Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Group Pays Homage to Past, While Fighting for the Future of Black Milwaukee

LaToya Dennis
Freedom Fighters set up table to offer food to community members at 27th Street and Fond Du Lac

There are a lot of statistics that point to Milwaukee not being a good place for many African Americans. The high crime and poverty rates, and high achievement gap between black and white students, are just a few. Several groups are trying to improve the lives of the city's black residents, including by providing both a safety net and public safety. WUWM reports on the group - The Freedom Fighters, whose name pays homage to those who came before.

It’s just after 5 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon when I arrive at 27th and Fond du Lac. It’s doesn’t take long before I spot exactly who I’m looking for. A group of people setting up tables in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant. The organization is called the Freedom Fighters. Many who drive or walk past the tables and stop, also are asking for help in other ways—school supplies and school clothes, for example.

Credit LaToya Dennis
Freedom Fighters request a Black Power salute to anyone who takes food.

Nasheka Bryant and her husband Jerome started the Freedom Fighters. They’re Milwaukeeans born and bred. Bryant says her motivation is simple: “We come from a place of love and understanding. So we understand what our people are going through, we relate to what our people are going through, so we have patience with our people."

And by our people, Bryant says, she means black people.

“We’re just trying to do the aspect of if we reach out to our own people and show them that you know, we love you, we care about you, we’re here for you, it builds from within,” she says.

While on this day, the Freedom fighters were focused on feeding people, they say they’ve also become the “community police” in some neighborhoods, meaning they patrol the streets, help solve crimes and mediate tense situations.

“We had two families that stay on the same block that have had a history of dislike and physical fights. So we were actually reached out to on our Facebook page to step in to try to mediate the situation and intervene before it escalates to gun violence,” Bryant says.

The Freedom Fighters carry weapons, Bryant's is typically visible in a holster on her front hip. As for the type of training the group has in intervening in disputes, she says, “Our chief of the Freedom Fighters is a veteran. So we have individuals, including educators, mixed martial artists that have their own sets of training that we train each other on."

So, what drives some community members to call upon ordinary citizens to solve crimes or mediate? Pamela Oliver says a lack of trust in a police department. Oliver teaches sociology at the University of Wisconsin - Madison.

“Here’s the argument in a short version. So in my community, I’m in an affluent, largely white community, the police work for us. They do what we want them to do. But there are communities that feel that the police are there kind of serving the function as an occupying army. Or at least that’s the argument. The police are not helping the community, they’re the enemy of the community. And so armed militias are claiming that communities should patrol themselves and that they are patrolling the community on behalf of the community,” she explains.

Oliver says that if you talk to law enforcement, not surprisingly, they have a different take on police efforts in minority communities.

“They will also often bring that issue up and say that what they’re trying to do is to do what black communities want them to do, which is to bring more order to the community. You know who’s right who’s wrong is a much more complicated conversation,” Oliver says.

Back on Fond du Lac and 27th Street in Milwaukee, Nesheka Bryant says her community could start to regain trust in the system if more police were held accountable for their misdeeds.

But she says her focus is on doing whatever she can to help those not as equipped, similar to the work done by the Freedom Fighters that came before them.

“It was so many different groups and so many different names, but in the end, they were all Freedom Fighters. In the end, they all were fighting for the black African people in America and across the world,” Bryant says.

Related Content