by Adam Krueger
“Good morning, Riverwest. This is Richard and Bagel.” It is a welcome many in the community see every morning on social media. They are the routine words written almost daily by the unofficial Mayor of Roverwest, Richard Franklin speaking in part on the behalf of everyone’s favorite neighborhood beagle, Bagel. Both are beloved fixtures in the local dog park, where Franklin spends much of his time in his retirement. Most mornings you can find Richard conversing with locals, telling stories of his long life in Milwaukee and imparting wisdom only age and experience offers. Both serve as a boon to the neighborhood and a means of better knowing our collective history.
Richard Franklin was born on a rare snowy day on May 7, 1948 in St. Anthony’s Hospital and has spent his entire life in Milwaukee. According to Richard, there is nowhere else he would rather live. Raised in a Christian family, first African Methodist and then Lutheran, Richard attended Riverside Highschool and MSOE where he studied engineering before working in industrial and civil engineering as well as architecture. Through all the years Franklin has seen good times and bad for the city but speaks as a man knowing how blessed he has been to witness everything. Growing up an African American in Milwaukee, Franklin admits to never knowing how racist much of the country was until hearing the speeches of Dr. King. Richard happily looks back on an integrated childhood with diverse populations in the schools he attended and his circle of friends. As a child, Richard never much considered race despite being vaguely aware of the existence of racism. On occasions, some women would hurl racial epithets to Richard, and at times bullies would chase him and other friends of color. But for Franklin, it was not until hearing the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that he became more aware of the institutionalized racism of the Jim Crow South. To Franklin growing up in integrated areas of a mostly segregated city, his peers judged each other more on ability than anything else, especially while playing sports. To Richard, having common goals with one another can help overcome individual differences as he saw time and again running track and playing baseball and football.
Growing older, Richard Franklin has gained the knowledge and insight to acknowledge some of these problems that sew so much division in segregated cities like Milwaukee. Franklin is deeply troubled about issues of systemic discrimination in areas like the industrial sector which he sees playing out across the Rust Belt. As he can surmise there is a regular issue of Black men being hired for ninety days and then let go without reason only to be called back to the same job six months later. Franklin voices concern over this leading to frustration which only amplifies issues of violence in the city. Franklin believes that better education, a more solid family structure, and greater respect for life can help Milwaukee heal from so many lives lost to murder from street violence and police brutality. Richard is optimistic that such change is being ushered in from movements like Black Lives Matter. While he may not agree with all of the movement’s policies like attitudes on the nuclear family and abolishing or defunding the police, he hopes Black men and women can feel safe in the city sharing the same privileges as others.
Yet Richard knows that making that dream a reality will take work and careful considerations of policies that will help build better futures and preserve life. To this end, Franklin is an advocate for reforming education with more equal share of public funding and higher standards set in schools. Additionally, as Richard laughs telling me about his youth and running from the police on occasion, he knows perfectly well that apprehending suspects needs a far more delicate hand than is being given. Years ago, in his eyes cops were more likely to chase someone down than to try and stop them with bullets. Franklin knows these trainings and procedures are in dire need of change, adding that rubber bullets may be one of the best solutions for when occasions get out of hand.
Franklin of course acknowledges these are deep and complex issues, which is why he is more focused on doing what he can to help bring the people of Riverwest together on a more personal level. As a result, Richard loves Roverwest, the local dog park, meeting those with common interests, while listening to different perspectives on life, belief, and politics. This is one of the main reasons he now devotes such time to updating regulars of the park on weather conditions through social media. Outside of the summer, the conditions tend to vary greatly from day to day, so the updates help his fellow dog owners prepare. As a result, it is easier for everyone to gather while safely social distancing and allowing the dogs a place to run and play. Still, he knows more can be done for our parks and our community.
Richard Franklin longs for the days when others would gather in the dog park on Friday evenings for cookouts, bonfires, and drinks. Due to struggles with health, they bring burdens he cannot currently bear while holding out hope that others may bring back the tradition. As someone who has watched Milwaukee evolve so much in his seven decades of life, Richard believes that creating safe spaces to come together is key in troubled times like we now face. Because while the pandemic may complicate matters, Franklin knows from experience that there is little the community cannot accomplish while working together.
