'Heal the Hood' One Community at a Time
Ongoing series of block parties focuses on the kids
“I go because I firmly believe that if someone from the community does not continue to make sure the kids in the community are getting what they need, then no one else is going to,” Brianna Hawkins, 22, said of the Heal the Hood block party held at North Avenue and 30th Street this past June. Although this is only the second year Hawkins has attended the neighborhood event, she said she will always try her hardest to go to show her support. “I very much believe in Ajamou and what he does in the community, and I know that they are doing things for the right reasons,” she added.
Heal the Hood MKE is a neighborhood event launched back in May 2012 by founder and lead organizer, Ajamou Butler, 25. “Initially when I started Heal the Hood, it was just a seed, and it was a thought,” Butler said. It is more than a block party; it offers a variety of educational resources for parents and children alike who may not otherwise have access to those resources. This is the sixth year Heal the Hood has hosted its block parties.
Heal the Hood is intended as a positive resource for people in Milwaukee neighborhoods that need a little extra support. Butler explains: “When you look at the social conditions, the economic and emotional trauma that we see in the ghettos of Milwaukee … when you look at the spiritual trauma, the disconnect from neighbors who stay on the same block and will shoot and kill each other, when you look at the amount of children who don’t have adequate food in their refrigerator to eat ... when you look at the number of people who are underemployed and the underemployed class of greater Milwaukee, we see a necessity. We find a need.”
According to Jessica Butler, Heal the Hood’s campaign manager, the idea for hosting the block parties in Milwaukee neighborhoods that are considered high crime areas came after the shooting death of a young boy; this occurrence created that feeling of urgency that something needed to be done to help repair the damage and be a positive presence in the neighborhood.
“Having the block parties every year became his [Ajamou’s] way of saying, ‘Hey, I want to bring some positive energy into the neighborhood and let you guys fellowship with each other and heal through fellowship,’” Butler says, adding that block parties in different neighborhoods around Milwaukee are intended to spread the message of love and healing.
“The intent is to not let Heal the Hood fizzle out because, being in a city with so many disparities, there is the need to close so many of these gaps, and it is important to have people in this community and be a part of this community so that people see that they are represented by people that are actually a part of this city,” Butler continues.
Although people from different backgrounds participate and attend the block parties, she mentions, “Heal the Hood is infused with black culture—from the elders to the youth. From the vendors to the community resources we invite out to be there with us, they represent the community and have things for the community to benefit from.”
Typically, there are about 20 to 25 vendors at the block parties, but, at the most recent block party, the number grew to 59. The Hunger Task Force was present to provide families with Foodshare options; Bianca Williams’ Cry For Help Foundation was there to educate the community on sexual assault and sex trafficking; Running Rebels and the St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care were also on hand. Participating in the block parties allows vendors to reach communities whose residents may not be aware of the services that are available.
Rashidah Butler, 27, volunteer coordinator for Heal the Hood Milwaukee and Ajamou’s older sister, said community service and working with the Heal the Hood team matters to her because her family grew up on 19th and Locust—a neighborhood some might consider to be in “the hood.” Times were different, even though it was not that long ago.
“I remember knowing our neighbors. I remember we could go outside and play and not have fear about what would happen to us,” she recalls. “I think about my future children and feel like, when I look at those communities, instead of complaining or talking about all the things that are wrong, I need to involve myself in things that can help shape and change that narrative.”
The next Heal the Hood block parties will be hosted noon-6 p.m. on Saturday, July 29, at Maple Tree Elementary School (6644 N. 107th St.) and Aug. 25-26 at COA Youth and Family Centers, 2320 W. Burleigh St.