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Milwaukee social justice advocate Tammy Rivera recognized as Milwaukee Magazine Unity Award Winner

Tammy Rivera, executive director and lead organizer at the Southside Organizing Center and Milwaukee Magazine 2023 Unity Award winner
Kat Schleicher
Milwaukee Magazine
Tammy Rivera, executive director and lead organizer at the Southside Organizing Center and Milwaukee Magazine 2023 Unity Award winner

Milwaukee Magazine’s Unity Awards are dedicated to extraordinary people and organizations which are building a more fair, just and equitable Milwaukee.

Tammy Rivera, the executive director and lead organizer at the Southside Organizing Center(SOC) is one of this year’s recipients.

Rivera has held her position since 2015. The organization is dedicated to the growth and sustainability of Milwaukee’s near South Side neighborhoods, of which Rivera is a lifelong resident. Rivera has a lot of experience in nonprofit work in the Milwaukee area and believes in a holistic approach to community-building and social justice.

Rivera credits two main contributors to her journey: God and the people who instilled a passion for community service. She attributes her initial interest in community service to an experience she witnessed between her mother and social worker during her teenage years.

"My mom, she was a very beautiful woman on the outside, but she also was like a super optimistic, cheery, lovey-dovey person," Rivera recalls. "We entered the office with the social worker, and I remember the lady being very unkind. And my mom [began] really changing and looking ashamed and afraid. And it was so heartbreaking."

This experience and her participation in various youth programs growing up motivated Rivera to ensure that people in Milwaukee could find critical assistance and ignited her interest in pursuing high-level community service and nonprofit work. Rivera describes the transition into the nonprofit realm as seamless and natural. "I remember thinking, 'Wow, like I need to learn how to do this really well to help our people.' Like, I need to learn all aspects of nonprofits, and that's what I set out to do from [that] moment."

Rivera describes herself as constantly speaking of social justice concerns during this point in her life. She defines social justice as stability: a secure workplace, a home, access to food, and equal access to opportunities. To help foster this support, the SOC offers assistance in housing resources, bilingual services, civic engagement, neighborhood safety initiatives, neighborhood cleanup efforts, general community issues, COVID-19 assistanceand public services information, among other programs.

The culmination of these services are the result of being aware of the needs of the community.

Rivera says, "All of us — we're faced with critical issues, and so we cannot assume that everyone's life is the same. And so, when people ask me what do the neighbors need? I don't answer for them. I ask the neighbors and [then] tell them what the neighbors need."

If you or someone you know are in need of these resources or want to work with the Southside Organizing Center, you can reach them at soc@socmilwaukee.org or call (414) 672-8090.


Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Rob is All Things Considered Host and Digital Producer.
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