All Day MKE: Celebrating Milwaukee’s Young Artists

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The youth in this city are finding a way to raise their voice through art and connect Milwaukee’s neighborhoods.  This coming Sunday, August 12th, True Skool and the Lincoln Center Children’s Outing Association (LCCOA) are teaming up with the Milwaukee Art Museum to celebrate those voices with their event, All Day MKE.  Show your support for the young artists by bringing your family and joining in from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m at the Milwaukee Art Museum.  The event is free and open to the public.

Starting at 1:00 p.m., the teen interns from the museum’s 2018 ArtXpress program will unveil their mural followed by the LCCOA dance performance at 2:00 p.m.   True Skool will have DJs and performances to keep your ears buzzing throughout the day.

Support these organizations that make it their mission to raise up Milwaukee’s youth and give them the opportunities they need to succeed.  Be inspired by their work that brings us together as a city.

All Day MKE

View the full schedule here:

 

10am-4pm  MAM Teen Artist Marketplace

(Schroeder & Baumgartner Gallerias)

 

11am & 3pm What’s Good?

Take an adventurous tour of the galleries with our MAM Teen Interns

(Baumgartner Collection Entrance)

 

10am-4pm Make Your Mark

Get creative with your friends!

(Windhover Terrace, Cudahy Gardens)

 

True Skool

DJs and Performances throughout the day

(Windhover Prow & Terrace)

 

1-2pm MAM ArtXpress Teen Mural Unveiling

(Windhover Hall)

 

2-3pm Lincoln Center Children’s Outing Association Dance Performance

(Location TBD)

 

Our Vision for MKE – The SoapBox Project with Still Waters Collective

The SoapBox Project is an experiential design for public discourse.

(Windhover Hall – South Alcove)

Maudwella Kirkendoll

Maudwella Kirkendoll grew up in Milwaukee’s 53206 neighborhood, which gave him a perspective of people who work long, hard hours to support their families but still need some help to get by. It’s that perspective that drove Kirkendoll to become the devoted community worker that he is today. “I know there is some point when you can move people from needing help to the people that are helping,” he says.

Kirkendoll loved growing up on the North Side because of the sense of community, but it was also a rough part of town because of crime and poverty. The deaths of friends due to violence and lower economic status in the neighborhood were simply circumstances he had to navigate through. Once he learned how to overcome those challenges, though, he found a way to help others do the same.

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When he was a child, Kirkendoll describes standing in endless lines with his mother, waiting to receive government assistance. He remembers feeling embarrassed and treated poorly at the time—two things that motivated him to change the system to make it easier for people with similar situations. In 2000, Kirkendoll was hired as a caseworker at Community Advocates (CA) and has since worked his way up to become the company’s chief operating officer. The reason he was drawn to the organization was its passion for helping people, a characteristic that has persisted for the past 18 years.

CA is a social service agency that is composed of four divisions: Basic Needs, Milwaukee Women’s Center, Behavior Health and Public Policy. People come to CA’s Basic Needs Division for assistance with issues including housing, landlord issues and tenant training. The Milwaukee Women’s Center Division provides a family shelter, domestic violence shelter, drug treatment programs and more. The Behavior Health Division aims to relocate people living on the street into permanent housing. Simultaneously, CA works on changing public policies that will help reduce poverty and transition people into regular jobs. This only touches on the many programs CA implements, but they impact the lives of community members in so many more ways.

One program that drastically affected Kirkendoll’s life—and the lives of the participants of this particular program—is the mentoring of young men at the Racine Youthful Offender Correctional Facility. Kirkendoll and other mentors go into the prison matched with young incarcerated men in hopes of steering them onto the right path for their lives post-incarceration.

Kirkendoll strongly connects with these men because, as he says to them, “I’ve been where you’ve been. I grew up in the same area, had some of the same experiences, and you guys can make it. Stay focused.” These men need someone to understand what they’ve been through and someone to guide them to the right choices at times of weakness.

