Adams Garden Park Oral Histories Project Participants: Elizabeth Drame, Danielle Washington, Portia Cobb, Christiana McClurg, Jonathan Keane, and Sam Keyser

Where is Adams Garden Park?

Adams garden Park is a newly renovated building that will serve as a community space in the Lindsay Heights Community of Milwaukee. The function of the space will center around supporting and cultivating the ecology, education, and economy for members in the community. Milwaukee Water Commons, Milwaukee Environmental Consortium, Wisconsin Conservation Voters, and Walnut Way‘s Blue Skies Landscaping are four of the tenants in Adam's Garden Park.

Lindsay Heights

Community members are able to connect themselves to the greater Milwaukee area through food, wellness, and entrepreneurship. Local businesses, community organizations, and foundations strive to support and revitalize their neighborhood after decades of environmental, social, and economic disprivilege.

Who are Sharon and Larry Adams?

Sharon and Larry Adams are locals and developers of Adams Garden Park and co-founders of Walnut Way Conservation Corp. The main goal of their projects is to attract recourses for community development, health, and wellness. Find out more about Sharon and Larry here.

Mission statement for the Adams Garden Park Arts Initiative

Adams Garden Park Arts Initiative activates space for educational environmental workshops, community arts programming, and public art, serving as a catalyst for the continued growth and vibrancy of the Lindsay Heights neighborhood and City of Milwaukee.

The Adams Garden Park Arts Initiative creates an attractive community gathering place that invites use of the facilities, the park space and the building itself as points of engagement with social and environmental issues that make up the urban ecology of the area. Project initiatives center around the recovery and preservation of local histories, the repurposing and beautification of the outdoor spaces, and the ecological sustainability of the neighborhood. It is intergenerational and multi-disciplinary in scope and takes a holistic approach to “participatory placemaking” that centers current Lindsay Heights tenants and residents, and envisions prosperity measured not just in economic terms, but also in the currency of collective health, knowledge, and cooperation. We envision the co-creation of an aesthetics of sustainability grounded in the intersectionality of social and environmental justice-one that pushes hard to reach the ideals of the “Beloved Community.”

Oral Histories

The interviews will be used to document the lived experiences, cherished moments, and hopes moving forward for the community members in Lindsay Heights. They will be made visible through art, archiving, and digital strategies.

Elizabeth Drame

Elizabeth is a Professor and Teaching and Learning Co-Department chair at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Elizabeth and her family have been living in the Lindsay Heights neighborhood for 17 years, after moving from Chicago.

CM: What drew you to live in Milwaukee, specifically Lindsay Heights?

ED: It was really important for us to live in a city and in a community that was diverse in a lot of different ways- economically, racially, culturally, linguistically, etc. and we wanted to be close to family.

CM: What is your most cherished moment of living here in Lindsay Heights?

ED: The biggest thing I can say is not one moment in particular, but it's the experience of community more than anything else. Being part of a community where you can knock on somebody's door or somebody could pick up a package for you and keep it for you because you weren't home, having my kids know their neighbors- that was an experience that I've never grown up with.

Elizabeth continues on to say,

I've always been very engaged in the neighborhood in an organizing standpoint, so my kids know a lot of our neighbors. We look out for each other. We drop by and drop food off at each other's houses. It's things that sound basic and simple but it speaks to the sense of the community living here that I've never really experienced in other places.

Johnson's Park is located near Elizabeth's home in Lindsay Heights.

CM: What kinds of changes have you experienced while living in Lindsay Heights, from the time you started living here until now?

ED: Over the years, it took lots of advocacy, fundraising, and a lot of trying to shift ideas and misconceptions and biases about our community and the value in vesting in our community. So over time, we've had lots of changes in (Johnson's) park and lots of changes in Alice's Garden that really has made it a space that is community and family friendly and is accessible and safe.

Elizabeth discussed the ways systemic barriers have been depriving the community of multiple vital resources, like access to healthy food, clean parks, and affordable housing. She elaborated on how the media perpetuates the deficit-based narrative about the neighborhood.

ED: Anytime we would do something positive in our neighborhood and we would send out press releases and ask people to come and recognize it, capture it, or communicate about it, we wouldn't be able to get any input from the broader media. It's frustrating how systematic it is that there's a lack of will to talk about what's good.

CM: Have your experiences living in Lindsay Heights influenced your teaching practice?

