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Walking & Talking With Granddad Through Sherman Park Neighborhood Damage

Clifton Pharm says his five-year-old granddaughter has had a lot of questions since rioters set fire to buildings on Saturday night

Clifton Pharm wanted to explain to his five-year-old granddaughter Chanel what happened over the weekend in their Sherman Park neighborhood. So he took her hand and walked her past businesses that demonstrators set on fire and ransacked, following the fatal police shooting of a young black man. The grandfather remembers when his brother did the same for him, in the 1960s.

Credit Michelle Maternowski
Clifton Pharm says it was important for him to show his granddaughter the destruction and talk to her about why it happened.

Pharm and Chanel started their walk on 36th and Fond du Lac, right across the street from the damaged BMO Harris bank building.

He says he wanted her to see at an early age how people can act, when they don't understand why they do some of the things they do.

“She want(s) to know why they do it. She sees the news. She sees the helicopters, the police in the background. This is something she ain’t used to, and I don’t want her to get used to it. She shouldn’t have to get used to this,” Pharm says.

Pharm tasks Chanel how she feels about the burned buildings and broken windows. She replies like most kids, with a very honest one word answer.

“Sad,” Chanel says.

Pharm goes on to say that he’s sure a lot of people across the city feel like his granddaughter. He says it is sad and never should have happened. Pharm says it’s his job to ensure he’s talking to Chanel about what happened because he doesn’t want it to bother her. He says that since seeing the destruction, she’s had a lot of questions.

Credit Michelle Maternowski
The BP gas station that was set on fire.

“She asks me if anybody got hurt, did the police shoot anybody, because most of the time when she hears on the news that somebody has been shot by the police. Why the helicopters? Do we got (have) to move?” Pharm says.

Pharm is steadfast in that they won’t be run out of the neighborhood where they’ve lived for more than two decades.

As we continue the walk around Sherman Park, Chanel has another question: “Why did everybody burn everything down?"

Pharm stops and looks at her and says, “I can’t talk for everybody. I don’t think they can tell you why they did it. It was just something they wanted to do. When they did that, they hurt a lot of people and there’s no one to answer for what happened. There’s no answers for this. All it is now is to try and put it back together."

The discussions Clifton Pharm's having with his granddaughter reminds him of conversations his older brothers and cousins had with him growing up in Milwaukee in the 1960s.

He says the discussions he’s having with his granddaughter reminds him of conversations his older brothers and cousins had with him growing up in Milwaukee in the 1960s.

READ: The 1960s: A Decade of Turmoil and Change in Milwaukee

He says the fight for African American rights was at the forefront. Pharm says it’s still about black power, but it has a new meaning.

“The word black power now means empower yourself. When we can empower ourselves, then we can empower others. And when all of us get in that group where we have the same understanding, and the same goals, that’s black power,” he says.

Pharm says that’s not what he sees happening right now and it’s sad. Still, Pharm says he’s going to continue to do his part because he wants Sherman Park to be a place his granddaughter wants to live when she’s old enough to make a choice.

For now though, she’s busy being a five-year-old, which means playing and comparing the size of her foot to others. Pharm says he’s okay with that. He knows the walk will probably spark more questions later, and he says he’ll be ready to answer as best as he can.

Credit Michelle Maternowski
Clifton Pharm's granddaught, Chanel.

Find all of WUWM's coverage on the unrest in Milwaukee here.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.
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