Connecting with one another and taking the time to listen is what makes a difference for so many people looking for a safe haven when they walk through the doors of Community Advocates. Our community is hurting in so many ways, and it’s time for us to follow this model—and Maudwella Kirkendoll’s personal example—and listen to those that are speaking the loudest.

 

View the article on the Shepherd Express website, part of my regular Hero of the Week column. 

CORE El Centro

Our current health care system is complex, difficult to navigate, and inaccessible to people with limited funds and recourses. Especially for people from different cultural backgrounds, these challenges can feel impossible to overcome. But CORE El Centro understands health differently.  To them, health is an elaborate web of pieces that we must tie together to be our best selves and that starts with a safe space to practice healing.  When co-founders Jayne Ader and Madeline Gianforte started CORE El Centro 16 years ago, they saw a need for an understanding of healing and access to health services in the community.  “People have this innate wisdom about their path and each path is different. So how do we help you find that,” says Ader.  Their goal is to inspire individuals and families to achieve optimal health by offering affordable services in both English and Spanish.

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Co-founders Jayne Ader and Madeline Gianforte

CORE El Centro treats members of the community that have limited access to health care due to low income, language barriers, cultural barriers and other factors. Most of the organization’s clients are Latino, but anyone is welcome for treatment.  Their ability to connect with clients through language and culture is what makes CORE El Centro unique.  When a client first visits the building, they meet with a staff member called a health navigator, who discusses their health concerns, problems at home, and general troubles to truly understand the factors impacting their health.  “They can really connect with what you are going through,” says Carla Del Pozo, director of the Integrative Health and Wellness program.  These health navigators are able place the client with the best possible practitioners because they are trained community health workers and people from the community.  In order to heal someone, CORE believes you must first get to know them and understand where their pain originated from.

The organization is built with four main programs: Integrated Health and Wellness, Gardening and Nutrition, Children’s Wellness and Volunteers.  They offer one-on-one sessions in therapies such as acupuncture and massage, as well as courses like reiki, yoga, gardening and nutrition.  CORE El Centro has also built strong relationships over years with their partners, such as Aurora Walker’s Point Clinic, The Healing Center and others.  These close relationships allow CORE to confidently refer clients who are in need of different healing services than what they offer.  “Part of the mission is building community,” explains Ader. “By building community, you also heal.”  When people are given access to health care through language, cost and community members that understand their needs, people are able to better themselves and give back to their community.

 

View the article on the Shepherd Express website, part of my regular Hero of the Week column. 

Dr. Kyana Young and the Marquette University Strategic Innovation Fund

Dr. Kyana Young, a postdoctoral fellow at Marquette University, began working in the Global Water Center in 2016.  With a background in environmental engineering, Young’s passion is finding solutions for safe water to improve global and public health.  Soon after she arrived, it occurred to her that there was a lack of diverse groups of people represented in the building.  But it didn’t take her long to do something about that.

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She spoke with staff at Marshall High School and Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), including Larry Farris, Toby Hairston, Rochelle Sandrin, Jan Haven, and Megan Sun, who helped her come up with an idea for a program that would provide opportunities to demographics that are underrepresented in scientific fields relating to water research.  She applied for a grant from Marquette University with the support of the group at MPS, and was awarded the Marquette University Strategic Innovation Fund Grant.  The grant made it possible for her to provide internships to students at Milwaukee’s Marshall High School and bring them to the labs of the Global Water Center to do hands-on research. When working in the classroom at Marshall High School, the youth learn how to write lab reports and do data analysis with their teacher Megan Sun.  The students are taught how to apply their newly learned scientific knowledge to solve real world problems.

Each student is assigned a project for the semester by participating companies and universities.  Young asked these organizations to host and mentor the youth, including Stonehouse Water Technologies, Youth Rising Up, Solar Water Works, DRM International Inc., Sun Yat-Sen University, Grand Valley State University, Assembly of God and Marquette University.  Dr. Young knew that the students needed more than community partners, they needed mentors like Dr. Moe Mukiibi, the chief technology officer at Stonehouse Water Technologies (the company with the most interns in the program), to make the program a success.  The program is meant to “create a path for them that could be life changing, so that they can see why they are working in a lab and see what this can become,” says Mukiibi.

