Since the shooting and protest in Sherman Park last month, people have been saying with more urgency and frequency that we need to have a serious conversation about race and societal issues in Milwaukee.

Lena Taylor has been trying to have that conversation for most of her life, and especially vociferously for the past decade, representing Wisconsin’s 4th District as a State Senator since 2005. She’s not resentful that some in the area are only now interested in listening, though; she’s going to keep talking, passionately and with ideas both new and old, just like she’s done for what will, come November for the unopposed incumbent, be four terms.

A champion of the African-American community who defeated Rep. Mandela Barnes in a partisan primary election in early August, Taylor’s LOVE (Literacy, Opportunity, Voice, Environment) and FAITH (Forestry, Agriculture, Innovation, Technology, Health) Milwaukee Initiative is a new delivery model designed to help people move beyond their present circumstances by breaking down silos to achieve different outcomes. She talks about building an infrastructure that will foster connectors and create pipelines and pathways to a network of HUBs, multi-functional physical locations that offer and share information, provide services, outreach into the community and bring people, ideas and opportunities together.

We sat down with Taylor at her district office to discuss her reaction to the Sherman Park unrest and how she processed the events and sentiments that followed; how we talk about race (or whether we do at all) in Milwaukee and across the country; what racism looks like, in overt and non-overt ways; how people can come together and connect and contribute to those HUBs she views as vital; and what the city can and should look like in the coming years. Make sure to watch the video at the end of the article for Taylor’s ideas on how to make Milwaukee a better place to live for African-Americans.

Here is our Milwaukee Talks Race interview with Lena Taylor, unfiltered and (only slightly) edited for length.

OnMilwaukee: What were you doing that weekend when you found out about the shooting and how did the next several hours and days play out? Did your response change and how did you process everything that happened? Can you take me through that experience over Saturday, Sunday and since then?

Lena Taylor: Ironically, I was with Andre Lee Ellis, who was doing We Got This, doing work to try to help young people and help a community rebuild using agriculture and industry as a catalyst to pull people together. It was his birthday week. I stopped in after a busy day to just say, “Hey.” I started my day singing “Happy Birthday” to him and going to the garden. Then I came back at the end of the day just to say, “Hey, I’m going home.” When I was getting ready to leave, we got word that there was a shooting over near the Sherman Park area.

I was supposed to go but I had two more stops to make and so I made those two stops. I had to connect with someone about helping some young people get backpacks for an event that was this weekend. We needed to do that. I had gone to the Martin Luther King Back to School event and they had blessed some individuals with backpacks, I was transporting those backpacks there, and one other location, similar concept. By the time I got done, it’s late, my day had started early, I was like, you know, I’m not going to go over, I’m going to call and see what’s going on. I talked to some people who were on the ground. They’re like, it’s breaking out here. Already there was a car that had been on fire. It looks like some people are trying to do something with the gas station. The next thing, the gas station is on fire. Then they said the fire truck was turned around. In between all of that I was talking with elected officials and I called the mayor.

The first call that I had with the mayor, assuming all things to be true, he had not been briefed. He did not know and was about to be briefed. I said, “Well, I’ll let you go so you can be briefed.” Then I called him right back because I learned about the BP gas station being on fire. When I called him back, he told me what he knew and it did not include the BP station was on fire. I said, “The BP station is on fire.” When we spoke again, it was … well, for safety reasons, they’re not going back in.

I was on the phone with individuals when shots were fired. The shots were fired before the station was put on fire and it was, although not hours, it was a significant amount of time, more than 30 minutes – 30 minutes is a lot in the midst of all that kind of stuff. Those shots had rang out, however, there were citizens not being cooperative with letting first responders be able to be responsive. Then there were others, just like the ones that got the people out the building or the ones saying, “No, we’re going to let them through.” We couldn’t get the firetruck to come back. I actually am challenged by just letting (the station) burn, because it was an incentive in some ways, to me, for people to go and do more, versus squashing that, you know what I’m saying, right away.

Because the optics of seeing it burn down are so bad?

Exactly, the optics were just too much to just sit there and watch it and watch it and watch it and watch it and watch it and watch it and watch it. Then there became conversations of who could have a calming influence, the mayor doing different things and having individuals talk to the aldermen, different pieces like that. When you get past all of that and you finally get to the place that there’s individuals in that area trying to calm things, and we start to learn about it, now they’ve moved and they’re doing things in other areas. Then it really becomes putting people on the ground to connect with people who feel helpless, who are the individuals speaking the language of the unheard. To help them to feel heard and to encourage something different.

