MILWAUKEE — In Milwaukee, there is a group of women who have taken it upon themselves to look after their neighborhood. They uplift the community, get to know their neighbors, and help it flourish.
These are the matriarchs of the Lindsay Heights neighborhood: Mrs. Maria Beltran, Ms. Geneva Jones, Shamikka Smith, and Marie Gordon. This isn't an exhaustive list of all the women who are making a difference in the community. These women are part of a larger story of revitalization in this neighborhood.
"And I just want to say we're all women. So we're strong women. So when they say power to women, it's power to these women," Mrs. Maria Beltran said.
The goal of the My Block series is to learn about the neighborhoods around us through the eyes and experiences of the people who live there. I met with Mrs. Maria Beltran, so she could show me her neighborhood through her eyes and experiences. Who we talked to and what we talked about was all up to her. There was no script to follow. Welcome to the Lindsay Heights neighborhood.
According to the Lindsay Heights Neighborhood Improvement District, the boundaries of the community are West Locust street to the north, I-43 to the east, Walnut Street to the south, and 20th Street to the west. These boundaries are just slightly different from Google's boundary which is below.
Mrs. Maria Beltran
"No one understands just how beautiful it is, and what they're missing out on. So whenever you can get a chance, come visit me on 17th and North. I'll feed you too," Mrs. Beltran said.
She moved to Lindsay Heights in 1992. At first, she wouldn't always tell people where she was from. But as she worked in the area and helped revitalize the community, all that has changed.
"When everyone says, 'where do you live?' Before I used to say downtown because that's how close we are, but now that we have - we’ve been had a name on it. I'm proud to say it's Lindsay Heights," she said.
She is part of a group of residents who, during the summer, have embarked on a fitness journey. Every morning, about a dozen people meet in Johnsons Park to do yoga and other light exercises. It's not just about living a healthier lifestyle but also fostering community building.
"And when I first started the yoga, I could not cross my legs. I have not done that in years, and when I sat down today, it happened. I don’t know if they can come back, but I'm going to try my best. So thank you all for the motivation, the support," Mrs. Beltran said to the workout group.
The fitness challenge has also inspired her to get on a bike after 11 years of not riding. The group exercises have helped her tremendously. She has been able to drop her A1C levels, which are used to test for prediabetes and diabetes, from 11.9 to 6.0 (as of 6/28).
A community that shares similar goals prospers together. Whether that's personal health and wellness or revitalizing the neighborhood, Mrs. Beltran said it's the group effort that makes it all possible.
Ms. Geneva Jones
As we continued walking through the Lindsay Heights neighborhood, we met up with Mrs. Beltran's friend, Ms. Geneva Jones.
Ms. Jones loves the communal feeling that she and other neighbors have cultivated.
"To see neighbors smile from across the yard and say hello. I mean what’s not to love about that," she said.
It's the simple gestures that go a long way to create bonds. It's not necessarily the once-a-year block party that brings the neighborhood together. Although, that certainly helps. It's the little actions every day that build a sense of belonging and familiarity with each other.
Every Tuesday, community members gather at the Walnut Way Conservation Corp. house to hold neighborhood meetings. Sometimes guests are brought to give presentations. Otherwise, neighbors are free to bring up concerns they have. It's a way for the community to convene on a regular basis and assess what is going on and how to keep pushing towards their goals.
"We're the healing mechanism. We listen to people that come to our meetings or not. They’re our neighbors. Maria's listened to me. I had an incident. To be able to come with Maria on a walk, she listened to me," Ms. Jones said.
These meetings are key factors in order to keep revitalizing the neighborhood. The more residents invest time and money into the community, the better off everyone is. Plus, it makes the neighborhood safer, especially for children. While Ms. Geneva, Mrs. Beltran and I were walking, we ran into kids playing cans on the sidewalk.
For those who don't know cans: it's a game that involves two players, two squashed aluminum cans, and a basketball. One player shoots the ball just like a basketball player would and tries to land the ball on the can. If he does, they are rewarded with points and the can is moved farther back. The farther away the can is, the more points hitting it is worth. The winner is decided by who reaches a certain point value.