“When you provide an opportunity and you back that up with resources, this is what can happen,” says Young as she describes how the students have excelled far beyond the expectations of the program. “This impacts the global community.”  Thanks to Young and the team at MPS, these students have a chance to explore their interests and realize career paths that can make a major difference in their lives.

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View the article on the Shepherd Express website, part of my regular Hero of the Week column. 

 

Fyxation Bicycle Company

Those of you that have strolled into the Fyxation bicycle shop in Riverwest, may not know the whole story behind the company that designs their own bicycles and parts.  The concept for the brand and their original product first came to light in 2009 when owners Nick and Jessica Ginster were living in Taiwan.  An idea popped into Nick Ginster’s head to design a bicycle tire for fixed gear bikes that had both sturdy tread and was available in multiple colors; a niche in the market.  He was originally contracted by a company to make the tire, but they backed out.  So, with the encouragement from his wife Jessica, they decided to invest in the brand and take the tire to market.  At the same time, Nick’s brother Ben Ginster came on the team to run the accounting and logistical side of the business.  With a perfectly balanced group of people driven to succeed, the company was born.

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Originally from Milwaukee, Nick and Jessica first met over 20 years ago while working together at a bike shop.  Nick worked as a mechanic and Jessica was the store manager.  They were brought together by their love for bicycling, health and spreading adventure.  Nick was always mechanically inclined and an avid biker since a child, and at the age of 13, he disassembled a snow blower engine to create a gas-powered bicycle.  His mom looked at his dad and said “engineer.”  The rest is history.  Jessica, however, has a background in health, science and community engagement.  She has a natural talent of adapting to rapidly changing circumstances and understanding the needs of Fyxation’s customers.

Before moving back to Milwaukee in 2009 to start Fyxation, the couple lived in Taiwan for five years because of Nick’s job that involved overseas production of bicycle products.  He later took that knowledge to start his own company (still in Taiwan), doing product design and product sourcing overseas for U.S. companies.   When Nick and Jessica came back to the United States, they first presented their fixed gear tire with Ben at the world’s largest bicycle trade show.  “Fyxation has always been a Milwaukee company and Milwaukee is our home,” says Nick.

The business took off when they found distributers to sell their product through bike shops around the U.S. and globally, but this did not happen by luck.  It was a “very tactical approach,” explains Jessica.  Their well laid-out plan combined with years of experience allowed the company to grow quickly.  Soon after their tire was on the market, other companies began making competitive tires so Fyxation started diversifying their products to include pedals, parts, accessories, frames, and then bikes.

“That has developed into the product line that you see today,” says Nick.  “We are quick to change when we need to.  But from the beginning of our brand, we always made quality affordable products and we still do that.”

The time came when they needed a local warehouse.  The natural choice was to use the Pedal Milwaukee building in the Silver City neighborhood. The building was formerly owned by Tom Schuler of Team Sports but Fyxation just bought the space.  Until that point, Fyxation only sold their products through other bike shops, but when people started knocking on the door of the warehouse looking for a Fyxation store, the team decided it was time to open a public storefront, so they could better connect with their Milwaukee customers. “We had never been very good at telling our story locally,” explains Nick, “and when we opened the store, we had a public front and decided to change that.”  So, in 2014, the company opened the store you now know in Riverwest.

