The Problem Is No One Comes Back
“Milwaukee so trash.”
"I can’t wait to get out of here.”
“Y’all can catch me in Atlanta or Vegas.”
“That’s that Milwaukee shit.”
After every hometown tragedy, or even when new stats come out regarding this city’s disregard of Black and Brown life, I can count at least 5 Facebook statuses where people who claim to love the 414 announce their moving plans or even their blatant disgust with Milwaukee. It is like clockwork.
We’re seeing something similar to The Great Migration, except in reverse. Black folks from the North packing up their homes and heading towards the South to start a new life, leaving behind friends, family, neighbors, and loved ones. It is a beautiful thing, to a degree, having the privilege to say, “I need/want something better, something new” and then chasing after it without looking back.
I have no beef with folks who leave Milwaukee. I would be foolish, as well as a hypocrite if I said that our city should be everyone’s first and final stop on their journey. The truth is, as much as I love this city and our people, there are obstacles that prevent one from fully becoming successful, especially in our art and culture scene. Milwaukee is cliquey. Milwaukee does not have enough funding and resources to properly build a thriving community in really any singular art form: spoken word, visual art, music, dance, etc. That is not to say we are a barren wasteland with only a broken crayon and $3 to our name; I am saying that our city has so much brilliance and talent that, at this current time, it simply cannot keep up. And that’s the simple way of framing it without including the heavy-hitters, like racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, ableism, etc. that keeps many creatives out of the spotlight they deserve.
However, my issue with the “f*ck Milwaukee, Imma move elsewhere” mindset is that so many pack their things and dip without ever investing time, resources, money, or even basic kindness back to the city. How can you expect this place to get better if you ignore your own responsibility?
The problem is that no one comes back. And I don’t mean that just literally. People move out of the Mil and then they do nothing, except post photos in their new home and trash the city that gave them their start, their voice, their talent to begin with. And I think that is what really keeps our city down and our art scene repetitive. We recycle the same artists for every event. We see folks grow up and hit a ceiling they can never break. No one is being challenged to grow or expand, and if they DO, that typically involves them throwing up the peace sign and going away forever.
I love Milwaukee. This will forever be my home and I am so grateful to here. When and if my partner leave, I want to return and make Milwaukee everything I know she can be. After all, it is the literal least I can do. I cannot abandon this place and ever expect things to change.
In a perfect world, I think our artists and creatives, especially of Color, do travel and relocate. But when they do, they invest that success back into Milwaukee so that future generations can either do the same thing or they can continue to plant seeds here.
Milwaukee does not need to be, and is in fact not, a prison. Milwaukee is so much grander and more beautiful than we give her credit for.
I really wish we all shared that same sense of urgency and responsibility.
All images provided by Mahdi Atif (@FreakishNerd)
About the Author
Mikey (pronounced "my key") Cody Apollo is a Black woman writer, filmmaker, and storyteller from Milwaukee, WI. Much of her work revolves around themes such as race, gender, sex, queerness, and feminism.
Mikey's favorite movie of all time is Moonlight (2016) directed by Barry Jenkins and her favorite color is yellow.
Keep up with Mikey by following her on Instagram!