Story and Photo by Suzanne Zipperer People come to community service and activism in different ways. For many, it’s the idealism of youth tied with a strong ego that tells you that you can change the world. Others face an obstacle or tragedy that defines their mission – a loved one killed by a drunk driver; their child is challenged with a disability; a visit to a landfill opens their eyes.
Vikki Porter was drawn to action through a quiet, unobtrusive family literacy program run by COA Youth and Family Center, from which she once received services. Now, she coordinates this program.
As the head of HIPPY (Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters) Vikki supervises 10 home visitors who go to about 300 homes around the city armed with books and learning activities. Their mission is to teach parents how to be their child’s first teacher. The federal program has been around for enough time to establish a good track record for efficacy.
Vikki started as a mom in the program in 1998 when her children were small. HIPPY’s model is to hire from the program, so parents reach out to other parents. In 2005, Vikki became a home visitor, and in 2009 the coordinator. It was when she was visiting the homes that the seeds of activism were planted.
“When I started working for HIPPY was when I saw a need in the community. As I went out to people’s homes, it struck something in me that said we can do better.” Then the Occupy movement came after which she helped on a political campaign. Vikki took her steps towards helping to change what can be changed. “Something is not right and you can complain about it, or do something about it.”
Vikki met like-minded people and began working with the ABE Movement. ABE stands for All Black Everything and its aim is to support the African American community from within that community. The non-profit group has three projects:
• The Buy Black Program that encourages people to patronize African-American businesses;
• The Sankofa study circle, which aims to reclaim African American history (The word means “go back and get it), and
• Feed the People, which works on issues of food security in the community.
For those of us whose history goes back some years, some of this has a familiar ring. The Black Panthers started similar projects in the 1970s. The Panthers are often portrayed as a militant organization because members wore uniforms and armed themselves in response to police brutality. Less is told of the breakfast programs they started for hungry inner-city kids, and other service activities. Activism runs in families. Vikki’s father worked with the Milwaukee Black Panthers, something she didn’t know until she began her own work.
Vikki explained that when dollars are spent in an African American-owned business, the buyer sends a text with the business name and amount spent to a number so the effort can be tracked, and the group’s efforts measured. The group is also putting together a resource list so supporters can easily locate African American-owned businesses. It is this type of effort that can strengthen community support for business and business support for community.
Vikki keeps the tally of those texts. She is also the secretary for Sankofa and would like to see them develop study guides for future groups that form.
Vikki’s enthusiasm for the ABE projects shows. She is an engaging woman with a pixie face and a lot of energy. It’s easy to fall into conversation with her and to move from one topic to the next as she reveals the driving forces in her life. Like many activists in Riverwest, Vikki understand how she fits into the bigger picture and how our individual daily actions impact the community as whole.
“People are frustrated,” Vikki said. “They don’t have jobs. At the same time, I see hope in people. We can’t rely on the mayor or the government. We need to rely on ourselves. We can do things.”
For those of us who figure we just don’t have time to contribute to the community, Vikki is a role model. The mother of four boys, ages 16, 14, 10 and 9, she could easily excuse herself from additional projects, but she juggles well. She notes that the oldest son helps out a lot, as does their father. Seeing mom out there doing something to make the world better is modeling good behavior for the kids as well.
Vikki spent some of her childhood in California. Her parents moved back when she graduated from high school, and she soon followed, settling in a house they owned on Dousman Street. She now lives on East Wright Street, a short walk to COA.
What does she do to relax? “I read a lot. I hardly ever watch TV. I also write poetry.” Vikki has read her work at several local venues. She has an associate degree in early childhood education and plans to return to UW-Milwaukee in January to further her studies.