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RAM “Riverwest Anti-Nigger Movement”

by Tanya Cromartie-Twaddle / photo by Tess Reiss

I reckon I ought to put my two brown cents in… Even the ugliest things in this world serve a purpose. RAM’s pathetic attempt to incite unrest, fear, and racial division served a higher good. The race war didn’t happen. There are too many good souls in Riverwest. We know better. This ugly episode has brought many diverse members of our community closer together. Several of us are having the much-needed sensitive conversations, taking action, and committing ourselves to improving the quality of life in our neighborhood for ALL. Since the first community response to the dissemination of the flyers, I have been greeted on my outings in the hood by so many new white faces. Seems to me that people are going out of their` way to be friendly. Friendships and alliances are forming and being renewed. Matt — a new white acquaintance of mine thanks to RAM — and I are organizing a “diversity ball game.” Celebrations are being planned. Riverwest is now dotted with anti-hate and pro-diversity signs. After the Community Potluck, two young residents had their own “Diversity Is Our Strength” Parade. Zanovia and Dylan left the gathering chanting the slogan and holding their signs proudly for all to see, cheering all the way home. Even County Supervisor Willie Johnson joined in the impromptu parade for a couple of blocks on Locust. It was a hopeful, feel-good moment. But the reality is, there are problems here that need to be addressed beyond community gatherings and breaking bread together. Our neighborhood is made up of an array of folks. Yet a critical group of residents was not represented at the gatherings spawned by RAM’s attack. There were few young men and women of any color between the ages of 12 and 17 years old. This group has a significant affect on the quality of life here. Days before the flyers appeared I heard rumors about a crew of black kids harassing white people in the neighborhood. I was disturbed by the “us versus them” tone I detected in the stories, and I feel strongly that the energy around these occurrences, rumors, and gossip is what sparked RAM’s attempt to throw our community into an uproar. I have worked with young people in this community for several years and believe I have a pretty good idea of how youth, especially black youth, must feel when they move through this neighborhood. We pride our selves on diversity, but there are too many pockets in our neighborhood that seem exclusive. I’m grateful for UPROC on Center Street because they seem to be bridging the gap. But we need to understand that too many of our youth see areas of the hood as “them versus me.” It is easy for disenfranchised youth to see the world in black and white. Where on our main streets is there a place that is truly welcoming and inviting to black and Hispanic youth? Many already feel they only belong on the other side of Holton. Frankly, youth are not going to respect establishments or people that they feel are against them or do not embrace them. Parents can not always be around to control behavior, and not every child is raised to respect others and be a good citizen.So we get a few black youths acting the fool, a few white people get upset…some ignorant person decides to blame the whole black race for all the “problems” in Riverwest. I hope my community will continue to celebrate diversity. Let us build on this gift RAM has given us. But let us go deeper than gathering …let us go to the root. We must reach the youth with these messages. Let us watch out for our ‘hood and at the same time make positive connections with residents, especially the young. We must strategize and create ways to bring them to the table and let them have their say. We should teach tolerance and respect to the youngest among us. We have to not only celebrate diversity, we have to embrace it. And when problems do arise with any “group” of people, we need to use race-sensitive language and approaches to solve them. Riverwest is rich with peacemakers, social activists, and just plain-old good everyday people. We can set an example for the rest of Milwaukee to follow. Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 8 – August 2003