Alice's Garden: A Place of Healing in Milwaukee

Aug 19, 2016

Milwaukee is in a reflective mood, days after tragic events unfolded in the city’s Sherman Park neighborhood. Earlier this week, people quietly reflected in Alice’s Garden, a green oasis two miles southeast of the Sherman Park hot spot.

Pouring libations.
Credit Susan Bence

A circle more than 50 people – different sizes, ages and colors – stood together.  And, Monique Inez Liston led a solemn chant.

“For the people who were born with a fighting spirit, who have always remembered, always been connected to the need to fight to do what is right. We lift them up,” Liston said.

With each chant, Liston poured water onto the earth where magnificent sunflowers grow. “We pour not only this water, we pour our hearts out, we pour our blood out, we pour our tears out, because it is for those future generations the work we engage in – spiritually, politically, economically, that must continue in order for this space be what they need in order to survive. We pour to the future. Ase,” she said.

Ase – let it be so.

Venice Williams (center) says attendance at regular Tuesday evening gathering doubled this week.
Credit Susan Bence

Executive director of Alice’s Garden, Venice Williams, said it’s her job to stir up more than earth.

"Don't walk away from here patting yourself on the back because you came into this neighborhood. These are literally first steps."

“Healing is not new to us," she said. "I thank you for coming out of what could be a comfort zone and entering into a space that you might have never been been in before, coming down a street where you may not normally come, but know that this is just the beginning. Don’t walk away from here patting yourself on the back because you came into this neighborhood. These are literally first steps."

Jean Jackson stopped by the garden for the first time. She lives in the Story Hill neighborhood and said she’s overwhelmed by the ceremony and the garden’s profusion, but especially the state of the wider Milwaukee community.

Many people visited the garden for the first time this week.
Credit Susan Bence

"It’s just a complex, complex issue that’s been going on for ages and ages and ages; people not being able to walk in other peoples’ shoes, I think, just can’t see that other person. I don’t know, we’ll just to keep working at it I guess,” Jackson said.

Alejandra Hernandez works on city’s south side and lives between there and here, but this space isn’t foreign to her. She’s part of its herbal apprentice program.

“Being in Alice’s Garden has been a really nurturing place," she said. "Everything’s growing; people are laughing; children are running around and ….It’s a space that exists in Milwaukee amidst the chaos."

Stephanie Sandy has been leading free yoga sessions in Alice's Garden for over a decade.
Credit Susan Bence

Nearby a cluster of people unfurled mats as Stephanie Sandy led a yoga session. Sandy’s been teaching free classes here for more than a decade.

As Ben LeFort watched his young daughter joyfully absorbed in yoga, he said, “Being in this space with a diverse group of people is more of what the city needs. There’s a lot of healing that has to take place but a lot more hard work too."

A critical part of the work, LeFort said is to build jobs “from within” and he wants to help.

“Instead of what companies can we attract from outside that might come and they might be here for five years, or 10 years or 15 years, or three years and they decide to leave and then poof, there goes 300 jobs or that kind of thing.” LeFort continued, “The community wealth idea is about trying to build wealth within the community through worker-owned coops and other kinds of economic arrangements. So, I think there’s some power in that.”

While people mingle dwith people they’ve never before met, gardener Brenda Jackson quietly went about her business.

Not only was she weeding, but was also grappling with the whys and what’s next for the city….. “It’s crazy , it’s crazy I wish it wasn’t happening,” Jackson said.

What do people need to do?

“Love each other, forgive, you know. Get beyond this.” Jackson quietly added, “Put the guns away, my goodness.”

Credit Susan Bence