BEST FOOT FORWARD
That first weekend, it looked pretty bad. The doomscrolling served up one video after another, graphic depictions of nationwide unrest, looting and the kind of police behavior that got us to this point in the first place. Milwaukee was burning, too, for a little while. A few stores smashed, burned and looted. A police station vandalized. But after that first weekend in June, the real protesters seemed to take charge and wrest the narrative back from the brink of the kind of mayhem that makes it easy for people of privilege to dismiss calls for change. The fists and chants remained in the air, and there were plenty of confrontations with police that followed, but nothing resembling the clashes in many other cities. That’s a good look for Milwaukee, but our leaders shouldn’t take this restraint for granted and must work for truly meaningful change.
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BEST (FIRST) COMMUNITY RESPONSE
Milwaukee barely had two weeks to mourn the shocking mass shooting at Molson Coors in the Miller Valley before the coronavirus changed all of our lives. But those trying times were a preview of the community’s early response to the pandemic, too, as Milwaukee came together and showed support to the workers of one of its industrial icons.
BEST UNIVERSAL EXERCISE
When safer-at-home went into effect back in March, there wasn’t a lot to do outside our own homes. But we could do this. We could get outside and move our bodies, bodies that needed some way to release the tension. Those of us whose workouts were hitherto confined to indoor gyms spilled out into our community streets to breathe in the early spring air, watch nature return to life and hope that somehow our lives would soon return to some semblance of normalcy. What we quickly learned, though, is that we could only control so much – and not much, at that – and the daily ritual of walking took on so much significance. Not just the exercise, but exploring our communities, stopping to admire the window displays in local homes, read sidewalk chalk messages and wave – from a safe distance – to fellow Milwaukeeans, bound together by our shared experience. For many of us, even as restrictions were loosened and the weather brightened into summer, we continued to walk, because it just feels good. And that’s where we are, in a world ever in chaos, feeling a deeper connection to our city by embracing something as simple and full of solace as putting one foot in front of the other, again and again.
BEST SIDEWALK USE
You couldn’t help but smile when you came upon the messages chalked on the neighborhood sidewalks in the unmistakable scrawl of a child: “Have a great day!” “You can do this!” “We are going to make it!” As 2020 went on, the messages shifted to reflect the cries for social justice and racial equity that dominated the summer. In early June, the Milwaukee Art Museum invited protesters to chalk a 200-foot plaza outside the museum with Black Lives Matter messages.
BEST CREATIVE EXPRESSION
Milwaukee was already in the grip of mural madness, with large-scale works of art popping up on seemingly every building with a blank face. But this year, they started hitting us in the feels. There was Mauricio Ramirez’s tribute to health care workers near Sixth and Lincoln. The team effort that created portraits of George Floyd and Dontre Hamilton on a vacant building at Holton and North. The Breonna Taylor mural at Locust and Holton. The portraits of local protest leaders at 14th and Vliet, and another in West Allis. But not all the city’s new additions had a cause behind them. We’re also fond of the cycle-themed, vintage-postcard-style work on the side of the new Wheel & Sprocket store on Becher Street in Bay View.
BEST BEDSIDE MANNER
In the early stages of the pandemic, we were considering the possibility of 2 million Americans dying from a disease we still know very little about, and misinformation was everywhere. In Milwaukee, thankfully, we have a sober-minded and reassuring voice to talk about the pandemic in a depoliticized, understandable, consistently measured way: Dr. Ben Weston, Milwaukee County Emergency Management’s medical director. Among many media appearances, Weston appeared every Thursday on our MilMag Live livestream to talk with us about the state of the virus in Milwaukee. He was always clear about the seriousness of the pandemic while remaining reassuringly calm and practical about our role in staying safe and slowing the spread. His voice was, and is, very much needed and deeply appreciated.
BEST COLLABORATIVE PROJECT
The portraits by Kevin J. Miyazaki are intense – direct and unflinching. You find yourself in an uncommon act of intimacy, studying someone’s face this closely. The stark black-and-white photographs are the foundation of this identity-seeking project by Miyazaki and writer Mary Louise Schumacher, who interviews the subjects on what Milwaukee means to them and what democracy means to them. In aggregate, these 100-plus individual voices have a clear understanding of the city’s shortcomings and challenges but also a clear belief that its citizens have the capacity to make it better.
