For the last three years, mothers in the Clarke Square neighborhood have held weekly meetings about the neighborhood’s pressing safety concerns. It all takes place in the basement of Longfellow Public School, 1021 S. 21st St. In a room decorated with elementary student art, parents take a seat at a rectangular table and have an honest discussion on the state of their neighborhood.
The moms, most of them predominantly Spanish speaking, created the meetings as a safe place to address the neighborhood’s high crime rate and problems with prostitution and robberies.
The mothers are members of Safe & Sound, a non-profit organization that works with residents, law enforcement and community partners to create a safer neighborhood.
Araceli Arevalo, Safe & Sound’s community organizer, acts as an interpreter for the parents. She said she hopes to empower parents to speak with law enforcement without fear.
“My priority is to make sure the parents know the officers and have relationships with them because that way they can feel comfortable if they see them on the street,” said Arevalo. “If I am not there they can approach the officer without being fearful. We have a large population of people who are undocumented so there is a fear of the police.”
Beyond weekly meetings, parents attend the City of Milwaukee’s District 2 crime and safety meetings. The moms also share their concerns through Facebook messenger, including a recent experience where one mother felt unsafe at her local laundromat.
“One of the moms here said, ‘I can’t do my laundry and I feel very insecure because there is drug dealing and prostitution,” said Arevalo.
After Safe & Sound investigated the laundromat, it verified the complaints and found that the laundromat didn’t have a working permit.
When Safe & Sound legitimized the matter, it encourages some of the parents to write letters to their alderman, who brought their case into a hearing.
“What I can tell you is that many of the moms here probably feel a little better and more secure doing their laundry there,” said Arevalo. “It’s not perfect but it’s a closer step than it was before.”
At the end of the day, every parent wants the same thing, for their children to live in a safe neighborhood where kids can walk to school without fear of violence. Safe & Sound gives parents an opportunity to connect with their community and empowers them to create a safer environment for their families.