A public installation driven by community conversation, 2013

Harambee

Published on October 31st, 2013 | by adamcarr

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Harambee Community Session

On a Saturday at True Love Missionary Baptist Church, we convened a session with community members from the broader Harambee Community. This included Pastor Levy, Melody Williams, Sunne Perry, Tressie Sneed, Chris Grandt, Leif Otteson, J. Allen Stokes, and Glinda Loving.

We warmed up with some stories from the neighborhood. The pace of the conversation really picked up with we started discussing the Main Event — the group had a wide-ranging and vivid set of memories. We finished with questions the group wanted to pose to their community.

Below, find excerpts from that conversation.


The neighborhood

My love is in the community.

The purpose is no longer there.

Sometimes we have to get out of our lane.

Doing things we don’t have to do.

Everything he said, I could feel it.

Everyone had their own crowd, and it was a place to be seen.


The Main Event

You’d see it driving up King Drive — the Main Event.

I’d see the cars, I’d hear the music.

The host? Jimmy Mack. He made sure everything and everybody was in order.

He had control. The Main Event was his place.

The bar took on his persona. There was no doubt — he was the owner.

It was small. Intimate.

You didn’t walk in the bar and just sit. Whatever the activity, you got into it.

It was crowded. People dancing, talking. It wasn’t just a bar — people congregated.

All the jazz bands were there.

There was talent — guys could play. Folks coming from all over the city.

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, they’d at least have a trio.

They’d pick up a sax or guitar or whatever they play and jump right into the song.

Just to sit around and listen…

I carried my daddy’s saxophone. And I carried it like I could play.

Playing was his second job. He fed us a lot of times with that saxophone.

They’d make maybe 10, 15, 20 dollars a night. The next day you got something to eat. Lunch money.

Music was a second job. Then, get up and go to work the next day.

Everybody doing something in the community would come in at some time or another.

After work, we’d stop in at the Main Event before going home to kids.

It was the place to be for professional folks and politicians, firemen, police officers… and people who just wanted to party.

I don’t know if it was about community, consciously. That’s just what it was.

(And every Thursday, it was Lady’s Night. I don’t know how much I can tell you about that.)

(Fun. Not too much fun, but almost.)

When it closed, there was a sadness. There’re other places, but they aren’t the Main Event.


Questions

Where can we be calm? Where can we be common?

If we had to make one wish, together, what would it be?

Where does your obligation start? Where does it end?

What is the size of your community?

When will you let the pain from your past propel you to progress?

What would give you pride in your home?

Whose job is it? Really. Whose job is it?

Am I doing enough? Do I know what enough is?

Can I stay angry enough to do something about it? (And maintain patience?)

What can I do with the pain?

How can I turn the fight into something positive?


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  • TypeFace in Harambee

    Puzzled and Amazed is located at Five Points, between Keefe and MLK Blvd on Port Washington

    In Milwaukee’s African-American community, the Main Event embodied its name wholly. Nestled in a busy intersection of the Harambee neighborhood, the bar also served as an intersection for a broad range of community members: politicians, jazz musicians, journalists, educators, tastemakers, organizers. After falling into disrepair in 2011, after 37 years at the location, the Main Event was demolished, leaving a conspicuous void in its place.

    With Puzzled and Amazed, community members bring vital conversation back to this once-brimming site. History and memory, invisible but felt.

    In the Harambee neighborhood, the TypeFace team worked with neighboring Shiloh Tabernacle and Riverworks to host a series of community conversations. These sessions prompted Shiloh’s congregation and Harambee neighbors to paint pictures of the site’s bygone days. Additionally, participants shared questions — challenges to the responsibility and accountability of the community-at-large. Excerpts are incorporated into Puzzled and Amazed.

    Explore fragments of those conversations here.

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