Service · Social Justice

Getting out of Milwaukee.

For years I told myself that Milwaukee was not the place for me.  Yes, it is home, and yes, it is a great city, but with my experiences at Camp Manito-wish, particularly my extended backpacking trip in Wyoming, by the end of high school and then through college all I could think of was going out West.  Out West.  OUT WEST.  Studying abroad in Chile made me miss the mountains all the more after I left.  Of course, as soon as I started looking for jobs I was looking almost exclusively at the west coast – mainly Portland and San Francisco – until College Possible came along.  The only interviews I got were for positions in Milwaukee, granted being in Portland for College Possible would have been preferable.  Of course I was excited and overjoyed when I got the call about being placed at the Milwaukee site, but part of me still wanted to get out of here, go to the places where I wanted to be and see the things I wanted to see.

Then I started my actual job.  I don’t need to go into the details about how inspired I am by not only the work those around me at College Possible are doing, but by my students as well; I’ve already done blog posts about that.  I may have mentioned before that I knew Milwaukee had a need for our services, but being in the thick of it now gives me a whole new perspective.  This job has made me completely question everything about where I wanted to be in my life, granted I’m still only a year out of college.

In my eyes, Milwaukee faces some of the most unique and frustrating social challenges in the United States.  Extreme segregation, income inequality, food deserts, and a barely trackable and confusing school system are all huge things to be concerned about in any city.  The thing with Milwaukee is that these issues speak so directly to me.  Having grown up in the public school system, witnessing the segregation first hand, and now acting upon everything that I grew up knowing all make a huge impact as one would assume.  My whole life I have lived here, and now it feels like I owe the city something.  I have found so many new passions and things that I want to fix in the past few months, and there is absolutely no better place to act on those than in Milwaukee.

I have seen posts from some of my students about getting out of Milwaukee as soon as they can, away from the violence, the racism, the poverty, everything.  During my internship at the Urban Ecology Center, one of the mothers was talking to me about the same thing in order to get her daughter away from all of the violence and keep her safe.  Part of the reason I wanted to leave Milwaukee was the knowledge that it is a messed up city, that there are these huge issues despite its beauty.  I wanted to go someplace “happier,” where I would feel happy with where I was.  But now I’m realizing that it would be a waste.  If I have the drive to do something about the issues, then I wouldn’t do anyone any good trying to move away for the sake of satisfying my own desires.  Being in the midst of it in a city where I truly have a personal connection is what I feel like I should do.

So throw all of that out the window for a second.  Yesterday I met up with an old friend and we caught up for the first time in literally years.  We talked about this exact topic, and she’s of a pretty different mindset than I am.  Part of finding your passion is exploring, not being tied down to one place.  I’m presenting it in a completely oversimplified way and not explaining it very well, but it just made me think (after having planned out exactly what I was going to say in this blog for weeks).

Maybe it would be good for me to get out of Milwaukee for awhile, find out what else is out there.  Like I said, I’m still only a year out of college.  I’m currently in the process of (hopefully) being hired back for a second year at College Possible.  Throughout the entire process I have been saying that I want to stay in Milwaukee, for the same reasons I’ve already talked about.  But now I realize there would be merit if for any reason they placed me at some other site.  I truly hope I am able to stay, assuming I am hired back.  And if they do decide to move me it better be a damn good reason.  But I have so much more I can see and do.  Maybe I’ll go to Europe; I really should travel more.  Maybe I’ll move out west; some mountains would be nice.  Maybe I’ll stay.  Everything is a maybe.  Having said that, Milwaukee will always have a special place in my heart, and no matter where I end up next, I still think ultimately this city is the place for me to be and the place where I can make the most difference.  Because I know the city needs more people who want to fix it.

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