Bronzeville MKE is dear to my heart. As a life long community member I've watched the neighborhood that includes Dr. Martin Luther King Drive rise and fall. In 2013 our discontent with the recent fall came to a boiling point.
I was minding my business driving down the street. At the intersection of Dr. Martin Luther King Drive and North Avenue there was a vacancy. It was previously a Walgreens, Chase Bank, WE Energies and Warner Cable location. Shekinah Printing was also housed in this mini mall. These businesses left, Shekinah Printing moved further down Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, Walgreens moved further up the same street. On this particular day there was something different. The vacancy had a Dollar Tree sign on display.
I know you're wondering why this matters. What's wrong with a Dollar Tree going in this location? It used to be a Walgreens, what's wrong with replacing it with a similar store option? Isn't something in the vacant space better than nothing? All these questions were valid questions to ask. But here's what was different about this location: This location was slated to be a fresh food store. There were multiple community meetings and stakeholder conversations in which the consensus was to resolve the food desert issue. And the most flagrant foul of the situation is the loan that was provided to then owner of said space to provide this option was misused.
I immediately called my Alderwoman. Alderwoman Coggs has been a long time advocate for this issue, and was already being flooded by calls to address this issue by community members. We were livid. So we turned our anger into action.
At the time I was serving on the NAACP board as the Communications Chair, and Jasmine Johnson was serving as Chair of the Young Adult Committee. We worked together on lots of issues, so this was a no brainer for us both. We launched an online campaign called #NoDollarTree. We attended countless meetings, we raised our voices but most importantly we showed up the the Licensing Committee with our concerns when the Dollar Tree attempted to secure their permit to open.
Our campaign was organized, strategic and well thought out. But beyond that, the neighborhood wanted more. We didn't prep every person in the room to testify, but the testimonies aligned with the issues. Dollar Tree locations in Milwaukee had cleanliness issues both inside and outside the stores. Neighborhoods that were concerned about their existing locations were there to speak to their own representatives. The terms of the loan were not being met, although that was not an issue for licensing, it was an issue that all the common council members had to take into consideration when voting. The advocacy campaign was successful. Their license was denied.
After this victory we were immediately met with backlash from social media. People personally attacked us, said we were just pulling a publicity campaign. People said that location would remain vacant. People were just doubting that we could successfully secure a grocery store.
Fast forward to 2017, and we now have Pete's Fruit Market in Bronzeville. I took an early tour of the location yesterday and I was blown away. It looks better than Whole Foods. It is what the community deserves. And it is the quality product that we see at the already existing location for Pete's Fruit Market on the south side of Milwaukee. I'm so proud to have been part of a campaign that didn't just fight the problem, but also presented a viable solution. Nothing but good things to come for the Bronzeville Arts and Cultural District MKE!!!