May 7, 1948. Born. St Anthony’s Hospital. Snowing that day.
Been in MKE all life, raised a Christian
African Methodist to Lutheran
Palmer Elementary school, Robert Fulton Jr High School, River side HS (River Rat), MSOE, studied engineering
Worked: Industrial engineering and civil engineering, and architecture (favorite)
Retired around 15 years ago (by Scott Walker, didn’t like him) , 72 now
Raised in integrated environment
Didn’t know how bad racism was until MLK speeches, didn’t know much about Jim Crow
All his schools were mixed, though some white flight took place in Jr High
Didn’t consider racism much as children. Older kids chased them, Old Karens said N-word to him. But his peers all got along, racism is a learned behavior.
Racist attitudes changed on playground, people didn’t see color, but saw athleticism in the games they played. Richard didn’t feel racism in those days
Raised by dog lovers. Dad had a German Pedigree Dog, then dachshund, then great dame. Always had dogs, but took a break after Sport.
Had Bagel for 5 years.
Married for 57 years, but separated not divorced for most of that time, separate relationship (GF) for over thirty years
BLM means to Rich not fearing for lives, have same privileges as anyone else, no racial profiling
Not against police, knows good cops exist. Wants Rubber Bullets, not shooting in back. Cops need to run after law breakers. Knows from experience from running from cops as a youth, getting in trouble (weed, etc, no rapes, nothing too bad)
Rich was a good running, running track, playing football, baseball
Running from cops, jump on garages, laid flat yard side, avoided dogs,
There was way less shouting growing up, young people lack respect for life
Need for family structure, broken homes, too many single parents, kids not taught respect, from black community. Needs to dress appropriately for big events like weddings, one of his family didn’t he still feels embarrassed and ashamed
Rich is black sheep of family, cuz father was independent strong, father, set a high bar, didn’t want to live in dad’s shadow
He was one of the few Franklin’s that distanced himself from family, from dad, he avoided family drama but was therefore often the last to know of family news, kept out of the loop of fam affairs
Rich loves the dog park, meeting ppl of common interests and common age. He values different opinions and politics, willing to listen
Loves the 4 seasons of the dog park, wants others to know conditions in spring and fall, know of big muddy, summer dustbowls, wants others to be able to prep for its conditions
Thinks closing park for quarantine was the best thing for it, may need to do it every few years
Rich used to decorate the dog park, buying yard decorations, not since hurting his hip and the bills of it, other meds
Used to sponsor meet and greets on fri at Roverwest, bring beer etc and had bonfires. Stopped when hurting his hip, wants to bring that back to strengthen the community
Bought kiddy pools from park, loves the dogs
2nd bonfire out here someone called Fire Dept from smokey wood, they came, asked if they have cover for the fire (told them to say they had cover), they said so (lied) and the Fire Dept went away before Richard could offer them to have a beer
Grew up w good jobs readily available, lost industry, unemployment, rised jobs can’t sustain family
Young black men work 90 days then let them go, leads to frustration, called 6 months later to come back, systemic issue (industrial sector)
Needs jobs permanence, need transport systems restored to get jobs
Job loss in these industries (in rust belt) target based on race, disproportionately, Rust Belt declines, esp Detroit
Automation is key, hits black community hard, feels let down by Democrats, feels like they don’t explore ideas to help others, need to look into UBI, etc. Dems need to examine faults of their own, and look to weak areas where improvement is needed
Only wants to live in MKE
Suffers from chronic sinusitis
Church caught fire in 95, opened doors for FD, went down in chappel in Feb 2am, breathed in smoke fell to ground, damaged lungs since
Colon explodes, starts bleeding, Illness since retired, been inactive since damaged hip after fall, waiting for hip transfer
Invalid without meds, loves the fresh air of the dog park
Likes: Model trains, rail road expert, likes to travel on the railroad thru the country, few negative experiences, one w a drunk, one w a racist karen asking him to change seats
Seen community changed from prosperous community, to political greed driven society. Schools and medical care suffer the most from the greed and division