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WUWM's Teran Powell reports on race and ethnicity in southeastern Wisconsin.

‘Heal The Hearts, Heal The Homes, Heal The Hoods. We Givin' The Hood Hope': Milwaukee's Ajamou Butler

Milwaukee Flyers Tumbling Team
Teran Powell
Heal the Hood founder Ajamou Butler (center) joins the Milwaukee Flyers Tumbling Team during their routine.

Milwaukeeans celebrated the 9th annual Heal the Hood Block Party on Saturday at 9th and Ring. It offered food, family fun, educational resources and fellowship.

Heal the Hood founder Ajamou Butler says the event creates an energy that makes connections with people “very real, very possible and very intimate.”

But Butler says healing the hood does not stop with a one-day event.

Collaboration, Butler says, is at the soul of Heal the Hood. He says, "That’s why we got partners like Markasa [Tucker] and AART (African American Roundtable), and We Got This and the city of Milwaukee Office of Violence Prevention and so on and so forth because Heal the Hood is not about me; it’s not about you; it’s not about your face, or your title or your position. It’s about ... how can we all play a role to add to the collective healing of our communities."

Butler continues, "And I think that's what makes Heal the Hood dope, like we don't discriminate with the movement. At Heal the Hood, you ‘gon see gangsters, religious leaders, LGBTQ community, white folks, brown folks, yellow folks, green folks — and if you care about the collective healing of communities of color particularly in Milwaukee then come on we got space for you at Heal the Hood."

Markasa Tucker, executive director of the African American Roundtable, says Heal the Hood creates a vibe in Milwaukee that has yet to be seen. The roundtable co-sponsored the block party.

"So, we are super excited to partner with Ajamou and the Heal the Hood family to bring opportunities for fellowship and community engagement and Black joy," she says. "And it's what we need, you know?"

Tucker adds, "We're making sure that the children are engaged. They're making sure that the adults have a space to have intergenerational space with the young people. They're giving away free food, and this is the form of violence prevention because you're bringing people together, you're helping people to develop relationships, you're creating spaces for people to come together and know one another, and that's where violence prevention starts. It starts with self-work, of course, but also the importance of relationship building."

2021 Heal The Hood
Teran Powell
People watch a dance team perform at the 2021 Heal The Hood Block Party.

Building on Tucker's point about relationship building and bringing people together, Butler shares some examples of how Heal the Hood is valuable to the community.

He says thinking about how Heal the Hood has impacted people shows that it's more than just an event and almost makes him want to cry.

Butler says one year, a little girl who had been shot in her face came to the block party with her granny. The girl's granny found Butler to tell him her granddaughter was really enjoying herself — it was the first time that she was able to be out in public and be OK. Butler says that warmed his heart.

Butler also mentions talking to a father, who is a regular at the block parties, about how it is a place that he and his kids connect.

"So he just simply said thank you. So, when I be hearing stories like that, like I be like, this is not an event, this is not a pop-up shop, this is not a one-time thing. This is something where our community can come and just like Markasa said form them connections and relationships," he says.

Tucker says continuing to heal the hood "is bringing what is needed to our communities to thrive and to also get what they need and unfortunately, we know that our people don't get what they need on a daily basis. So, if they can get hours and hours of Black joy time with one another creating, it's being able to be our full authentic selves thriving together safely in a space and getting our needs met."

Butler says he likes that word "authentic." "When I hear that word authentic in relation to heal the hood, we come to the alter of healing that's why we say healing is our religion, and we say, 'Hey, we know we need to do better personally, we need to do better in our households and we need to do better in our communities.' That's why our slogan is ‘Heal the hearts, heal the homes, heal the hoods.’"

Butler adds, "We can't talk about healing the ghettos until we talk about the individuals in the ghettos who deal with trauma."

"Social-emotional trauma — whether it's fatherhood or motherhood issues or, you know what I'm saying, health traumas, financial traumas, educational traumas. I don't think a healed hood looks like a destination, but a continuous journey because it's so much work to do," he says.

Butler continues, "But part of us healing the hoods looking like equipping our babies. And that's why when me and ‘Kasa do work, we constantly got youth around us. You know I’m in the school system; all of my kids all week been like, 'Butler, can we come to Heal the Hood and help out?” And they don't care if they got to pick up trash, they don't care if they gotta just stand there and look pretty with the Heal the Hood shirt on. … We givin’ the hood hope."

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Teran is WUWM's race & ethnicity reporter.
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