With the Journal Sentinel newsroom a shell of its former self, Jeramey Jannene’s online news outlet has emerged as the primary watchdog of city government, tirelessly reporting meetings that would otherwise go uncovered. Urban Milwaukee also stuck with regular coverage of the racial justice protests long after most outlets moved on – all despite an early June fire that left its Downtown office in shambles.
Most graduates of the class of 2020 couldn’t cap their high school careers by crossing the stage, shaking the principal’s hand and waving to cheering family members. While we can’t recreate exactly that feeling, we wanted to recognize a few of Milwaukee’s great grads with fantastic futures.
Stephanie Tucker | New Berlin West
This four-year member of the varsity pom and dance team became head of operations for the Wisconsin School Anti-Racism Collective this year, a statewide group of alumni and students whose work so far has focused on New Berlin. “I wanted to make sure that people who were just like me coming into this school, who were new and trying to find themselves – Black girls specifically – could see that I hopefully created some kind of a pathway so that they weren’t doing things on their own like I had to,” she says. This fall she’ll be at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, studying political science on a pre-law track.
Sharifah Bibi Nur Muhamad | Bradley Tech
Education was a major reason the Muhamad family landed in Milwaukee, and in less than four years here, Sharifah went from speaking little English to being Bradley Tech’s 2020 valedictorian. Her family left Myanmar for Malaysia in the 1990s to escape ethnic violence against the Rohingya people. At Bradley Tech, she discovered a love of math, which she says transcends language. “Being the valedictorian is something I wouldn’t even imagine,” she says. “I couldn’t believe it.” Muhamad plans to attend UW-Parkside this fall, majoring in science and mathematics.
Carmen Correa-Muñoz | Pulaski
For new students entering this South Side school, Correa-Muñoz was the friendly face who greeted them at freshman orientation and helped them feel at home in their new school. As a native Spanish speaker, she assisted Pulaski staff in speaking with students’ families. For her senior project in the school’s biliteracy program, Correa-Muñoz investigated LGBTQ+ culture in Hispanic families, which often have rigid gender roles. COVID-19 threw her future plans into question – in early August she was considering whether to enroll at Marquette University as planned, or to join the city’s Fire Cadet Program.
Lizbeth Carranco | Rufus King International
The first member of her family to graduate from high school in the U.S. didn’t just get a diploma, she excelled. Carranco grew up in Mexico and moved to America around nine years ago. She learned English and jumped right into academic success and extracurricular activities, like Latinos Unidos and Spanish Honors Society. She says those groups helped her learn about the different cultures of Latin America and the importance of embracing personal heritage. Long interested in the medical field, Carranco will attend Alverno College in the fall and plans on studying nursing – as her mother did.
MOST COMPASSIONATE LANDLORD
When the economy crashed in mid-March and massive unemployment swept the country, this owner of a three-family property in Riverwest decided to cut his tenants’ rent down to only $100 in April. In a letter to his tenants, he encouraged them to spend the money around Riverwest to help out suffering businesses and their employees: “Get a carry-out meal from one of our great restaurants (and leave a nice tip).”
This spring, 97-year-old Waukesha resident and retired Navy pilot Chuck Franzke wasn’t going to let the pandemic get him down. He stepped out on his porch and boogied like there was no tomorrow to Justin Timerberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” bringing a little light to dark times. Video of the event went viral (in the good way), including an airing on “Good Morning America.”
CIVIC SILVER LINING
There was a lot of rethinking of what’s important and necessary this year, and we hope our new perspective on these things sticks around. A city program allowed businesses to use parking spaces and even parts of streets for, say, socially distanced outdoor seating. Some parks have added picnic tables, and people are actually using the ample green spaces we already have. Urban planners call this space activation, and it just makes the city feel better.
GIFT TO THE CITY
When the Milwaukee Art Museum reopened its doors in July, admission was waived for a month, allowing free access to all. This act of kindness was underwritten by the Krei family in honor of Melinda Krei, who died of brain cancer in June of 2019. “We wanted to do something memorable,” said Ken Krei, Melinda’s husband. “Melinda loved Milwaukee, and she loved art and design. This seemed like a terrific way to recognize her support of the arts in our city.”