“La Di Da Di, we likes to party. We don't cause trouble, we don't bother nobody.”
Heyyy, hooo! Heyy, hooo! HaHa
Hip-Hop definitely brings out the best of us and makes us all have a good time, which is why we were excited for this years Hip Hop Week MKE. This was the second year of the groundbreaking week that “celebrates Hip-Hop through the lens of Financial Literacy, Health and Civic Engagement,” all of which are important to know within our culture.
One specific Hip-Hop Week event that shed light on a less talked about issue in Milwaukee, was the “Music On The BLT” and no, we’re not talkin’ ‘bout your classic Bacon, Lettuce & Tomato honey! This event, presented by Riverworks, was held on Holton Street on the Beer-Line Trail, bringing the communities of the Riverwest and Harambee neighborhoods together. Corey Pieper, Shle Berry, Jazzaveli and DJ Nu Styles were all on the lineup to perform on this family friendly evening. There were food trucks, drinks, and face painting for the kids, so there was something there for people of all ages.
Now there’s no secret that there is a disconnect between these two neighborhoods due to gentrification, which is why organizations like Riverworks tries to figure out unique ways to bring them together. Riverworks brings opportunities to the Riverwest and Harambee area through workforce, job development, also programs and services around financial literacy and creative place making. Creative place making brings the community together around their culture, interests and likes. Having an event during Hip-Hop Week was a great opportunity for that to happen because entertainment draws the people...and I mean, what brings people together more than music and food??
Darryl Johnson, the Executive Director of Riverworks, says each community has a different set of issues they deal with. For example, the Harambee neighborhood has more concerns about vacant and boarded properties, unemployment and crime, which also spills over into different neighborhoods. He says what’s needed to bridge the gap between these two communities is communication.
“Let’s have that dialogue and break what we call this “Holy Street Divide” down and start dealing with the issues of really communicating with each other about issues that impact our lives and how we can work together to make Milwaukee a better city,” Darryl said. “These are two great neighborhoods. I always say that we have the two best neighborhoods in the city of Milwaukee (Riverwest and Harambee), because they understand and they work toward communicating and working together to make change in the city of Milwaukee.”
The crowd at Music On The BLT was very diverse, with what you would assume were residents from both the Riverwest and Harambee neighborhoods. However, after speaking with a few attendees, that was not necessarily the case.
Tom and Amy Gutowski brought their daughter Ollie to the BLT event right after work. They said they live in the Riverwest neighborhood about five blocks away from the BLT and wanted to see what it was about, so they walked right over. They heard about it through 88.9 Radio Milwaukee and Urban Milwaukee. Plus they are fans of Shle Berry and never saw her perform before, so they figured it would be a great opportunity. And even though they were there for Shle Berry, they were living their best lives during all of the performances lol.
John Fitzgerald was another attendee, and he also said that he lives in the Riverwest neighborhood and walked over for the show. He’s also good friends with DJ Nu Styles so he came to show support. I saw him eating some bomb smelling jamaican food too, so that could’ve been another reason for attending (or maybe that’s just me always letting food be a reason for me to do anything lol). John was very candid with me when I brought up the topic of gentrification and the gap between the two areas. He mentioned the visible divide in class, race and crime, the rise in rent/property tax and him noticing more roads being done, bike trails being added and police presence in certain areas. I asked him how does he think the people feel who live in both areas and he says it depends on who you ask because one person isn’t speaking for an entire group.
“It’s inevitable for people to not like the changes when they feel like they’re imposing on them,” John said. “But hopefully events like this help that and bring it together. People coming together is good and not too many neighborhoods could pull this off. It’s beautiful.”
As far as the Harambee residents, a lot of them were not present. But to keep my credibility I will say it’s possible I didn’t talk to the right people. For the people I spoke with who were Black, because yes I assumed the Black people there were coming from the Harambee side, they weren’t from the area. They heard about this Hip-Hop Week event through Instagram, were showing support for the performers or attended because their friends were there. However, Lavelle Young was one person who was there for all of the above. Lavelle, who gave us his new official title as community builder (you heard it here first), and is spearheading the redevelopment project of the MLK Library, grew up in the Harambee area around King Drive and Locust Street. He says the biggest change he has seen on King Drive is that right now the prices in the area are going up. This is a good thing but he says, “We [Blacks] don’t want to be displaced too.”
“Gentrification is real, I see it everyday,” Lavelle said. “But Harambee is a strong community that is woke, conscious and committed.”
When it came to the performance lineup, we loved the mixed group of Hip-Hop artists. We already did a pre-interview with a few of the performers who hit the stage (make sure y’all check that out btw), but I also wanted to speak with Shle Berry, who was a clear fan-favorite, to see how she felt about being included in the lineup and the gap between the two neighborhoods.
“I’m a woman, gay and bi-racial so I’m trying to bridge a lot of gaps,” Shle Berry said. “I bring a unique story to the scene.”
Shle Berry said Hip-Hop is the most authentic form of expression she’s ever experienced, which is why she pursued it. Because of the way it makes her feel. “It’s so political. You can talk about uncomfortable shit...and I’ve got some shit to say,” she said. Shle Berry says with Hip-Hop you can talk about vulnerable things thinking you’re alone and then find out you’re not. It’s all relatable.
And that’s just it. Hip-Hop is relatable. Music is relatable. It’s something everyone from any background can come together for. Which is why the “Music On The BLT” event during Hip-Hop Week was a great way to keep these conversations going. Just from the attendees I talked to, it’s clear people are willing to talk about what’s going on in the community. And we all know these concerns aren’t only happening in these two specific areas. Milwaukee by itself is known to be the most segregated city in the country. And of course this one event isn’t going to make us all join hands and sing “Kumbaya”, however, it’s a step. And by continuing to be open and honest with one another about what’s going on and having real conversations about the issues, there’s hope for not just Riverwest and Harambee, but for all the communities in Milwaukee to follow in their example.
Shout-out to Milwaukee for making this important week happen. And man, just shout-out to Hip-Hop.
U.N.I.T.Y. that's a #unity!
/Carrie for CW