain' with SistaStrings and Emmitt James

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Samer Ghani
Monique and Chauntee Ross got their start as SistaStrings in Milwaukee but saw their careers take off after moving to Nashville.

HYFIN Program Director Tarik Moody is back with co-host Reggie Jackson and journalist/HYFIN Production Manager Kim Shine for another season of Radio Milwaukee's award-winning podcast, By Every Measure. Over six episodes, the trio will explore systemic racism, from its roots to its solutions.

We begin season two with a two-part exploration of Black "brain drain" as Milwaukee struggles to retain creative, innovative members of the community. Episode one examines the creative side of the equation as we ask: Is there a glass ceiling for Black creatives in Milwaukee?

To find out, the team talks to SistaStrings, the musical duo of Monique and Chauntee Ross, who grew up in Milwaukee before relocating to Nashville. In less than two years following the move, they made connections with national artists and in 2022 alone played some of the most influential stages in the United States, including Madison Square Garden, Austin City Limits and NPR's Tiny Desk. They share their take on whether success would have been possible without leaving Milwaukee.

Milwaukee artist Emmitt James had an opposite path; he talks to Tarik about his plans to leave Los Angeles and move back to his hometown after finding considerable success as an independent artist on the West Coast.

Listen to this episode using the player at the top of the page and then get ready for episode two, which continues our examination of Black brain drain by talking to leaders of young professional organizations Fuel Milwaukee and Social X MKE. What are their hopes for the city? How do they feel about its current leadership? Subscribe to the podcast and find out.

By Every Measure season two is supported by the Argosy Foundation.

If you'd like to continue the conversation, we encourage you to join our By Every Measure discussion group on Radio Milwaukee's Facebook page. Each week, we're opening a dialogue on the episode's topic with daily conversation prompts and a weekly virtual meet-up to discuss responses and navigate the community conversations collectively.

Here's what we're covering in the weeks ahead:

  • Episode 1 — Black Brain Drain, Part 1, with nationally touring musicians SistaStrings, and musician and poet Emmitt James.
  • Episode 2Black Brain Drain, Part 2 (Feb. 28), with Corry Joe Biddle, executive director of Fuel Milwaukee; and Ranell Washington, vice president of Social X MKE. 
  • Episode 3 — Black Birth Outcomes (March 7) with certified nurse midwife LuVerda Martin of Aurora Health Care and Geraud Blanks of Milwaukee Film.
  • Episode 4 — Housing (March 14) with Kevin Newell of Royal Capital.
  • Episode 5 — Critical Race Theory (March 21) with Anne Bonds of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee 
  • Episode 6 — Generational Wealth (March 28) with Greg Wesley of the Medical College of Wisconsin and Ken Robertson of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation. 
Director of Digital | Radio Milwaukee
Production Manager | Radio Milwaukee
Director of Digital Content | Radio Milwaukee
Audio Production Manager | Radio Milwaukee