That doesn’t come from saying, “Just stay at home.” Or, “Take your kid by the ear.” First of all, I don’t know that they were kids that put the locations on fire. I think that information is important. I don’t know that they were teenagers. I think that there’s been some assumptions because of what happened in the park.

I want to be clear, that there were connectors in the park that had been able to help create change. Like Vaughn Mays, who, when nobody else was around, Vaughn Mays is somebody who went to Sherman Park, who is struggling himself, being unemployed, and every day has gone to the park to help to be the connector, the facilitator, to break up fights, to try to direct kids in a different direction, try to give them outlets. He actually took a situation that could have been like this months ago and helped to navigate other options with the store owner and the individuals in the community. The store owner, to their benefit, did begin to agree to do things to help to do that work in the community.

That work has been going on. I really believe that, although people want to attribute it to those young people. You have what some are calling young people, which are individuals from their early 20s into their early 30s, that were very frustrated because we have a system where they don’t feel that officers are held accountable. Where they don’t feel that the justice system is fair and balanced – that Lady Justice is peeking through, so to say, her blindfold. Individuals who said a lot of things and clearly some people who – I don’t know if there were agitators; I’ve heard everything from there were young people to people that were not from Milwaukee, you know what I’m saying? A lot of different components.

In the end, what I know is true is that there has to be investment in this community to restore what has been destroyed. Not just physically, the physical locations, that’s important; there has to be something to help those businesses and others who want to do business on strips like that. Individuals who have ideas who need to become business owners so we can birth hope again through innovation. We also will need some partnerships to create HUBs, so that people can have connectors like Vaughn Mays and others to help people know how to navigate. It’s not just school, as K-12, but it’s also schooling or skill or knowledge for trades, for industry, that you create pathways, maybe is the best word. We have to connect those pathways, not just K-12, but how do you do technical college? How do you do college? How do we create a pipeline so that young people can feel like there’s some hope and opportunity that exists for them?

People may think it’s corny, but what I call it is individuals need some love and faith (LOVE and FAITH are the acronyms in Taylor’s Milwaukee Initiative). That love and faith needs to be in the form of investment. Investment of people’s time, of our money, of our focus, of our strategic planning, of our philanthropy, of all of it, right? At every level of government. We have to get out of the maze of people figuring out what to do and create a bowling alley, a straight shot so that we can get some strikes.

Over that weekend (August 13-14), as everything is playing out, how are you processing what’s going on? Are you at all sort of looking forward with a mind toward, what can this become, how can this be something eventually positive? Or is it just the immediacy of, I need to respond to this. How does someone with your platform evaluate what’s going on and what to do?

The truth is, I just finished a primary election (Aug. 9), where, clearly, there was some establishment effort against me. It’s so funny because people try to make me the establishment. I’m an establishment by myself, I guess. After that, I had jury duty and I hurt my hand during the election. So that (Saturday) I’d been to the doctor, we had x-rays which may have benefitted from a radiology ai software, my hand was trippy and I was just, like, trying to get a full night of sleep. During the election, of course, I hadn’t, because my days were long and started early.

There was a part of me that was like, you know, I didn’t go to the park – not thinking it was going to turn into fires. Like, “We got this, it’s going to work out, the police have it under control, blah, blah, blah.” And the distress in the voice of the people on the ground. So I was compelled to then call the people who were in control because it’s not my district, my senate district. I don’t want to say it’s not my responsibility … but I’m always the one. Let me let somebody else step up.

I’m going to stay in. Then I’m like, OK. I’m saying, Lena, what can you do other than get up off this bed and go. What can you do to help? That’s when I called the mayor. My call to the alderpersons, trying to get other individuals to try to move the ball. And after my calls, then they did the press conference and they’re doing the press conference and I’m like, This is going to require some more.

After that, after we knew that the fire had been put out, after we learned that there’s now other things that are going on and I heard what the mayor and the three, four aldermen that spoke said. So being calm, as well as there’s roots to where we are. It was in that moment of hearing that and also of knowing, OK, we’ve got to do some immediate stuff. So reaching out at every level of government, to individuals to say, how can we create a better alignment? I mean, literally, from people that I could text and people that I could inbox. As late as it was, to trying to get some sleep to starting very early the next day.

