by Suzanne Zipperer,

When you become an “elder” in your community, you begin to look around for those members of the next generation who share your values and who can take over some of the community efforts. Riverwest is lucky to be rich with enthusiastic young people who are socially progressive, understand the importance of community service, and bring talent and energy to Milwaukee.


One of these young people is my daughter, Ketiwe (Ke tee way) Zipperer who lives on Humboldt Blvd. a few blocks from the first apartment we rented when we moved to Milwaukee in 1988.

Ketiwe was born in Zimbabwe and her biracial heritage was one of the reasons we moved to Riverwest.  Milwaukee’s black and white checkerboard can be challenging for cross-ethnic families. Riverwest was a place she could fit in. In fact, so many people around Ketiwe were “brown” that when she was in fourth grade she came to me with a Newsweek Magazine showing a pie chart of America’s ethnic breakdown and insisted it was wrong because 82% of the country was white. “Yep,” I told her, “The rest of it’s like up north. You are surrounded by white people.” She didn’t believe me.

COA Youth and Family Centers played a big role in Ketiwe’s life and was one of the reasons we stayed in Riverwest. Day care, summer day camp, Helen Brachman summer camp were all part of her life and places she formed lifelong friends. “It’s always amazing to me how many people I meet, both professionally and personally, who have had some connection to COA,” Ketiwe said, “Two of my best friends are girls I met in elementary school through COA programs.”

Another Riverwest resource was La Escuela Fratney where Ketiwe attended K4 through second grade before following the Golda Meier, Morse Middle School, King High School track. “It’s funny because people still recognize me from second grade and they always ask did I go to ‘La Escuela Fratney’, they never call it ‘Fratney School.’”

Ketiwe’s name is Ndebele (Khethiwe) and means “the chosen one.” When I picked that name, my Zimbabwean friend said, “The name is a burden because she’ll wonder all her life what she was chosen for.” I guess right now Ketiwe is too young to answer that. 

Ketiwe works in the nonprofit sector. She is on the outreach coordinator at Milwaukee Center for Independence where her duties include managing the resource center, representing the organization on various community committees, and assessing the needs of the population served by MCFI.

Like many active Riverwesters, Ketiwe also serves as a volunteer. She is currently on the board of directors for Riverworks, a business development organization that includes all of Riverwest and parts of Harambee heading up the public relations/marketing. She also serves on the board of TRUE Skool, a successful urban arts program offering a platform for self-expression and involvement for social justice issues to youth, some of whom have been involved in the juvenile justice system. 

Maybe it’s her African blood that makes Ketiwe hate cold weather. When she applied for colleges, there were all in the south. She choose a Historically Black College or University, Florida A&M in Tallahassee. Going to an HBCU gave her something I couldn’t give her as a white mother in Milwaukee – the regional and class diversity of the African American community.

“At FAM-U I had friends who were fourth and fifth generation college-educated. Unfortunately, that is something that you don’t often see in Milwaukee. It broadened my horizons and connected me to the professional African American community both here and across the country,” Ketiwe said.

What brought her back to Milwaukee and the cold? “I really missed my little brother, Scott, who was just entering high school when I graduated college.  I wanted to be closer to him, as well as the rest of my family. I also saw that Milwaukee has opportunities for young professionals. And I met someone who has become an important part of my life.”

In her spare time, you may see Ketiwe working out at the Y, attending hip-hop shows by her “special someone” at Stonefly or other Riverwest venues, or walking down North Avenue on the way to Bradford Beach.

“Riverwest has a lot of untapped potential. I can see that working with Riverworks,” she said.  “There are not just small projects in the neighborhood, like the food coop, but there are large ones such as the Financial Opportunity Center, which is a career and personal financial services center. There are lots of people working to make it happen.”