Power of Positive Thinking

Editor Kurt Chandler’s monthly letter to our readers.

I paused again and again as I read the page proofs of this month’s cover story, “Reasons to Love Milwaukee.” I was struck by the uplifting messages within the 50 vignettes, each a small portrait of what makes living here awe-inspiring at times.

In one vignette, Associate Editor Claire Hanan, who edited the package, tells the story of Lucas, a parking lot attendant at the Milwaukee Public Market. Lucas helps out drivers with their ticket stubs and payments. A pretty humdrum line of work, I would guess. So one day he decided to teach himself how to play guitar, using his downtime in the ticket booth to practice. His boss had no problem with that. And soon Lucas, a shy young man, was gutsy enough to play an open mic at a local bar. Bravo! It’s a success story wrapped in a mini-narrative, a charming slice of life of a charming Milwaukee character.

Inspiration seeps out of one vignette after the next. Take the story of Katherine Wilson. She doubles as a Latin dance instructor and executive director of the Zeidler Center for Public Discussion. The latter might sound like a lot of hot air, but in this ultra-polarized age we live in, her goal is admirable: to help people understand (if not agree with) contrary beliefs on hot-button issues. Wilson has presented her message to leaders in Central America and Africa, not necessarily trying to change minds, but to open them.

Good deeds and goodwill abound. The artist-in-residence programs that are springing up around the metro area. The no-fee education and support center in Fox Point for people with Down syndrome. The program that provides graphic design classes to autistic children and teens. The team of high school students in Hartland that records remembrances of World War II veterans and Holocaust survivors for schools, libraries and museums. The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center that cares for more than 5,000 injured, sick and orphaned wild animals each year. The anti-hate crime partnership created by a former white supremacist and the son of the slain leader of the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek.

The positivity is a welcome balance to the (often-deserved) bad press Milwaukee has gotten lately. As I write this, our uptick in violence is again being spotlighted in the national media. As The New York Times reports, the current spike in Milwaukee’s murder rate – a 76 percent increase over last year’s – is highest among U.S. cities.

There’s no ignoring Milwaukee’s gun violence, chronic poverty rate, or rampant unemployment among African-American men. It’s hard to talk up the city when the news can drag you down. But I look at our “Reasons to Love Milwaukee” package as an antidote to the hardships faced in this city, and most others. We’re all in this together. And amid the struggles and challenges are plenty of reasons to feel good about who we are and what we do. That’s worth calling out – and celebrating.

‘Power of Positive Thinking’ appears in the October 2015 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find the October issue on newsstands Oct. 5

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Kurt Chandler began working at Milwaukee Magazine in 1998 as a senior editor, writing investigative articles, profiles, narratives and commentaries. He was editor in chief from August 2013-November 2015. An award-winning writer, Chandler has worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine writer, editor and author. He has been published in a number of metro newspapers and magazines, from The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and Minneapolis Star Tribune, to Marie Claire, The Writer, and Salon.com. He also has authored, coauthored or edited 12 books. His writing awards are many: He has won the National Headliners Award for magazine writing five times. He has been named Writer of the Year by the City & Regional Magazine Association, and Journalist of the Year by the Milwaukee Press Club. As a staff writer with the Minneapolis Star Tribune, he was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and chosen as a finalist for the Robert F. Kennedy Award. In previous lives, Chandler worked construction, drove a cab and played the banjo (not necessarily at the same time). He has toiled as a writer and journalist for three decades now and, unmindful of his sage father’s advice, has nothing to fall back on. Yet he is not without a specialized set of skills: He can take notes in the dark and is pretty good with active verbs.