Talking with the mayor and then becoming very clear that my conversation was maybe slightly different than the conversation that he wanted to have. The conversation that clearly they’ve gone forward with. They believe that it’s better for people to stay in and encourage people to stay in (with the curfew), and I actually believe that we’ve got to do what we’re doing now, communicate and we need all hands on deck. We need people to come out and to be helpful. We need to inundate, not only that area, but our community with help and ways for people to know how to not just get help, but seek help and be the help that needs to happen in our community.

So as a leader, you’re dealing with multiple things, you’re dealing with the phone calls and the texts and the emails and the stuff that’s coming in that you were trying to … Literally, at some point, there was 200 emails involved. I haven’t even been able to get to those, just trying to keep up with the other pieces. Then reaching out to the governor and having the conversations in that regard. It’s taking advantage of this moment as one to get people that otherwise would not connect or communicate. Taking advantage of this moment to say, “This is our moment that we have to seize to create different outcomes.” We can continue to do things like we’ve been doing, and we’re going to get the same thing.

You mentioned talking to the governor. What I heard from one of his press conferences was Sherman Park is this great neighborhood, this doesn’t represent Sherman Park. Then you have Khalif Rainey saying, just because it happened in Sherman Park, this was a powder keg, it was going to happen somewhere at some point. I’m curious where you come in on that; was something like the protest and the rioting in Sherman Park an inevitability? Of course, there can’t be a silver lining in horrible violence, but you’re saying this is a moment that needs to be taken advantage of – how does Milwaukee try and forge something positive and hopeful out of it? Is there an obligation now to really do something meaningful and different than there was before?

First of all, I don’t think that the governor’s and Ald. Rainey’s statements are one or the other. I think the truth of the matter is, Ald. Rainey is a reflection of that district. That is the positive of the growth growing up in that district and then representing that district. That’s part of what the governor spoke to. But it is also true that the pain that exists across this community and state for people of color is real. And the combined trauma from all of those things; I don’t know the list of effects of lead, but why do you think the judgments of individuals is the way that they are? It’s because of the effects of all of the things that make our reality of what we are. We can’t not deal with that or see it from the lens, or see it through the lens of who we are and our reality of that.

We’re the worst in the nation for segregation, for outcomes in many capacities, disparities. And especially for people of color. That creates the way people think, the pain that they’re in, how they react to situations. Do I believe that there’s been an issue? I do. I remember when Gov. Walker first got elected, the reason that the Minority Unemployment Task Force got created, the reason that Rainey asked at the county level for there to be an office of African-American Affairs, is because the outcomes of African-American had been dismal.

So when I said it to the governor, when he first got elected, we were saying that these kind of moments could come if we did not do something to get to the root of the issues that are happening and try to invest in not only our areas and our businesses, but our people. I don’t think it’s one or the other, I think that, yes, there is beauty and there is huge hurt, harm, pain and devastation in these very communities. In the end, when we live in a place that’s the most segregated, it’s difficult for people to see it through a lens that’s not theirs. I’m going to give an example.

Some people think that in my passion, that I’m a lie. But people in the community who are on the ground, who feel hopeless, connect with me but they’re not sure I’m enough. That’s the gap, you see what I’m saying? There’s a lack of even trust among people who are experiencing the pain, their reality of lack. That’s not just sometime, that’s all the time, the lack of trust that can exist in electeds and government and process. Just imagine that, if I’m difficult for someone to hear and relate to – and I would argue that I’m not scary, I’m not any of those things – but if I am for someone, then for individuals who are at a whole other extreme that people can’t even fathom, who think, I don’t know, is she really speaking up? Who feel like, the language of riots and burned buildings is the language that they can speak.

That’s Martin Luther King. Just for clarity, what, 50 years ago, we were in this same place in Milwaukee. What does that say? At the beginning of my life, we were at this place. How ironic, that I was birthed from that time and to be living that time again, which says, we haven’t addressed (problems). It’s just like a weed in your yard: you can go pull up the dandelion and break it off, but guess what’s going to happen? It’s going to grow back and multiply unless you do what? Dig down and get at the root. I’m saying, we got to dig down and get at the root.

