Growing up, I was told never to hang out before the bridge. If you're not from Milwaukee, you’re probably super confused, so let me explain. I always thought of Milwaukee as a great city to hang out in and group up around. While it’s going out scene surpasses the majority of the country for the number of bars per capita, like any city, it does display poverty. I was taught growing up that with poverty comes violence. As I get older, I don’t see this being the case (this isn’t a debate whether poverty and violence are correlated, the aim of this is to teach that preconceived notions don't always hold true, so bear with me).
The bridge I am referring to is located on Locust Ave, just north of Humbolt Blvd and just south of Cambridge Ave, an area known as Riverwest. Now, for the record, I am a white male who grew up in an affluent family, I usually got what I wanted, money wasn’t an issue, my perspective was clouded. With this being known, my perspective of what good and bad areas are very skewed.
I recently met a friend for a dinner and drink at a restaurant that was before the bridge. I had mixed feelings. I wasn't nervous, per se, just weary. With an open mind, I attended and am glad I did.
On the walk around the city to the restaurant, we encountered many smiling faces and many hello’s. We passed basketball courts decorated with unique artwork on the fences that surrounded them. Our waiter was exceptionally playful and pippy. The dive bar owner shot the shit with us while we drank beers. People all around us threw positives vibes out left and right like they had a stash in their pocket. It was refreshing and everyone felt connected. It was a small little world, within a large city, that they collectively called…home.
They stand on a street corner for eight hours a day, sometimes ten, as a beggar. The skin on their forehead was peeling from exposure, it isn’t to say their skin was sun-kissed, but rather sun scarred. Regardless of the person and if they receive a donation, they wave to each and every person that passes them as they post up and hold down their corner.
Time to give back.
I pulled into the parking lot to the right of their post. I parked, got out, and made my way to the trunk. Pop. I opened the trunk and dug through the white bag that housed the shoes I no longer worn. I searched for a pair that I felt suited them. Ah, these. They were a bright green and ocean blue skater shoe made by Nike, Air Max to be specific. However, these weren’t your everyday Air Max. No. They were designed by a young boy who survived brain cancer. The blue and green colors symbolized the green grass and blue water of the world. His mantra used during tough times of chemo wrapped the laces. The picture of the needle used during treatment ran the length of the tongue. The inner soles of the shoes were a picture of a brain with the name “Chase” imprinted on the heel. My thoughts were that these shoes symbolized motivation and they could use some at this point in their life. I ran across the street to give back.
We had a lengthy conversation that day, something I didn’t expect, but need to hear.
Perspective is greatly different from that of a beggar to that of a person witnessing a beggar. From my perspective, I see a person standing at a corner, going up to cars, and receiving cash. Then, returning to their post to it over, and over, and over again. From their perspective it’s as follows:
“It’s demoralizing. People throw things at you, you feel like shit. People spit and yell at you. It’s awful.”
During our conversation, I learned this person got fired from their job, got their car stolen, moved to the streets with what they had, that got stolen, and here they are. They also, “live” behind a dumpster of a local store.
I live in the area where this happens so I see them often. I wave and acknowledge them when I can. My hope is that I can cheer them up for a split second, take them out of a place of misery, and place them in momentary comfort.
As I walked away, I asked if I could take them out to dinner when they are available next time. They took their eyes off the pavement, looked at me, and said with strong conviction, “If I am here next time, I’m trying to get off these streets.”
With that attitude you are going places my friend.
Change. It’s easy when we want it (the few that try for it), but when it’s out of our control, it’s difficult. Change is difficult because we are conditioned to adapt. Comfort comes easy and in today's society, comfort is the norm. For the few that aren't apart of the rat race, they find comfort within the uncomfortable. They control what they can, with what little they have, and they accept how things are. They are emotionally intellgent humans. Somthing a school test can’t comprehend.
Change doesn’t change people. It provides opportuntiy. It’s up to the individual weather they sieze the moment or sucum becoming a victum of the world. Individuals who do take action, view the world as a university, insofar as, the fruits of the world are for the taking. Self loathing does not occur because they acknowledge the consequences of thier actions. Actions are purposful and calculated. They move in one direction and arn’t afrid to change directions.