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Fyxation has continued to grow over the years, both in their production and community outreach.  One of their first local projects was designing a custom bike for Colectivo and have since expanded that by designing custom bikes for Lakefront Brewery, Milwaukee County Parks, Wisconsin Bike Fed, Goose Island, Nike and many other partners.  Nick’s favorite project they’ve done recently is their custom-designed bike for the Milwaukee people’s flag.  The bike was in such high demand that they decided to do a limited run of 40 bikes, which sold out in under a year. “We really believe in cycling and trying to help out in our communities as much as we can,” says Nick.  It’s impossible to list all of the ways Fyxation gives back in a short blog post, but to name a few, they host and support local organizations like DRAFT Milwaukee and Black Girls Do Bike.  Fyxation also donates to organizations outside of biking like Lymphoma & Cancer Society, Progressive Community Health Centers and Feeding America.

Everything they do as a company comes back to their core mission: to deliver adventure.  Fyxation wants to be a place where people of all ethnicities, backgrounds and experience levels feel comfortable to get on a bike and ask questions.  “One of the strongest suits that I bring is the fact that I am a female in a male-dominated industry and I’m also a woman of color,” states Jessica. “For me, it’s all about empowering the consumer, empowering the community.  Knowledge is power so let’s share the knowledge I’ve gained with people who are intimidated.”  Biking is for everyone, whether you’re the urban commuter, the mountain bike adventurer or the person that occasionally wants a little wind in your hair.  Stop by their shop so they can find the perfect bike to fit your style and help you discover your adventure.

Visit Fyxation’s website to get in touch or see their product line.

Finding Affinity: Sung

This month I want to do something a little different than my normal blog posts.  I recently spent five weeks in Vietnam and while in this drastically different culture, it made me think about how we relate to each other in Milwaukee.  Hear me out for a second.  At first, the country seemed so foreign that I could not relate at all, but after spending time there and getting to know the welcoming people, I started to realize that we have a lot in common.  Milwaukee sometimes struggles with this because as many of us know, it is a very segregated city.  This series called “Finding Affinity,” that I will occasionally post, is meant to help us find similarities in each other rather than differences.  If we can connect with one another, maybe we can make the world a more peaceful place.

 

Affinity:  /noun/

  1. a spontaneous or natural liking or sympathy for someone or something.
  2. a similarity of characteristics suggesting a relationship, especially a resemblance in structure between animals, plants, or languages.

 

* * *

“All of us, we’re not so different.”  Those were Sung’s words as she led me through the narrow paths of the rice fields near Sapa in Vietnam.  Sung was our tour guide, who proudly showed my friend and I around her village in the far north of the country.  We followed her for three days up and down steep dirt roads beneath banana leaves and foggy skies.  The only item she carried was her small, vibrant bag draped over her shoulder, made using of the colors of her village. Adversely, we were weighed down with our large backpacks hugging our waists, with the newest back-support technology.  It was a simpler way of life that she shared with us, but not necessarily an easier one.

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Sung is 38 years old, no taller than four and a half feet, with five children and a husband.  The family lives with her husband’s parents because that is the tradition in her culture.  While Sung works the rice fields and leads tours to support the family (as most of the women do), her husband’s parents take care of the children and the home.  Having her children in school, Sung explains to us, is more important than anything because she wants to give them the opportunities she never had.  And isn’t that what all parents want?  Her daughter recently taught her how to spell her own name because Sung never learned to read or write.  Yet, her spoken English is nearly perfect, thanks to the tourists she has talked with every day for the last 6 years.

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My friend and I shared long conversations with her, revealing pieces of each other’s lives for about 10 hours a day, and we slowly came to realize how similar we are, regardless of the cultural differences.  We are all searching for happiness and finding a balance in our lives.  Often all of us must compromise our hobbies and desires for our obligations.  The moment this all became obvious was when we took a break from hiking to swim in a peaceful river at the base of a waterfall.  As I was sitting on a rock drying off, I noticed Sung was perched atop the adjacent boulder with her long hair let out, deep in thought looking over the valley.  It was her bold independent gaze that I recognized in myself; a woman determined to achieve her goals, no matter the cost.