ED: Yeah, they're totally intertwined. I think as I've taught and worked and researched over the years, I've been called upon because there's not a lot of faculty of color or Black faculty at UWM.

Elizabeth shared with the team a story about how the community was advocating for the revitalization of a park that had been flooded in Lindsay Heights. She was able to connect this lived experience into her teaching practice as an example of the ways deficit-based narratives and biases take place within social framework.

ED: My service in my community has been a part of my professional work at UWM. What I experience in my community, I integrate into my teaching. So I have to connect it all, because otherwise it's just overwhelming.

CM: How do you think that we express the changes that you want to see using arts and arts programing in Adams Garden Park as well as Johnson's Park?

ED: I think that there could be more art installations that are more permanent but then maintained. I think that the biggest thing is really talking about it, the marketing of what's happening, the amplification of it. I think that's the biggest thing, whatever we do. People will drive by or they'll hear certain labels of our community. They'll have a certain idea and I think that's difficult for us to shift that. There definitely needs to be outreach to the entire Lindsay Heights community about it, but there also needs to be positive marketing (to the broader community) about whatever is happening.

Danielle Washington

Danielle works as a Managed Care Quality Specialist at Wisconsin Department of Health Services. She is a current resident in Lindsay Heights. Her earliest memory dates way back to December of 2003, where she first felt a connection with the community through playing sports.

SK: What is the most cherished memory you have of living in Lindsay Heights?

DW: I was pregnant in 2017. So, the gentlemen in the community who would have been written off by society and considered gang-affiliated, they were really attentive to me and my needs when I was pregnant. They would go and bring me vegetables and fruits so I could have a healthy pregnancy. They would stop by the house to see if I needed anything. If I needed snacks, they would go to the grocery store and pick that up for me. So to me, that's super cherished because these are individuals who society would say "get rid of them", but to me, they were so attentive.

I see people (In Lindsay Heights) trying to find a way to be resilient and to have a foothold in the community.

SK: What are some changes you would like to see in your community?

DW: I would like to see landlords (especially those who don't live in the community) being held accountable for the eyesores that exist right now. I would also like to see programs for people living in the community to own their homes, since so many people in the community are renters.

I would like to see spaces where people can gather to make art, or just express themselves. I would love to see a gazebo so people could go out there and sing, dance, do poetry, whatever it may be. I'm also thinking that it could be a space for our youth and our elders to convene together.

Danielle discusses the ways in which over-policing has caused harm to the neighborhood, resulting in disharmony and confusion among community members.

DW: I see police all the time here. It's a disruption to peace and I think that's the purpose. Their role is not conducive to how I want to live. It's not conducive to how our community wants to live. Societies have existed without police, so I don't think that there's a real need for them.

In terms of our cities' budget, it could not be so bloated for police officers. It could be actually for helping people not be homeless, not be food insecure, for people who are in violent relationships, fighting abuse and mental health issues. They consume too much of our money and they are inefficient. If you look at their track record, they don't do what they're supposed to do.

Danielle was asked by the team what makes Lindsay Heights a unique community to be a part of.

DW: Well, I'm always very fond of the type of community that's here. We have people of all ages who care about you. I think that's really unique. They try to make sure that if you have goals, that you have the resources that you need to achieve those goals. It's very family-oriented. When you have built that community, it feels like family.

Portia Cobb

Portia is a professor at UW-Milwaukee. She serves as director of the Community Media Project, an arts outreach program of the Film, Video, Animation and New Genres Department. Portia has been involved in the Lindsay Heights community for about 10 years.

JK: Do you live and Lindsay Heights? If so, how long have you lived in the community?

PC: I don't live in Lindsay Heights, but I garden near by at Alice's Garden. I've lived in Milwaukee for 29 years now, but I live on the West Side.

JK: Is there a memory that you look back on fondly during your time working in Lindsay Heights?

PC: The class I taught, Experimental Ethnography, evolved out of developing a relationship with Sharon and Larry (Adams) and seeing what they were doing in the community with urban gardens and learning about the bigger story of creating a campus there. So, I think my fondest memory is just shadowing my students when they were creating the documentary.

Portia reflected on the memories she made while working with her students and community members in Lindsay Heights. You can watch the collaborative documentary here.

PC: We were telling the story of a house that was being renovated, I mean, they stripped everything. Getting to know the people who were the craftsman, who were rebuilding this home. I was thinking about placement a lot and understanding the perimeters of the community and how it impacted every life there. Those are my fond memories of being there.

