Harambee, pronounced “ha-rahm-BAY,” means “all pull together” in Swahili. It’s more than a word, though; it’s a Kenyan tradition, which here in Milwaukee involves grassroots planning and the activation of underutilized local resources — people, buildings and knowledge — for the collective good. Not only have many institutions flourished in Harambee for decades, but the neighborhood is on the fast track to even greater self-improvement and self-actualization.
Map of Harambee Points of Interest
Harambee has a history of staying together and pulling together. The area was first settled by German immigrants in the 1800s. Later, African Americans began moving from the South to Milwaukee and slowly settled in. By the 1970s, the African American community reached its peak, so much so that residents named their neighborhood Harambee. The next two decades would see Harambee organizing active block clubs, protesting school and housing segregation, and developing social services for those in need, working to reduce crime and supporting the arts community.
6 Places to Play and Grow
→ Clinton & Bernice Rose Park
You wouldn’t know it, but the 9.1 acres that is Clinton & Bernice Rose Park has existed since 1866, when it was Schuetzen Park (for better or worse, it combined, among other things, a beer garden and a rifle range). In 1891, Pabst Brewery renamed it Pabst Park and added a roller coaster, carousel, and fun house. Renamed two more times, Rose Park also sits just east of the long-gone Borchert Field (originally Athletic Park in 1888), where the major and minor league Brewers, the Negro National League Bears, and even the Green Bay Packers once played during the first part of the 20th century. I-43 now runs through the most long-lived ballpark in Milwaukee, but Rose Park now has an active senior center and continues to attract ball players, families, and community events like the annual Juneteenth Day celebration.
Where: between Chambers and Burleigh
→ Beerline Trail
While Harambee can only claim about a 0.1-mile stretch of the 3.7-mile Beerline Trail, Tyana Buie’s 2015 permanent art installation called “Streetlights” is representative of the ever-evolving project’s commitment to connect Riverwest and Harambee, not only with a pedestrian and bike corridor but also a creative and artistic space for vitality and growth (the corridor used to be littered with tires and trash). The trail, following an old path of rail line and breweries in the area, cuts diagonally from Burleigh & Bremen in Riverwest up to Capitol in Williamsburg Heights. It continues to serve as a space for musical and poetry performances, cooking classes and community meals, youth activities and art installations like “Streetlights.”
Where: Harambee entrance at Holton & Townsend
→ Peace Park & Garden
It’s hard to miss the Peace Park & Garden as you walk or drive down Locust: its brightly graffitied shed, garden beds and tire seats express in words and colors the park’s mission to become a “model for promoting urban peace sustainability” through gardening, community gatherings and services and even outdoor yoga.
Where: 5th & Locust
→ MLK Jr. Peace Place
The MLK Jr. Peace Place also features a community garden, unique seating and space for educational programs and public art, including two huge murals by Nicolas Lampert and Paul Kjelland depicting the Milwaukee fair housing marches of 1967-68 (this August marks the 50th anniversary of the 200-day-long marches).
Where: MLK & Ring
→ Victory Garden Urban Farm
You can join Milwaukee’s urban garden movement by renting one of 35 community plots or volunteering with Victory Garden Initiative (VGI) at the former Concordia Gardens, now the Victory Garden Urban Farm. The unassuming entrance to this central hub for all VGI operations leads into a 1.5-acre plot that features a small production farm, berry patches, an urban orchard and community composting. In addition to renting plots, The Farm partners with local restaurants and the Riverwest Food Pantry, educates youth on health eating and food systems and engages Harambee residents in sustainable practices. Since 2009, VGI has built over 3,000 gardens throughout Milwaukee.
Where: 20 E. Concordia Ave.
→ Darius Simmons Garden
Another notable community garden sits kitty corner to All Peoples Church. The church has been growing food in Harambee since 1995, and on May 31, 2017, it was rededicated as the Darius Simmons Garden in honor of the 13-year-old church member shot and killed by his neighbor exactly 5 years ago. Featuring 36 beds, 50 pots, 2 hoop houses, a meadow and a labyrinth, the Garden harvested 800 pounds of produce in the past two years, including over 8,000 ears of corn! The Urban Greenhouse next to the church and the nearby Peoples Orchard help round out All Peoples’ commitment to food justice and social justice in Milwaukee.
Where: 2571 N. 2nd St.
