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Connecting segregated communities

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Posted at 2:38 PM, Jun 30, 2022

In 2022, most American cities are still separated along racial lines.

“We don’t have a lot of diversity in Milwaukee, so to speak. It’s a good place to live, but if you are a Black man or woman, it has its challenges,” said Shiquita Mann.

Mann is the product of policies that have embedded her city with segregation. 

“Even when you go into certain stores, people are looking at you as if you do not belong,” Mann said.

She is also the product of a meaningful effort to change segregation.

Six miles from Mann’s basement is the Milwaukee night market.  It's where she sells candles and builds her business.

In most American cities, barriers, both physical and political, separate racial and ethnic communities. In Milwaukee, North Holton Street is the literal dividing line between the mostly-Black neighborhoods to the west and the mostly-white neighborhoods to the east. 

“You drive through white Milwaukee. The streets are clear. There’s no trash. The neighborhoods are great. The houses, you don’t see any houses that is owned by the city. As soon as you hit into the Black areas, you see abandoned houses. You see there’s trash everywhere. We literally can drive from one block and then go to the next block, and you can tell the difference. That’s how real it is,” Mann said.

By most metrics, Milwaukee is the extreme. A Berkeley study ranked it America’s fifth most segregated city. For decades, all but two of its suburbs had housing covenants that prohibited Black families from living in residential areas. But it’s part of a country in which two-thirds of white Americans say they have zero non-white friends, and nearly half of Black Americans say they have zero non-Black friends. 

Angela Damiani said she helped launch the night market in 2014 in an effort to bring more people together.

“There are emotional barriers too, where people don’t feel like they belong, like they’re allowed to go to places, and the market has been like this access point for people to see each other, to be, like, human together,” Damiani said.

 In 2021, the market began reserving 10 spots for vendors of color. They sell art, food, and items of all sorts to a crowd of all backgrounds.

“We are in some of these spaces where I couldn’t even imagine there will be," Mann said. "For example, the night market. I couldn’t see myself here, but here I am. I’m learning now to embrace. If I’m in a space where I don’t see me, this is my time to shine.”