Lilo Allen photo by Mahdi Gransberry

by Adam Krueger,
photo by Mahdi Gransberry

Lilo Allen is a Milwaukee based artist and business owner of Papyrus & Charms. She creates culturally conscious art that is wearable and handmade. Everything Allen makes honors her African American and Jamaican heritage. Allen works with the Bronzeville Collective, a collaborative store that houses twenty-five local brands, emphasizing the representation of communities of color and Queer creatives. The goal of the collective is to financially empower underrepresented artisans. Since joining the neighborhood of Bronzeville the success of the collective has helped improve the economics of the local area which Lilo is ardently dedicated towards to help create opportunities for communities of color.

From sales of her Black Lives Matter bracelets Lilo has donated these earnings to the Milwaukee Freedom Fund, an organization dedicated to helping historically marginalized communities. It should then come as no surprise that in the wake of the tragedy of George Floyd and a multitude of other victims of police brutality, Lilo Allen has become one of the leading voices of the Milwaukee based protests. Allen is doing all she can to help educate, protect, and advocate for her community. Lilo is one of the many community leaders along with Darius Smith organizing marches that center inclusivity and highlight police and prison injustices that affect the most vulnerable of our society, particularly LGBTQ citizens of color.

Recently I talked to the artist and activist Lilo Allen to listen to what she advises about those that seek progressive change. Lilo claims to see the same waves of change that have been igniting a nation to look for tough answers to difficult questions we all face, not only as citizens of Milwaukee, but as Americans. More than wanting to be a part of the answer she feels obliged to do all she can for the community and the culture. But Allen acknowledges the road will be paved with obstacles. She claims one of the biggest is the fact that so many white citizens seem more concerned about looting or riots than the lives of African Americans lost to police brutality. Like many other activists, Allen hopes to reallocate funding for the police to help the same people that have disproportionally been victims to police violence. Allen wants higher levels of accountability and transparency for a police force that is often exploitative and causes harm to those they are designated to protect. Allen is concerned that the Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales cares more about the reputation of the MPD than black lives. Lilo and many like her hope to open new avenues of dialogue with elected officials of Milwaukee. She believes apologies for past injustices are necessary to begin a broader conversation.

Lilo Allen knows all too well the work necessary is long and arduous but she is willing to do whatever it takes because to her none of us can be free until the most marginalized among us share those same freedoms. Despite the difficult journey, she is not alone. The sights, sounds, and stories of recent peaceful protests are so profound they are hard to grasp. Until recently I would have thought it almost unimaginable to see literally thousands of Milwaukee citizens joining in a sixteen-mile-long bike ride around the city on a hot summer day. But seeing a whole afternoon of that unfold before me was more than inspiring. It begs the question: how big can this movement get? And more importantly, there is the question of what can be accomplished through a collective dedication to change the institutions we rely on for public safety and justice. We cannot live in fear that those institutions will kill us or those we love. Lilo Allen is doing everything in her power to seek that change. But she and other activists cannot do this alone. We need new ideas. We need a strong analysis of data dealing with complex issues. We need more compassion, and we need to foster a shared sense of humanity in order to make this community and this nation better than it has ever been for everyone.