In 2015 – after three years of meetings with the community and city officials – ReciproCity helped turn three vacant lots into a new community park on MLK Drive in the Harambee neighborhood of Milwaukee (on the corner of N. Martin Luther King Dr. and Ring St.) This project is in direct collaboration with HeartLove Place that is directly across the street from the park. HeartLove Place is a long standing bedrock institution for the neighborhood providing family resources, a child development center, and a culinary training program, among other services.
Phase one of the park – now named Peace Place – included landscaping and pathways by Blue Skies Landscaping (Walnut Way Conservation Corp), the planting of twenty fruit trees, and two large-scale murals painted by Lampert and Kjelland that honors the history of the Commandos who were formed in October 1966 as part of the NAACP Youth Council. The Commandos role in the 1960s was to nurture black leadership and to protect Civil Rights workers from racist white mobs and police brutality as they marched across the 16th Street Viaduct (dubbed the “Mason-Dixon line”) and into Milwaukee’s nearly all-white south side neighborhoods. During this period the Commandos helped lead two hundred consecutive nights of marching for local and national fair housing legislation. These acts of civil disobedience and nonviolent direct action finally forced the Common Council to approve the Fair Housing Law in 1968, six years after it was first proposed.
Phase two of Peace Place in 2016 included installing garden beds, benches, birdhouses, free library, and bike racks. Future wish list includes a community stage, creating mobile class rooms, farm stands, solar panel charging stations, and more.
The November 8, 2015 dedication of Peace Place included a community gathering/celebration and a series of speakers, including Peggy Rozga (civil rights activist and widow of Father James Groppi), Prentince McKinney (Milwaukee Commandos leader), and Claudette Harris (HeartLove Place director and veteran of Milwaukee’s civil rights movement whose marriage ceremony was performed by Father Groppi.)
Phase one of Peace Place was supported through a Bloomberg Award for Partners for Places,a project of the Funders’ Network for Smart Growth . A diverse team – including representatives from Summer of Peace, ReciproCITY, HeartLove Place, MSOE, Groundwork Milwaukee, the City of Milwaukee’s Home Gr/Own initiative, Walnut Way, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (Community Design Solutions and Architecture 350), and Growing Power – has come together to help make this project a reality. Supporting partners include the Milwaukee Arts Board; the Greater Milwaukee Foundation; Zilber Family Foundation; David J. Frank Landscape; Northwestern Mutual; Fund for Lake Michigan; City of Milwaukee Department of City Development; City of Milwaukee Neighborhood Improvement Development Corporation; City of Milwaukee Department of Public Works; and the City of Milwaukee Community Block Grant Association.