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My Block: In Harambee, a neighborhood 'pulling together'

Posted at 9:07 AM, Oct 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-02 11:29:09-05

HARAMBEE — The Harambee neighborhood is a historic community in Milwaukee. In Swahili, Harambee means 'pulling together.' In this neighborhood, the community is 'pulling together' to create one cohesive unit like the roots, branches, and leaves on a tree.

In this edition of My Block, Cordella Jones takes us through her neighborhood, Harambee, so we can learn about it through her eyes and her experiences. Where we went and who we talked was all up to her. All that was asked of her was that she be honest and vulnerable.

"I think you could see overnight Harambee becoming one of the signature neighborhoods in the city," Cordella said.

Note, the neighborhood boundaries of Harambee according to Google aren't necessarily the ones accepted by residents. It is just to serve as a reference for where the neighborhood is in Milwaukee.

Cordella introduced us to the people that she says embody the past, present, and future of the neighborhood. Separately, they are different, but together they create one neighborhood.

THE ROOTS

To best understand the neighborhood, you start with the elders - the roots of the community.

Ms. Key and Mr. James talk about how the neighborhood has transitioned from one with a "lot of crime" to one that is "peaceful now."

Cordella's first stop was with Ms. Key. However, at the beginning of our conversation, Ms. Key spotted one of her good friends, Mr. James, who she insisted we talk to. They've known each other for around 15 years.

"We used to have a lot of crime here, a lot, and it's very peaceful now," Ms. Key, who has lived in the neighborhood for a few decades said.

Mr. James echoed that statement, "This neighborhood came a long way. When I first moved in it was troubled. Very very troubled."

Things have changed for the better in Harambee they both said. The two agreed and said the neighborhood gets a bad reputation and part of that is due to negative or false stories from the media.

"You don't even know us. See that's what I don't like about the news, okay? Sometimes it's not presented correctly," Ms. Key said.

Ms. Key said she doesn't want Harambee's past to continue to negatively influence its present.

"That's all we are asking for - fairness and a chance to show you we can shine as well," Ms. Key said.

"I love this neighborhood," Mr. James Said.

THE BRANCHES

If the roots are the elders, the branches are the young and passionate working to make the community a better place. They are 'pulling together' resources, reaching out into the world like a branch, for the benefit of the neighborhood. Cordella introduced me to Anthony Kazee.

"This area made me who I am today, and I think just from like I was saying decades ago the neighborhood was a little bit more rough, and, you know, you have to be strong to kind of survive your neighborhood, and kind of what life throws at you," Kazee said.

When asked why Anthony Kazee was so passionate about helping his neighborhood he said he can't explain it and we was simply born with it.

Kazee is an owning partner of KG Development, a contracting firm. He is currently working on a project on the 3300 block of Martin Luther King Drive that would create mixed income housing, with commercial space, and an area for sports.

"Kind of like Harambee is almost kind of like the middle heart of the city cause it's close to downtown, close to the lakefront. I joke with folks saying I stay by the lakefront," he said.

He is one of the newest members of the Harambee Neighborhood Improvement District (NID). There are NIDs across Milwaukee that work to improve their respective communities. Cordella is the president of the Harambee NID. Together, Cordella and Anthony are helping promote home ownership within the neighborhood.

"The NID have a fund where we can give grants out up to $15,000 to homeowners to help them with their homes, and something we can do not based off of if you are credit worthy or not. Cause that's neighborhood helping the neighborhood," Cordella said.

They both agreed that attracting new people to the neigborhood as well as encouraging current residents to own their home instead of renting is one key to turning Harambee into one of Milwaukee's "signature" neighborhoods like Cordella mentioned.

THE LEAVES

The last place Cordella had us visit was the home of the Edwards.

Terron and Chrystal Edwards are a young family that recently bought a home in the Harambee neighborhood. They both said they love the community.

"Hi we're the Edwards, we live in the Harambee neighborhood. We have five children, and a dog, and a bunch of fish, and some plants," Chrystal Edwards said joyfully when we met her.

Chrystal and her husband Terron own their home near the Five Points intersection. They represent a dichotomy of new and old neighbors. Terron's family has lived in Harambee since the 60's. Chrystal is newer to the area.

"I love the neighborhood, you know. My family has been apart of this neighborhood for the better part of 60 years going back to my grandmother and grandfather who moved here from Arkansas," Terron said.

In fact, Terron bought his family home to keep it in the family.

Chrystal recently moved here.

"(I was) very apprehensive because, you know, I have children. So when I came over here I was actually completely blown away and totally surprised by first of all the welcoming committee. I never lived in a community where there was a welcoming committee," she said.

Both said they are infatuated with the neighborhood they live in and don't plan on moving anytime soon. With their five children, pets, and plants they plan to make renovations to their house which will have a reverberating effect through the neighborhood.

These neighbors embody the spirit of the neighborhood. Like the roots, branches, and leaves on a tree they are 'pulling together' to create a community unlike any other. Separate in their parts, but they are together in their whole.

If you want your neighborhood to be featured or know someone who would be a good ambassador for their community reach out to James Groh at james.groh@tmj4.com.

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