Turning riots and segregation into positive change: The rise of Sherman Phoenix
The Sherman Park riots in 2016 put Milwaukee in the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons. The riots highlighted segregation and racism – unfortunately, a narrative our city has carried for far too long.
Coincidentally, around the same time, the New York Times was producing an investigative journalism article entitled "Affluent and Black, and Still Trapped by Segregation." Milwaukeeans Jo Anne and Maanaan Sabir, owners of The Juice Kitchen, ended up being the centerpiece of that story. The piece highlighted Milwaukee's history as a segregated city and touched on why even when black families end up achieving wealth they choose to continue living in poor areas.
As bad as the shooting was, when a Milwaukee Police officer shot unarmed black man Sylville Smith, the riots that immediately followed were more a product of pent-up anger from the black community. That incident was the straw that broke the camel's back. Those riots lasted for days; a total of eight buildings were burned down, one of them happening to be the old BMO Bank building.
Shortly after, Ald. Khalif Rainey contacted JoAnne Sabir to build a Juice Kitchen in the Sherman Park neighborhood. He said, "Help us. Be the Phoenix that rises from the ashes."
Juli Kaufmann was getting other similar calls from people wondering if her fixed development model could apply to Sherman Park. The two felt a responsibility to help. They thought what happened was disheartening, but an opportunity to seize the moment, make a difference and start changing the narrative in Milwaukee.
For the full podcast episode: https://ggmm.io/the-gogedders-podcast
The two went to work immediately – and you'll find out by listening to the episode – Kaufmann and Sabir far exceeded bringing one Juice Kitchen to Sherman Park, ultimately creating an entrepreneurial hub that is currently home to 31 mostly black-owned businesses. It's become a place that brings people together, regardless of their background or walk of life.
The importance of bringing people of all walks together was echoed on The GoGedders Podcast. Trueman McGee, owner of Funky Fresh Spring Rolls and tenant of the Sherman Phoenix, did not have any white friends until high school. In his eyes, when one grows up in segregated city, they become used to it.
"You are molded as a child," McGee said. "If you grew up in a segregated and non-diverse atmosphere in your childhood, it's tough to get a grasp as you get older. If I could change one thing, it would be exposure at a younger age. I learned this through coaching youth wrestling; the kids get to wrestle against other schools in different areas and realize, 'They are just like me.'"
Kaufmann emphasized the importance of creating more diverse spaces in Milwaukee.
"We want places for all of us," she said while in the studio. "This is very much about black-owned businesses, but this is very much about all of about Milwaukee. You see neighbors from Sherman Park, you see customers of these black-owned businesses, you see people from the suburbs. It is all walks of life and there are not a lot of places in Milwaukee where that happens."
What the Sherman Park community created with the Sherman Phoenix is amazing, and if our city is going to become more inclusive, we need more initiatives like this moving forward.
Give the podcast episode a listen, and make sure to stop by the Sherman Phoenix if you haven't already. And if you have, continue to support the inspiring entrepreneurs that call it home!
For any topic and guest suggestions for future GoGedders podcasts shoot me an email at email@example.com
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