And for me, at the root is connecting people to pathways. Connecting people to pathways that will give them access to opportunity and hope. Because if you feel hopeless – and I’m going to way to the media, there needs to be a better job of not making it so that you just devalue a group of people. How often do we see … All people see is shooting and killing. My colleagues and people around the state, that’s all they know.

If that’s all we have to offer, through the images that we create, I think it was even, oh Lord, am I quoting Donald Trump? Even Donald Trump said something about, “Well the media is making my image, blah, blah and they’re the reason and I’d rather us deal with the issues.” OK, well the image of African-Americans and people of color and people that are poor has been dirty. If that’s the image, it makes it very difficult for people to even, when they hear this stuff to care. Because you don’t value, and if the people themselves don’t value, we could never get to the issues. We can never get to what’s at the root.

I keep hearing, “We need to have a conversation about race, we really need to take about these important issues.” And sometimes those conversations happen, sometimes they don’t, and sometimes they’re useful, sometimes they’re not, including with the media. Is there a problem with how we talk about race, as a society and especially in Milwaukee?

We don’t talk about race, that’s part of it. So yes, there’s a problem about how we talk about it because we hardly talk about it. Then when we do talk about it, people are dismissed, it’s dismissive. People are dismissive of what Dr. Joy DeGruy calls the post-traumatic slave syndrome, which basically is the reality of, when you look at everything from slavery to Jim Crow to the oppression and the lack that exists in communities of color, and especially in communities where there are African-Americans, it creates something. It even creates something in your genes, in epidemiology, for both sides, for the oppressed and the oppressor. Or those that have privilege and those that do not.

We’re never having that conversation fully. I think we have to continue. I think our solutions have to come out of accepting that that’s part of the reality of who we are, because we’re the most segregated in the nation. I would argue, that means we’re the closest to that same separation stuff of Jim Crow and of slavery. Whether we see it or not, is a whole other thing.

So how do you form those pathways and make people have that conversation. It’s uncomfortable to talk about uncomfortable stuff, no matter where you’re coming from, your background, your views. In my own experience, when you’re just around people who are different than you – whether it’s race, sexual orientation, disabilities, economics, whatever it is – especially when you’re kids but also when you’re older and you interact, intermingle, are naturally sort of integrated, that makes at least the talking-about-uncomfortable-stuff conversations a little easier and more honest and productive. But on a practical level, how do you that in the city, on a large scale, forming those pathways and changing conditions?

That’s a very good question and I thank you. It’s another reason why I believe that we have to create those mechanisms. It’s one of the reasons why I think the concept of HUBs will work for us; it’s the concept of what Andre Lee Ellis does with “We Got This.” This is what Walnut Way does, this is what Alice’s Garden does. Venus Williams says about Alice’s Garden, “If the city outside the fences of Alice’s Garden could be like it is inside of the garden, boy, wouldn’t it be a beautiful, healthier place?” I think we have to create those kinds of HUBs in order for it to exist.

Rather than, let’s just throw another million dollars at this social services agency. That’s great, but is it bringing different people together and getting them to learn about each other and empathize and understand each other?

Exactly. That’s one of the reasons why I think the HUBs work, because you have to have ways for people to come. I’ll tell you something else that happened that’s also the same thing. I think these HUBs should be in our schools. These HUBs should be connected to foreclosed properties. These HUBs should be connected to nonprofits. These HUBs should be connected to churches.

Let me give you an example of what the church just did. Parklawn started an organization, OMN, and basically it’s a network of churches that decided they we’re going to come together and come out of the walls and talk to people, identify people’s needs and help meet those needs. Those real human needs from lack that exists in the community and help to connect them to resources. Whether those resources be information or items or financial, for helping people. By them doing that, it gives people from all over the state, the nation, a vehicle upon which they can target help. So people came and walked in the neighborhood and prayed and helped to connect with people. People from all walks of life, economically, all races, all age categories, all genders.

What did that offer to the person who was afraid to come down, for their safety purposes, it gave them a way to be involved and a vehicle upon which they could be involved, so that they could feel safe. It helps across the board. So how do I envision this? How is it working really already? In those HUBs, we should have some basic stuff. We’ve got crime issues, we’ve got foreclosed property issues, we’ve got food deserts, we’ve got health disparities. If we have a Hub where people build a hoop house, a cheap greenhouse, and in that greenhouse, they grow food. If in addition to that greenhouse we have orchards, we have trees that bear fruit, learning to take care of those trees, growing that food, building that hoop house. There are industries, trades, skills that are connected to those things. What we’re doing is we’re coming out of the maze of trying to figure out where to go and we’re bringing it to a hub, to a fusion of places that come together, so that people can go to one spot, a one-stop shop, to be able to get things they need in their communities.