It's an incredibly popular game played throughout the city and has been featured in a My Block story about the Amani neighborhood too.
Mrs. Beltran believes this is one of the signs the community is flourishing. Kids playing outside without a worry.
"Cause they're always saying there is shootings going on. Our kids can’t play outside. Our kids play outside. Our kids have fun," Mrs. Beltran said.
She and Ms. Jones said that their neighborhood can get singled out for crime. They agreed that isn't the case. They believe the crime in Lindsay Heights is the same as anywhere else.
"(They are) the same things that plagues our neighborhoods and all neighborhoods, but really the under-served neighborhoods are really plagued with it," Ms. Jones said.
With greater community involvement and more financial investments, both of them said Lindsay Heights will flourish.
The three of us continued our walk through the neighborhood and headed towards Shamikka Smith's home. Smith moved here from Brown Deer and bought her home in November 2021.
"I believe God brought me here. Because I'm such a gathering person, so I wanted a big home," Smith said.
She echoed many of the same things that were said previously about crime in the area. First, she offered a candid confession before moving to the area.
"But when I came here, actually I was a little bit nervous just because of what you hear about this neighborhood," she said.
However, the reputation that she had heard turned out to be false.
"But when I actually got here, it has been quiet. I mean, to be honest, I hear some stuff, but I heard the same stuff close to Brown Deer."
Crime happens everywhere. There are rundown properties with boarded-up doors and broken windows in many communities. These ladies don't feel like it's fair their neighborhood gets singled out.
"No, I don’t think the media has covered all the good in Lindsey Heights at all. There still needs to be done a lot," Mrs. Beltran said. "Yea it's been a misrepresentation definitely."
Some of those positive things include restaurants like Jake's Deli, Taste of Lindsay Heights, and Coffee Makes You Black. There is Johnsons Park. Venice William's Alice's Garden Urban Farm is in the neighborhood. Walnut Way is a non-profit dedicated to rejuvenating the community. There is the Fondys Farmers Market and the Innovation and Wellness Commons. There's Ms. Jackie with Fresh Start who hands out free meals to kids in the neighborhood. The list goes on and on.
There is even a fun Packers vs. Bears rivalry happening in Lindsay Heights. The owners of two homes at the corner of 17th and Meinecke painted their homes in their team's colors.
The final person we met along the way was Marie Gordon. She has lived in Lindsay Heights for 35 years. In 2005, she bought a lot and built a home. Gordon has been living in that house for the past 18 years.
She loves the neighborhood and wanted her commitment to the community known. That's why she built a house here. She wants to help attract more people to the area.
"As you can see our street is very clean. We get out in the morning, and we sweep the trash, and get all of the paper off the street and our homes," Gordon said.
It's that personal commitment to a singular block that can make a big difference. Simply picking up trash can help people appreciate their surroundings and want to take care of it. Plus, when more people can be seen outside, that can create a presence and feeling of security among the others that live there.
"I feel safe. I really feel safe because, like I said, it's your neighbors. You got to know how your neighbors are, and they look out for ya," Gordon said.
These women, the matriarchs of this neighborhood, aren't doing any grand gestures that only a few people can do. They are the matriarchs because they take care of the community one person at a time. One smile at a time. One short conversation at a time. One walk at a time. The little acts compound to create a new feeling and sentiment around the neighborhood. Picking up trash, planting a flower bed, attending a community meeting, and talking to a neighbor, those are the building blocks that will help Lindsay Heights flourish.
"I feel the energy so strong and vibrant. It's like we're flowers just going and spreading it everywhere," Mrs. Beltran said.
Before I give the last word to Mrs. Beltran, you can be part of the My Block series by reaching out to James Groh at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling him at (414) 254-8145. You can submit your neighborhood, yourself, or a neighbor for a feature.
I had one last question for Mrs. Beltran.
"Is there anything else you’d like to say about your neighborhood?" I asked her.
"Just come and in Spanish it's convivir. That means come together. Come eat with use, and come drink with us, and have a good time."