JK: What made you decide that you wanted to send your students to do their community work in the Lindsay Heights neighborhood?

PC: It seemed to reflect what community felt like. I wasn't born in Milwaukee, but it felt like a common ground that people could enjoy having a good meal and that meal represented a cultural story for everybody. You know, good corned beef. Also, seeing people that looked like them working behind the counter. Or, for students who never moved beyond their campus boundaries, it was a way to send them into a space where they wouldn't necessarily stereotype it or feel that they were in a place that was not safe.

JK: What do you see the community doing right now to withstand gentrification?

PC: I'm seeing younger people realize their power of entrepreneurship. They are finding ways to revitalize the community. When I see incentives coming from the city of Milwaukee to enable that kind of entrepreneurship, it gives me hope that Milwaukee can hang on. I'm worried though, about stories that I read in the paper about outside investors, people who have never been here, being able to buy up whole communities where people pay lower rents or where people can't afford to keep their houses because taxes are going up. To see that it is becoming an epidemic here, that's disturbing.

You have to have stewards, I keep mentioning Larry and Sharon. I think that their revitalization is setting a foundation for what's happening right now into the future. So that young people have healthy ideas of what is possible. I think that (Lindsay Heights) is the example for other communities. They're aware of empowerment and investment and I see it ever-evolving.

JK: What do you wish other people knew about Lindsay Heights?

PC: It holds so much. It holds a story. It holds history. It holds people who I would consider visionaries. There are artists who live nearby. There's family life. It feels like the heartbeat of the community in a lot of ways. I feel like it's a really good example for the city of Milwaukee.

Interview Team

Christiana McClurg

Christiana is a Pre-Service Art Educator and Psychology Minor at UW-Milwaukee. Christiana is enrolled in Community Arts II engaged in service learning through UWM for the Adams Garden Park Arts Initiative. She is the creator of this presentation.

Jonny Keane

Jonny is a freshman Computer Science Major at Milwaukee School of Engineering, taking part in a student leadership program working with Walnut Way and the Lindsay Heights Neighborhood. Their goal is to create an ecommerce platform that allows local businesses and side hustles in the neighborhood to interact in an online environment, especially during COVID-19.

Sam Keyser

Sam is a freshman computer science major at Milwaukee School of Engineering, enrolled in classes that discuss the history of civil rights and injustice in the US and in Milwaukee. For his student leadership project, he is creating an accessible archive of the civil rights history and social justice movement happening in Milwaukee.

Students' Reflection from the Project

After the interviews, the team got a chance to discuss the things they learned about working in the community and how it felt.

CM: Everybody that we interviewed, including us, are all of different ages and had different experiences, fields, and relationships to Lindsay Heights. It was cool to hear how all of that took part in how each person became involved in their community.

SK: Getting to talk with community members on an individual basis was really rewarding. In the larger setting like a classroom, you lose a little bit of that individual connection. Through this project, I started to realize how important that individual connection is for doing community projects.

JK: One thing I thought was really interesting that they all had in common with each other was how they all talked about how inter-connected the community is. Most of the problems being caused were from outside sources, like the landlords, police, and the media. It's interesting because they aren't interacting with the community on an intimate level, they don't understand what the community needs.

CM: Yeah, it's interesting to think about how we can view communities in more of a relational way, rather than how we think it should look like based off the dominant culture saying, "this is what a successful community looks like". It felt like a lot of what made that community special was the stuff that you can't see. I want to be more invested in learning how Lindsay Heights fosters those connections because I feel like other communities have something to learn from them.

JK: I was thinking about my community when I was growing up, we were close with our next door neighbors, but everyone else across the street, we weren't super connected. I don't know if it's because of an age difference. Seeing how community members in Lindsay Heights described it, there's a flow of all ages and people interacting with one another.

SK: What seems like a positive feedback loop is once you get the community to start interacting, that fosters more community interaction. It just gets easier.

With each person involved in the project came from different walks of life, the topic of interdisciplinary action became a running theme throughout the interviews.

CM: Our individuality is so important and also plays a role in how you show up for your community. When you can be your authentic self, then you have so much more to offer than trying to be what you think the community wants you to be like. It's a double edged sword.

JK: There's so many elements that you can put into the community to make it better. It's hard to get those going, but if it becomes ingrained in the community than it becomes more natural. It's interesting to see how all these disciplines come together. You can make a difference through art, you can make a difference through technology and it becomes even better if you can combine the two in some form.