We often get caught up in the conveniences and privileges in our lives, but we too easily forget that we all want the same things: peace, freedom and happiness.  Sung opened my eyes to her way of life and made me realize how lucky I am, but the truth is that we all have challenges and we all have to find a way to make the most of what we’ve been given.  On our last day together, we walked up a dirt road with the occasional motorbike zooming by, to sit above what seemed like endless rice fields stretching below us.  I tried to imagine what life would be like if I called this home.  After sitting quietly next to Sung for a few minutes, I looked at her, and she looked back and smiled.

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Kavon Cortez-Jones

When you first meet Kavon Cortez-Jones, you will be inspired by his optimism and avidity for Milwaukee.  Also known as K.J., he is a poet, spoken word performer and to some, a mentor who is immersed in Milwaukee’s art community.  His dedication to writing is remarkable to say the least. “I don’t think I’ve missed a day of writing in the past 10 years,” says Kavon proudly before mentioning that he has filled 65 composition books.  But his words don’t stop at the end of those pages, rather he makes a point to influence and teach others what writing has taught him.  Through performances, collaboration with various art organizations, and the written words in his book Club Noir, Kavon is very much a part of the city’s pulse.

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Currently 23 years old, Kavon grew up in the Harambee neighborhood of Milwaukee. Everything changed for him when Kwabena Antoine Nixon and Muhibb Dyer came to his elementary school to perform poetry for the students, as part of their “I Will Not Die Young” campaign.  “They wowed me with their performance and that was the spark,” explains Kavon. Ever since that day, he was inspired to write and become a poet but did not know what to write about until he met Paul Moga, an educator at Riverside High School who opened up new possibilities for him.  That’s when Kavon discovered performance and slam poetry, focusing his efforts on that medium.  K.J.’s early life in Harambee was challenging but writing carried him through and allowed him to express himself in the only way he knew how.  Now he tries to share his love for writing with others in the community.

After high school, Kavon started performing his poetry at open mics around the city such as Linneman’s and Miramar Theater, and now runs an open mic called “Express Yourself Milwaukee,” which happens on the second Friday of the month at 1300 West Fond du Lac Avenue in collaboration with the Express Yourself Milwaukee youth organization.  After gaining recognition, he began receiving commissions to perform at places like the Kimpton Hotel and to run poetry workshops for students at Whitefish Bay Middle School and Riverside High School.  “It’s beneficial for folks in Milwaukee to learn poetry because it’s so subjective. All you need is a notebook and a pen, and you can just create your life all over again. You can tell your story,” states Kavon.  He is also an intern at TRUE Skool, an organization where youth come to express themselves through hip-hop and the creative arts as a means to educate themselves in social justice leadership and entrepreneurship.  When Kavon teaches workshops, he has the kids “splash the page” or simply write down whatever is in their minds for 15 minutes, helping them to understand the self-discipline of writing.

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Kavon’s proudest achievement is his book Club Noir which showcases his writings from ages 18 to 22 and acts as his “coming of age story,” as he puts it. “I realized that poems kind of spilled out of me cuz I started writing about what I wanted to write about… That book is a dream come true.” As explained in the book’s introduction, Club Noir is Kavon’s imaginary utopia; a cafe by day and club by night, located on Doctor M.L.K. Drive that welcomes all people, specifically catering to the black community and is a safe haven in the midst of our complicated world. “Every city civilian from oldies, youngins to passionate visual artists and writers garrulously make the place come to life,” writes Kavon in his vibrant introduction.  Dive into his book to feel the essence of Milwaukee and the nostalgia of his youth.

If you want to have a genuine, engaging conversation, reach out to Kavon on Facebook (search Kavon Cortez-Jones) and he will most likely offer to meet you at one of the many coffee shops around the city where he finds his muse.  Listen to Kavon perform two of his poems by clicking the audio links below.  The first is called “Paris of the Midwest,” written when he was 18 years old and is featured in his book Club Noir.  The second poem is called “A Love Letter to Milwaukee,” written in 2017 at the age of 23.

“Paris of the Midwest”

“A Love Letter to Milwaukee”