So you’re building community and, shhh, don’t tell anybody, but we’re building relationships. You’re also helping people to become literate on how to interact with others. We’re able to use opportunities. Let me be clear, we let three generations of babies raise babies by having teen pregnancy and being in the top 10 for, like, 30 years. That basically means we let statutory rape, the trauma of statutory rape happen over and over and over again in our community for decades. That trauma never got healed. No justice for a lot of those situations.

As somebody who was sexually assaulted as a child, it causes trauma that you have to work through. If you never work through that, you’re broken. Even when you work through it, we’re humans, we’re all broken in some way. Then when you see everybody who saw the fire was traumatized, whether they realized it or not. How we work through that, how we turn that into help, into work to rebuild community. I think the example is to create those places that people can go and do we have to start somewhere and do we have to start small? Sure we do, but if we have a number of people and all hands on deck and you’re going and you’re helping there, and you’re helping there, but we’re using the same model of how we help, we can stretch much further than we even anticipate. Those networks, those little networks connecting to a larger network, that’s the vision, that’s the hope.

I want to ask you about overt and not overt racism. You mentioned offhandedly people saying, “I’m not going to that neighborhood because it’s dangerous,” and maybe these HUBs could help to alleviate some of that. But that sort of idea, people who don’t think they’re racist because they don’t use the N word or aren’t actively discriminatory or antagonistic, but who maybe aren’t doing much to actually shrink this inequality gaps that all the studies and statistics and segregation keep showing us exists here. I guess what I’m asking is, at a very basic level, what is the role of regular white people – not necessarily politicians or local leaders – and what obligation do ordinary people have to make this a different and better city to live in for African Americans? We can all start with these “real discussions” but what else has to happen to achieve equality and improve people’s circumstances in Milwaukee?

That’s what’s going on, that’s what’s going on. Access to opportunity. It has to happen. It has to be done in a way with people who can connect with the individuals who need that information. In this community that’s hyper-segregated, we have a habit of telling people, we know what you need and this is what you need. Here, this is what you need to do. Instead of hearing from the community what they need, embracing that and helping them to do that and build that.

It’s the difference in my opinion, this is a lot, giving somebody a fish and teaching them to fish. Telling someone what they should do or being supportive of them doing something to create the change. My race for re-election is a reflection of everything you just said. I hate to have to admit it, but it’s true. Eighty percent of Shorewood, which had someone from the North Shore, who supported my opponent, who probably has been upset ever since I said that the district we spoke about, the district, very honestly, when re-districting happened with the Republicans, we called them everything but a child of God, for doing it. And said that that there would be disenfranchising people of color. Then we went as Dems and disenfranchised people of color. If I could be candid, I feel like I was villainized for it and made to be the angry black woman for people who might be in North Shore. Clearly, for my constituents in Shorewood, they were given a lot of misinformation.

Or maybe had preconceived notions that they didn’t work to change or look into?

Maybe both, maybe both. Right, because when individuals who have credibility specifically said I did things that I did not do. Now, some things that they said were true, but no one went to find out, well why did I find that? Maybe there was a logic and some judgment behind it. The reason I said that my race was very symbolic is because – the North Shore, a population of individuals very close to that and maybe more aligned to that, had one view of me. Regardless of 75,000 contacts with constituents, 101 laws, the list goes on. Then the community that I grew up in, that I live in, the block I am on, literally, a complete shift in another community saying, “No, actually we appreciate her work and her voice.” That disconnect is the disconnect that you’re talking about. I don’t know if everybody can see it in what I’m articulating right now. Or wants to. But later, when I said previously that the district should be represented by someone of color because they are the majority, I’m not suggesting that it means that other people can’t run. I’m saying, let’s be progressive.

