Keondra Sanford went to a block party on Saturday, which she had never attended before.
She made her way through the crowd with her children, ages 8, 6 and 3, who eagerly checked out the gifts: pencils, bilingual books, stickers, sunglasses and more.
Sanford spoke with staff from the city’s health department and learned more about free COVID testing.
“It was awesome,” she said of the event. “It’s good that they come into the community and do something different.”
Now in its 10th year, Heal the Hood promotes peace and positivity. It’s part block party, part resource fair, and it goes where people need it. The annual event took place amid a continued rise in deadly violence across the city this year.
Heal the Hood founder Ajamou Butler said the effort has lasted so long because of grassroots support.
“We couldn’t just do it out of our own free will,” Butler said. “If it’s not supported by the community, by the hood, by the people, it’s not going to happen.”
Over the past 10 years, other groups and nonprofits have started and stopped, for various reasons, but Heal the Hood remains.
“I’m honored that God and the community chose Heal the Hood to say we want to bring this back, we want to support this, we want to contribute to this,” he said.
City and county leaders also support Butler’s work. The event received strong support from Ald. Milele Coggs. Although the location changes every year, it is always in the 6th Aldermen’s District, which Coggs represents.
This year it was held on Wright Street, between North 1st Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.
Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley, Mayor Cavalier Johnson and Police Chief Jeffrey Norman stopped by Saturday, while staffers from multiple government agencies sat at tables offering everything from door locks to guns to toothbrushes.
“It’s important for us to be a part of it, to show up,” Norman said. “We can’t talk about commitment if we don’t show it.”
And it can also help reduce crime.
Four years ago a report examined the blocks surrounding where Heal the Hood took place. It saw a drop in violent crime the week after the event, compared to the week before the event, said Jessica Butler, project manager for 414LIFEa violence interruption program.
The discovery came as no surprise to Butler, who helped plan Heal the Hood for eight years. She is not related to Ajamou Butler.
“It all works together,” she said. “People get resources, they can be in the community, they learn what it’s like to feel safe.”
Heal the Hood is one of many anti-violence efforts over the holiday weekend
Heal the Hood was one of several community events scheduled for the holiday weekend, seen as the kickoff to summer and a time when gun violence typically increases.
As of Wednesday, 85 homicides had been reported in Milwaukee, an increase of about 42% from the same time last year when there were 60, police data showed. The violence has continued since then with two more homicides reported on Friday night.
“This weekend in particular, there is full-fledged press for public engagement around connecting families to resources and connecting with most-at-risk youth as well as at-risk adults,” said said David Muhammad, deputy director of the Milwaukee County Department. health and social services.
The county’s Credible Messenger effort — a collective of nonprofits and others that mentor young people — will have a presence in neighborhoods identified by the city’s Office of Violence Prevention, Muhammad said.
The goal is to have 50 messengers on the ground throughout the weekend, he said. Their job is to distribute anti-violence resources and connect with local families about upcoming opportunities, like learning how to de-escalate conflict. Several did so at Heal the Hood, where Muhammad was co-host of the event.
“Giving someone a brochure is one thing, connecting someone is another,” Muhammad said.
He gave a recent example: a youth under county guardianship had been part of an ongoing dispute between two groups. The teenager’s house was demolished two weeks ago and several of his relatives, including his mother, were injured and taken to hospital.
“The mother was terrified of going home and drove around town to save time,” Muhammad said.
Teen’s mentor through Credible Messenger program and other county and city departments worked together to help secure family clothing, emergency hotel stay, stable housing and the first month’s rent, he said.
“That’s what this kind of collaboration looks like,” he said.