From: Neighborhood House Teens, Staff and Executive Director
For 75 years, through good times and especially during bad ones, Neighborhood House of Milwaukee (NH) and the people affiliated with the agency has worked to serve others by strengthening families and our community. From its beginning years, NH was especially unique in that it was and remains inclusive, welcoming and supportive of people of all races, creeds, color, beliefs and countries of origin.
The terrible death of George Floyd has correctly horrified a nation. At Neighborhood House, we are especially shocked and disturbed because Mr. Floyd’s death as it flies in the face of the kind of environment that is our organization’s hallmark. As some of our teens shared this week, “NH promotes love and unity. Everyone knows each other and feels comfortable and cool with others here. Everyone is close. It’s easy to fit in here. Everyone is nice. We’re in the hood but suburban people feel comfortable coming here.”
We are struck by the optimistic idealism our youth express. Several voiced these sentiments
- “I feel comfortable if I have to deal with the police.”
- “I know to show respect and how to act”.
- “If the police meet and talk with us, talking may make us all feel more comfortable. The closeness makes things more serious.”
They feel that way because of their experiences and what their parents taught them. These teens agreed that it’s ok to protest but wrecking stores doesn’t help. In their view, violence only causes more violence.
Our staff admires and respects their encouraging sentiments. However, we also are concerned that the realities of life outside our doors may cruel and harsh. We worry for them. Have we sheltered ourselves, our children, families, volunteers and donors from the “real” world? Perhaps that is why the events of the past week have shaken us so badly.
On the other hand, might the legacy of our founder, Fr. Reinhart Gutmann and the inclusive vision and longtime leadership of Ray Richardson and his successors give us the hope to carry this idealism out into our larger community through the children, youth and families we serve? Could we take to heart their idealism?
During Neighborhood House’s early decades, our leadership and staff cut against society’s grain by ensuring everyone, not matter their skin color or economic class were welcomed, respected and made to feel comfortable. With pride, we celebrate the fact that NH Executive Director, Ray Richardson, was the first African American to lead a Milwaukee nonprofit other than the Urban League. He, along with the staff, Board, donors and volunteers he assembled respected and honored all who we serve and connect with no matter who they were, what their race or creed was/is or where they live.
A current staff member commented that, “I make sure that everyone who participates feels good about themselves, no matter where they live or their skin color. Hate is so broad, and love is the lesson that should be put into everything a person does, because most youth I serve may not have received unconditional love or love period where they live. I won’t tolerate anyone disrespecting a child, or I won’t tolerate a teenager being disrespectful to an adult. We all treat everyone with respect.”
As we absorb the anger occurring nationwide, I can easily decry how WRONG Mr. Floyd’s death is. No one should suffer as he did. At Neighborhood House we strive to speak out for right and wrong. His death was WRONG!!! But where do we go from here? Perhaps the slogan, “Think globally but act locally” is something every one of us should take to heart. We are inspired by our teens and are determined to help make this a better world for them. At NH, we will redouble our efforts, but not just inside our building, to demonstrate our commitment to respect and include people of all colors and walks of life – beginning with how we teach and care for the youngest of the children and families we serve to how we meet and treat everyone who lives and works in our metropolitan area.
We hope each of you reading this will join us to do whatever we can to make our community a better environment for all.
Neighborhood House Teens, Staff and Jeff Martinka, Executive Director