So when I said it, I was racist. And then two years later, (retired State Rep.) Sandy Pasch said it and it made sense and people supported representing (State Rep.) David Bowen. I say that to say, some people look at me and say, “Whoa, too much.” But I’m nothing like what people on the ground, who experience what we’re talking about every day. Their level of expression or understanding, I feel blessed that I can connect to people at all ends and convey the pain of those other individuals. But my race and how the votes went, I think is a reflection of what you’re talking about. Now, to answer your question, what do we do to deal with that issue?

What I’m saying is we’ve got to start by at least talking and communicating, we’ve got to hear each other at depths that I don’t think that we do. Dr. Joy DeGruy speaks to it in a way that is amazing. If I’m talking to you and I dismiss everything you say, if I’m dismissive of your feelings, can you hear me? I don’t care who you are, I don’t care your race, I don’t care your gender, your age, none of that. People don’t want to feel dismissed, unheard. I think we have to start with the real, hard conversations and we have to be honest about those things. We may not understand why somebody did something and we may disagree, but it doesn’t mean that they don’t have value. I think in our community, we’ve got to start there and then we need all hands on deck. I think that we have to have people not pretending like this is not our reality. It’s part of our reality; but I believe, call me over-optimistic, I believe that with love and acts of kindness that we can build trust. We can rebuild trust and we can move our community in a different direction.

I think the very people who might agree or disagree with me or may have information that is inaccurate, that we can never get past whatever that is unless we communicate. I’m not married, it looks like you don’t have a ring, you’re not married either. I’ve been in relationships before. If there is an issue and you don’t address it, you can never grow past it. We’ve got to first start by admitting we have a problem. And then go from there.

Let me pull this little piece of my hair down, as a tribute to Michael Jackson, we got to start with the man in the mirror. How do we do it? We have to be willing to take the risk and, as you realized, many people aren’t even willing to have the conversation because they don’t want to take the risk. Do you know how many people have threatened my life, Alderman Rainey’s life? Because of the comments that have been made. The individuals who told me that all the damage is my fault because I’m supporting racism. No, I’m supporting telling the truth about the trauma and the reality of being in a place that is the worst in the nation for all this stuff.

The best way I know to tell people is think about the most traumatic thing that ever happened to you and imagine that kind of stuff back to back, every day all the time and never getting relief, and where you end up. I know that people are like, Well that’s not what people are experiencing, but when you’re not in the moccasins … I see it every day. There are people, we’re breeding individuals in such high levels of lack that it’s like – there’s no way it can be healthy. We have to start. We have to start. We’re not going to be able to blanket the state, blanket the nation, but we’ve got to start somewhere.

I said it earlier: Call me naïve, call me whatever you want, but I believe in the power of love. I can’t mandate love. But I can make the opportunity for love through creating alignments in HUBs that are bowling alleys, so to speak, of direct access, using connectors to help to create that divide. That divide that I spoke about that exists in my election, that divide that we’re speaking of and we know exists in our community, we need people that can be the connectors to help people to navigate to change and then model it candidly. Maybe that’s too much for some people to wrap their heads around, but the best way that I know to also say it is we have to invest. Not just financial capital, but human capital.

You’re a politician with a platform and an agenda, of course, but you also call yourself an optimist. Given what we’ve seen here over the past couple months, years – and the decades before – what do you hope and believe Milwaukee will look like in six months, a year, or perhaps let’s say four years?

I think the kindles of the hurt and the pain that exist in this community will not be extinguished without attention, no different than a fire truck and a fire person going. That’s going to take what we just talked about. I don’t see that changing if we try to gloss over it and ignore it and act as if these are not realities in our community. With that, I think that we become a trailblazer, an example of what a rebuilding community can look like. I think that we become a destination for individuals to come and visit. We’re a beautiful place with beautiful people. We just have to make sure that there’s a better balance of opportunity and access for people.

I think it is, candidly, a place where we’re going to be able to one day not be the one that leads the nation in all of these different areas. Because we did not always lead in these negative ways. As a matter of fact, we were the place to come. It is going to take all of us to not be pointing fingers, but to be lifting our hands to work and to help and figure out what can I do to help connect to the Hub. What can I do to help bring something to connect people to industry pathways and to opportunity and resources, to help people to be literate and learn to be their own advocate?

