Written collectively by: Josie Balistreri, Adonya Byrd, Kendall Farrington-Rhodes, Anya Hubbard, Cesar Lazo, Noraclare O’Neil, Luke Schneider, and Sean Smith
Edited by Layla McGee
High incarceration and recidivism rates, laws that prohibit change, lack of emphasis on education, and racism; all of these negatives in the 53206 zip code play into how this area has struggled over the years. Dennis Walton is the co-producer of the documentary 53206 and has had firsthand experience in this area by living in it all his life. Through meeting with him and doing further research, we learned more about the zip code and its turmoil.
Walton emphasized the importance of respecting ourselves and others, working to improve the laws and supporting each other to restore this area.
How Redlining and Legislation Has Affected this Community
During the Great Depression, the Roosevelt Administration created the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) to reduce home foreclosures. Federal housing agencies such as HOLC and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) determined areas that were unfit for investment by banks, insurance companies, and other groups that could revitalize the community. The term “Redlining” comes from maps highlighted in different colors. Green was associated with in-demand, wealthier, communities. Green communities were predominantly Caucasian, and were lacking “a single foreigner or Negro.” Districts designated Red were considered “hazardous” consisting of a largely African-American population, and were deemed ineligible for FHA support. Redlining was in practice until 1968 with the Fair Housing Act. However, the institutionalized racism of redlining still has effects today. In Milwaukee, areas designated green are still mostly Caucasian. Red districts include 53206. The lingering presence of the redlines prevents investment that could revitalize the community. Banks and corporations are still wary to put money into the community, due to the stigma that surrounds the area. In addition, residents in 53206 received the lowest rating for health outcomes from the Center for Urban Population Health in 2009. The rating was based on access to quality healthcare; health behaviors; physical environment; poverty and education. These laws and policies have a direct negative impact on the community and its members.
Incarceration and the Recidivism Rate in 53206
Milwaukee has the highest percentage of incarcerated black men of all 50 states. Black men were 11 times as likely as white men to have drug-related prison sentences in Milwaukee. Where these people grow up has increased their chances of going to prison. Areas like 53206 are breeding grounds for a life surrounded by drugs and violence. They are forced into a way of life that makes it difficult for success and traps them in a cycle that is nearly impossible to get out of. The availability of drugs and weapons in this neighborhood has caused many problems with the safety of its residents and it seems those things are more accessible than healthy food or a good school.
How these Circumstances Have Affected the Children in this Community
Two-thirds of the children in 53206 are living in poverty unlike the rest of Milwaukee where only 18% of the population who are children are living in poverty. Programs like “We Got This” help these children who live in poverty to receive new chances that they would not have otherwise. In 2014, a community member, Ellis, created a mentoring group for kids in the area from ages 12 to 17 to help form a positive environment where they can do something for their community. This program is called “We Got This” and throughout the summer they spend hours as a community cleaning the neighborhood, meeting with inspirational mentors, and spending time together doing positive activities and enforcing actions to better the zip code.
Our Experience with a Community Member
We were lucky enough to meet with Mr. Dennis Walton who came in to speak to us about his documentary 53206. Mr. Walton helped us to understand his inspiration for the film through stories of his childhood. He grew up in this area and made the conscious decision to stay even when given the opportunity to leave. When asked why he made this heroic decision to stay, he explained that he grew up in the area when it was not dangerous and held much more beauty. He feels it is his responsibility to set an example for others that things can get better. He says that he has stayed in school his whole life and was blessed with a mother and father figure in his home. However, this was not the situation for all of his friends. He explains how he was used to helping people out his whole life and that he doesn’t want to stop now. Mr. Walton explains that the importance of the film was to raise awareness for others. Raising awareness for others will help to inspire the younger generations to make the right decisions. He reiterates that our main goal should be to restore respect for each other and our communities.
53206 is a neighborhood that houses men who are subjected to constant, cyclic jail time, racist laws and unfortunate futures for those raised in it. Walton can confirm that these conditions have a generational impact as he has been a victim of all the problems in the neighborhood and sees how it continues. Walton has expressed how the men are made slaves in the prison system and that there is a popular theme of selling drugs to support their families after going to jail and not being able to find a job elsewhere. The laws should not be allowed to control the lives of the people who reside in 53206 in such an extreme way that it causes such tragedy and chaos in their futures. Creating an environment where kids can successfully learn and adults can find jobs to contribute money for the neighborhood and their families is a necessity to make 53206 a residence that people can prosper in.
All photos by Kendall Farrington-Rhodes