by Jim Loew

After four-year-old Jasmine Owens was killed in front of her home by a stray bullet this past May, many Milwaukeeans were fed up with the random violence seemingly all around them. People were outraged, yet many felt helpless. What could they – we – do?

One of the answers to that question is an event called “Summer of Peace,” which organizers hope will draw attention to the violence in our community and provide some alternatives.

This annual event is now in its fifth year. Founded by Tanya Cromartie and Fidel Verdin- Williams, both cultural activists, artists and youth educators, Summer of Peace grew out of an urgent need for peace in our city. This is reflected in the activities planned for this event. “All the entertainment is focused around peace messages and antiviolence expressions,” said Cromartie.

Thanks in large part to a number of grants, the various skits, art exhibits, speeches and poetry are made possible. “Youth and teens work and meet throughout the summer choreographing dance routines,” said Cromartie. In addition to these showcases, there will be games, a super slide, clowns, and craft tables for children and families.

Unlike many other festivals, however, Summer of Peace has a serious theme to it. “We recognize the serious impact of violence by offering memorials of lives lost to violence,” said Cromartie. “For the past two years, we have had a mock cemetery on the grounds – a headstone for each homicide in Milwaukee.”

But it’s not all serious – it’s also celebration. For those in search of food, Summer of Peace plans to feature items from BW-3 Grill and Pub. The Corn Man will also be on hand again this year.

Don’t, however, expect beer. “Hell no as far as beer vendors go!” said Cromartie. “This area has enough events that support beer vendors. Besides, we are trying to teach our young people ways to feel good without such stuff.”

A lack of beer certainly hasn’t hurt attendance or the growth of the festival itself. “From the original Summer of Peace,” said Cromartie, “which was put together totally grassroots by Fidel and me with less than $300, turnouts have always exceeded our expectations.”

It’s also grown into a yearround youth programming initiative that culminates with the festival. This year’s event features something different: a Peace Summit with an open community discussion from 9 until 11 am.

“Community leaders, residents, and Summer of Peace youth leaders will gather for two hours of frank discussion around issues of violence and new approaches to resolving our city’s problems regarding violence,” said Cromartie. In addition, this will be the first year that Summer of Peace coordinators will offer extensive peacepractices workshops.

So for those who want to have a hand in helping curb the violence in our city, as well as having a good time, stop down.

If You Go
Summer of Peace
Friday, August 10
Peace Summit: 9 am – 11 am
Entertainment Event: 11 am – 3 pm
Kilbourn Park
North Ave. between Bremen & Booth
Free admission
For info: Tanya Cromartie 414-218-8380

Riverwest Currents online edition – August, 2007