If you’re not connected – if you’re not asking yourself, what can I do and you can identify something that you’re doing to connect that bowling alley and move us away from the maze of where to go – if you can’t answer what you’re doing, then I’m going to say, “Check yourself, because you’re part of the problem.” If everybody says, it’s all hands on deck. If your skill is journalism, then what are you doing to get the message out? To say that we all need to connect to this infrastructure. What are you doing to connect people to the OMN effort that the ministries are doing so that people of faith can connect? Or if individuals say, you know what, I’m not really into that whole faith community thing. What is it that you’re doing?

For the person who says, well you know what, I’m a master gardener, so what are you doing to create the mechanisms? The Journal of the American Medical Association, in October of 2015, did an article that said gardening and exercise reduces violence. We tried a lot; let’s try that. Ask what am I doing to help make that connection? As a legislator, it’s my responsibility to help bring the revenue to this community and a mechanism upon which that can happen, so that we can have restoration, so that we can have entrepreneurship and economic wealth that needs to exist.

So two years from now, three years from now, five years from now, I hope a few days from now, that we will be clear on how the investment to create change is happening. Because we need dollars. And we need people. We need human capital and, literally, financial capital.

What’s your opinion on how sports can be part of this racial conversation and this equation?

Sports is definitely involved in the conversation. I quoted the article from the Journal of the American Medical Association. Exercise for me, sports is that. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to just do exercise through sports, but it’s a huge way to create activity. It also helps to address the obesity issue that exists in our community. I’m just going to say that when you’re moving, it creates a whole different level for our mental health. I believe that it also is just a real basic thing. Kids need something to do, they just need something to do. Candidly, people need an outlet, a way to be able to help and there’s nothing like being the coach. And everybody ain’t going to coach basketball. Some people are going to do football, or tennis, and some people are going to do soccer, futsal. Archery is something I’d love to see young people have an opportunity to be engaged in.

I say that to say that I agree with you that sports is it. I also hear that the city has been making efforts to try and make some investment in a football league and stuff like that. But I want people to be able to have multiple options, because everybody doesn’t want to do sports. Some people also want to be able to do journalism. I want people to be able to videotape and take photos and do other things.

And that’s sort of the other side of the coin I wanted to ask you about. We read so many sports stories, they’re almost like boilerplate, of the kid who works really hard, practices 10 hours a day and is so dedicated to playing his sport so that he stays off the streets and can “get out” of his neighborhood. And that’s an amazing story of will and success for those kids, but first of all, it’s extremely rare to become a pro athlete, but second, doesn’t it sort of sending a limiting and marginalizing message to kids? Like, sports is the only “way out” of the community and the only way to have a career?

First of all, I don’t know that I want to encourage people to “get out” because I don’t need brain drain from my state or from my neighborhood. But I will say that giving people access to opportunity pathways upon which they can see opportunities, see hope, see something more than what they may see in front of them, which is not a lot of hope. To be whatever.

A guy, he’s a DJ, supports his family on that. He learned about being a DJ when he went to school, in an MPS school, years ago. He would have never thought, when he was learning that that it was going to be his career. Young people love to use social media, that kind of stuff. They love music and it’s a way of expression for them. All I’m suggesting is that we help young people who maybe before had parents that could help direct them, or people who may have parents but their parents don’t know. Maybe their parents didn’t get it and then individuals even who have parents and they’ve learned to have the direction, the support that they need. Some people call them mentors, call them role models, it’s the same concept that I’m speaking about with connectors. My grandmother used to say, “You don’t know that you don’t know, if you don’t know.” That’s what we’ve got to help change is that people don’t know. I believe that’s going to happen with connectors. With everything that I have I believe that that’s going to happen.

I saw it happen in front of my eyes, a boy was running from the police, not far from the BP station, just the other day. Several people tried to get him to stop. There was one person who could connect with him, and he stopped. He ended up getting taken away and blah, blah, blah, but he connected with him, because it could have gone very bad. That person, that connector needs to be able to have at their fingertips, the ability to say, “Look, what do you want to be? If you could have your way, what would you want to be? Or, do you know anything about Job Corps? Do you know anything about agriculture? Do you know anything about forestry? Do you know anything about trees and taking care of trees?”

In the midst of that, there are conversations that can be had, in order to redirect, but the person who makes the first connection has to be able to have those resources at their fingertips. We can’t send that person to go through the maze of trying to figure it out; they’re not going to make it. But if the connector can help them to navigate, we can create a bowling alley for the connector to connect them to opportunity. Wow. Wow, what we can do.