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The wristband as symbol -- who gets one?

From time to time, 88Nine Executive Director Glenn Kleiman will share thoughts about life in Milwaukee -- from inspiring to troubling -- and how our organization is trying to help make our city better. Read the first of his blogs below.

We recently started playing a new song, “Wristband,” by Paul Simon.

I’m a Paul Simon fan. But my initial reaction was, “Paul Simon?” Just didn’t seem like an artist we’d play.

“It’s a really good song,” I was told.

So I listened. And I agree. I love the rhythm. But as I listened to the words, the song took on a deeper meaning, one which represents Radio Milwaukee’s mission, and why I feel privileged to be leading this organization.

Simon sings about a performer at a concert venue, presumably before his show. He steps outside the backstage door for a smoke and accidentally gets locked out. He tries to get back in, but the security guard tells him, “If you don't have a wristband, my man, you don't get through the door.”

Toward the end of the tune, Simon broadens the message, using the wristband as a metaphor for access – and lack of it – to opportunities others enjoy.

He sings:
The riots started slowly with the homeless and the lowly Then they spread into the heartland towns that never get a wristband Kids that can't afford the cool brand whose anger is a short-hand For you'll never get a wristband and if you don't have a wristband then you can't get through the door No you can't get through the door No you can't get through the door

In our city, too many people feel they’ll “never get a wristband.” That they have little or no chance to “get through the door” -- to enter a society others are simply born into.

I was one of those born with a wristband. I was fortunate to grow up with two caring parents in a nice home in a safe neighborhood. College was an expectation.

So I can’t pretend to feel disconnected. To feel separate. To be seen as the “other.” But I can feel for those who do.

And as Executive Director of Radio Milwaukee, I can help lead our organization to pursue our mission --  “…to be a catalyst for creating a better, more inclusive and engaged Milwaukee.”

That doesn’t mean handing out “wristbands” (as if that were even possible). It does mean trying to create an environment in which all people in our city have equal opportunity to obtain one.

Our organization is engaged in a strategic planning process, during which we’ll  further define our mission – what it means in practical terms, and what action we will take to achieve it.

We might have come to these shores on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now. -- Rev. B. Herbert Martin, Sr.

Meantime, we have been trying to do our part. We produce positive Community Stories, in contrast to the negative images mainstream media depend on.

On the air and online, we introduce you to people you might never meet, and to neighborhoods you might never visit. Example: the multi-media series “Milwaukee with John Gurda.”

Through our Cultural Commons program, we hold meetings in our performance space to discuss key issues facing our community -- always with the aim of prompting meaningful action.

And, of course, we play diverse music for a culturally open-minded community.

At a recent conference on social justice in Chicago, Rev. B. Herbert Martin, Sr., a veteran of the civil rights movement, put it this way: “We might have come to these shores on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

Maybe that treatment is too light for such a critical, serious topic. But it does convey the message. We’re in this together.

Consider the phrase “You’ll never get a wristband.”  And consider: What if that were your life?



Watch video of Paul Simon performing "Wristband" on Prairie Home Companion, with Chris Thile, Sarah Jarosz, Andrew Bird, Richard Dworsky, members of Punch Brothers — Chris Eldridge, Paul Kowert, and Gabe Witcher — and Ted Poor. From Feb. 6, 2016 broadcast.