A Place to Unwind
Savoy’s, named after the famous Harlem dance hall, harkens back to the Bronzeville clubs of the 1930s. The nightclub can’t quite hold 5,000 drinkers and dancers, but it does have a nice-sized parquet floor where a small crowd (typically a mature 30 years old or older) can step dance to jazz or old school hip hop. A modest menu of wings, fish, and greens can be washed down with fruity drinks like Mai Tais, Pina Coladas, or Tropical Long Islands. Savoy’s isn’t all about cute drink umbrellas, though. Owner Prentice McKinney is a civil rights activist who got his start as a NAACP Commando in the mid-1960s during the fair housing marches in Milwaukee. It’s not uncommon to see local politicians and activists at Savoy’s, which eschews the expected jazz musician photos for black and white protest photos.
Where: 2901 N. 5th St.
A Place to Shop
→ Fischberger’s Variety
While local floral and gift shops like Bruno’s Floral Shop (2926 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Dr.), which has been in the family for 67 years, and Scarvaci Florist & Gift Shoppe (2663 N. Holton St.), in business for over 35, have long served the Harambee neighborhood, relatively newer ones like Fischberger’s Variety offer an eclectic array of items to suit anyone’s fancy: quirky gift books, unusual toys, fun fabric and yarn. The store, which calls itself “a gift shop masquerading as an old time variety store,” is committed to selling gifts and craft supplies to the Harambee and Riverwest residents. The store’s name is a mash-up of co-owner Sarah Ditzenberger’s married name and maiden name, Fischer. In similar fashion, Sarah, who has lived in Riverwest for almost twenty years, intentionally located the store on Holton Street in 2006, right on the border between her neighborhood and Harambee. “I love my neighborhood,” she says. “I wanted to take my son out for a walk and do something fun in my neighborhood. I wanted to do something cool in my neighborhood, not somewhere else farther away.”
Where: 2445 N. Holton St.
→ Northcott Neighborhood House
Northcott Neighborhood House has supported Harambee and surrounding neighborhoods since 1961, supporting family stability, offering youth programming, and creating a safer and cleaner environment.
Where: 2460 N. 6th St.
On a smaller scale, Sister Clara’s Gingerbread Land is a licensed foster home with seven housing units, providing a stable and nurturing space for thousands of children and adults since 1989.
Where: 2640 N. 1st St.
And Diverse & Resilient, next door to Fischberger’s, has worked to improve the health, well-being, and safety of LGBTQ people and communities for 23 years.
Where: 2439 N. Holton St.
→ Pete’s Fruit Market
Pete’s Fruit Market expects to open its second Milwaukee location this summer on the corner of MLK and North. Serving the Muskego Way community since 1992 at 1400 S. Union St., local owner Pete Tsitiridis’s family business will fill a vital need for fresh food in Harambee and surrounding neighborhoods, offering a culturally diverse and affordable array of produce, meat, and groceries at its new 13,700-square-foot store.
Where: corner of MLK & North
→ Martin Luther King Library
Designs are still in the works for a new Martin Luther King Library, which boasts an African American collection with current and historical fiction and nonfiction and a Milwaukee Leaders collection highlighting community role models. Proposed designs have blended a new library space with residential units above, but whichever one is chosen, the goal is to make the nearly 50-year-old library a robust and nurturing “third space” (home is “first” and work is “second”) for a developing community.
Where: 310 W. Locust St.
→ Bader Philanthropies
To further develop Milwaukee and Wisconsin into thriving communities, Bader Philanthropies recently made an intentional decision to move their new headquarters to the Harambee neighborhood, which they are working to support and revitalize. The new building’s location on the north end of MLK Drive signals Bader Philanthropies’ commitment to working with the African American community.
Where: 3318 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr.
→ 53212 Marketplace
Finally, if there was any doubt that Harambee was not living up to its name’s potential, keep up to date about plans for a 53212 Marketplace to serve the Harambee and Riverwest neighborhoods. Riverworks is one of 26 organizations in the country to receive a “FreshLo” (or Fresh, Local, & Equitable) planning grant from the Kresge Foundation, which has allowed them to implement community surveys, feasibility studies, entrepreneurial explorations, and more toward creating a permanent, indoor market that will bring healthy food options, local entrepreneurs, and creative placemakers into one place.