Smoke Signals of the #MilwaukeeUprising

A toolkit for those willing to widen their hearts and minds to what is happening in Milwaukee

Now is the time for more compassion, more love in action, more justice and liberation, more seeking understanding, more sacrifice and generosity on behalf of each other. The violent neglect of poverty, police brutality, inequality, and racism is clamoring for our attention and response. Will our response be justice and healing, or retaliation and blame?

Porath Bakery.jpg

I grew up in Milwaukee for 28 years. My great-great-grandfather came straight here from Germany and opened up Kullmann's Bakery on 7th & Mitchell in what was then a German and Polish immigrant neighborhood on Milwaukee's South Side; now those streets are lined with panaderías and vibrant new generations of Mexican inmigrantes. My great-grandfather ran Porath Bakery on 51st and North Ave on Milwaukee's North Side; a neighborhood now adjacent to the highest-Black-population and highest poverty zip codes in the state. My grandmother participated in white flight and zipped out to the suburbs, where my mother put down roots and I was raised for 18 years without having any awareness of the extreme Black and Brown poverty and criminalization just 15 minutes away from our high-performing school district. It wasn't until I moved to the South Side to work with Latin@ youth and families that the left-behind stories of my ancestors who had lived on those very same blocks began to be casually mentioned at the dinner table.

My roots run under and across all these neighborhoods. My history and my family is implicated in these divisions and how they came to be.

This isn't someone else's neighborhood; someone else's problem.
This isn't someone else's violence -- this is OUR legacy of violence. 

"Smoke Signals" by Josiah Werning

The past 48 hours have been a rollercoaster from "what is happening?" to "what can I do" to "this is our moment" to "I don't know enough" to "I need to step into leadership" to "I need to convince people" to "let go, use your voice, and make space to learn what is needed."

What happened last night was not the result of greed or an ignorant display of anger as some have called it, but rather pain and frustration built up from over 400 years of oppression.
— Coalition for Justice

And then I read "Evidence of Things Unknown" by Reggie Jackson and started to get more facts and contextualize this moment in history. I balanced the hopelessness and fear from reading the hateful online comments with a conversation with a conservative family member that surprised and relieved me with its compassion. I took a breath and reached out to a couple yoga teacher friends to ask how we might bridge these conversations in our community, and they took initiative. I saw images and posts of old church friends joining in prayer and cleanup in Sherman Park. I continued to follow some of my most respected leaders (listed below) and felt trust and gratitude for their protection and dedication to the community.

One thing is certain: all of our leadership is needed now. Whether it's the leadership act of engaging a coworker or family member to intervene for a compassionate and anti-racist understanding of this moment, pausing to find out more or take a breath, volunteering with or donating to a community group, or hitting the streets, this is all of our moment to move the needle toward love and justice.

Now is the time to tune in, open your ears and your heart, and discern where your leadership is being called up. Here's some reading and leaders to follow to begin:

#Milwaukeeuprising Reading List

"The best way to connect with people is to serve. It’s not to criticize, it’s not to critique or to sit removed. It’s really about rolling up your sleeves and getting engaged. And also doing it from a place of humility. Service should be about humility and not about coming in and sort of saving this community... When you have the loss of life, the outrage and the pain that comes from that is completely understandable. I’m not excusing the destruction of property. But we can’t ignore the root causes of someone’s pain."

-- Office of Violence Prevention Director Reggie Moore on the Sherman Park Uprising by Lisa Kaiser, Shepherd Express

From the Kerner Commission, 1967: "What white Americans have never fully understood but what the Negro can never forget – is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it."

-- Evidence of Things Unknown by Reggie Jackson, Milwaukee Independent

"'Unless something is done about the uninhabitable conditions that the Black man has to live in, Milwaukee could become a holocaust,' the Rev. James E. Groppi, a leading civil rights activist at the time, told the City Council five days before [Milwaukee 1967 riot] started."

-- Racial Violence in Milwaukee Was Decades in the Making, Residents Say by John Eligon, New York Times

"There's a comfort in embracing a binary of 'good' and 'bad.' One does not have to think too deeply about history, patterns, or injustices. One doesn't have to consider the policies that actually created the conditions for his pain. Smith's death was a spark to a powder keg built up decades before he was killed Saturday night."

-- Milwaukee is my hometown. These clashes were decades in the making. by Syreeta McFadden, The Guardian

"Although participants chose a distressing way to express their frustration and anger and I do not agree with the choices made, the folks who awakened the city of Milwaukee last night did not strike the first match. Those matches were struck decades ago and the flames have been fed by policy and power, racism and classism, apathy and intentionality. Let something purposeful rise from the ashes."

-- The "unrest" in this city began decades ago by Venice R. Williams

"Sudan Smith, brother of 23-year-old victim Sylville Smith, was hysterical. I only caught him for a moment when I said 'I am here for you' to which he responded 'I have nothing left.'"

-- What it's like to experience Black pain in Milwaukee by Miela Fetaw, Huffington Post

"I also remember my first experience of racism. During class at an elementary school in South Carolina, a teacher called me a nigger under her breath when I turned in some classwork to her. She said this to a child getting an education. Can you imagine that happening to you on a daily basis all of your life? Can you imagine what that does to someone’s confidence and emotional state over time?"

-- What we are missing as a city is empathy by Tarik Moody, 88.9 Radio Milwaukee

"Perhaps we don't need to spend time trying to 'figure out' what needs to be done, because these people already know. So let's trust them and, most important, let's give them what they need to strengthen and heal Milwaukee: sponsorship, support and money."

-- What can I do to help Milwaukee? Here are 12 answers by Molly Snyder, OnMilwaukee

Growing discontent sparks Milwaukee protests, video from MSNBC

Resources for racial justice and healing from CTZNWELL

Practice Showing Up: A practice guide containing writing, meditation, embodied movement, prayer, reflection, and other practices to support white people working for racial justice


trusted leaders to follow for breaking news + how to engage

Coalition for Justice
Reggie Moore, Center for Youth Engagement
Sharlen Moore, Urban Underground
Venice Williams, Alice's Garden
Pastor Steve Jerbi, All Peoples Church
Emilio de Torre, ACLU of Wisconsin
Showing up for Racial Justice (SURJ) Milwaukee
CTZNWELL Milwaukee


Please add any articles, organizations, and leaders that are moving you into understanding and action in the comments. The smoke signals have been sent up - how will we respond?