At the age of 16, Dwain Berry was already working in Milwaukee as a youth organizer fighting for civil rights, especially the right to fair housing. In 2023, Berry will be organizing his efforts around the community again by running for the 9th District alderman position in Milwaukee. As someone who has been working in the field around issues of substance abuse, mental health, and domestic violence for 30 years, Berry’s call to action was witnessing his own elderly parents hesitant to enjoy their own front porch due to feelings of unsafety.
“I found myself complaining about something being done,” said Berry. “One day, something spoke to me and said, ‘You know, you’re sitting there complaining, why don’t you take your experience and go try to do something about it?’ I think what has happened is we’ve been too comfortable. We’ve gotten used to hearing about this violence and nobody’s really doing anything about this. I decided at that time that I wasn’t going to be silent. I was going to shake up some things and I was going to start holding some people accountable.”
The Milwaukee community has been very vocal about the issues of violence and reckless driving being crucial points of intervention needed in the city. As a result of this, many have been motivated to make a difference in their communities, and Berry, born and raised in Milwaukee and currently employed as an Operations Manager at Matt Talbot Recovery Service, is looking to connect with those people and start listening to make change.
“We are the stakeholders in our community,” Berry said. “We have the power in our community to make a change. We can’t leave it up to the police, the mayor, or whoever. It’s time for us to take back the control of our neighborhoods as stakeholders. I also think we lack the necessary resources in our school. It starts there, in our learning institutions…I think we need more social workers and more mental health services, as well as substance abuse services in our learning institutions. We need to start making sure those resources are put there because it starts at our school.”
Other issues such as substance abuse also have deep effects on the community, and can trickle down to more vulnerable groups like teenagers and children. The effects of these issues on students plays a part in hindering their educational attainment, and sets them up for the widely accepted yet completely ineffective intervention of incarceration. Berry is hoping that by elevating people’s voices, they may finally be heard in their call for more resources and support.
“Educating the community on the resources that we do have and the things that we can do, along with putting together listening sessions,” Berry gave as solutions. “Being accountable, being transparent, and being reachable…I don’t care if you don’t vote for me, but if you call the office and have a concern, we need to respond. I think it’s going to take giving people the opportunity to come to the table, and be heard. That’s powerful.”
Berry is also the pastor of Risen Savior Community Church, where his parishioners include immigrants from French-speaking African countries who are often faced with difficult challenges in adapting. Berry spoke across areas of the community where more resources would make a difference such as support for the elderly, support for home ownership, and support for Milwaukee’s schools. What is clear is that addressing these concerns will take community, passion, and purpose as people coming together to combat issues taking a toll on the community could not happen soon enough.
“I want people to know that the time is now,” Berry expressed. “We cannot wait any longer. Our city is in critical condition. We need to revive it, and if we don’t, the devastation is going to be much broader than it is today. We need to step in now. Time is wasting. It’s not about politics. It’s about people.”
As an advocate for people before politics, Berry was adamant about getting the community activated and engaged as success can come in many shapes and sizes, but it all begins somewhere.