Standing in a cold, pouring April rain, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett looked out upon several hundred similarly wet onlookers to declare that he was seeing the most positive actions among young people that he’d ever experienced in his nearly sixty years.
If the crowd standing before him was representative of progress among youth, he was right in his observation, since a majority attending this first effort of Project Bridge appeared to be teenagers, many of them members of groups that are dedicated to improving life in the city’s most troubled neighborhoods.
Drawing the folks to this rain-soaked event was an effort by a community-wide coalition entitled Bridge Project Milwaukee, perhaps a name appropriate to the site of the event, the Groppi Bridge (the old 16th Street Viaduct). It was the scene of many of the city’s civil rights struggles of the 1960s, when Northsiders sought to “integrate” Milwaukee’s South Side predominately white neighborhoods.
Saturday’s event began with marchers gathering at each end of the bridge, northsiders at N. 16th St. and W. Clybourn Ave. and southsiders at Cesar Chavez Dr. and W. Pierce St. They marched to join in mid-viaduct, and then moved together down the ramp at Emmber Lane to a park-like area along Canal St., near to the bridge.
There the marchers gathered around speakers including Mayor Barrett, District Attorney John Chisholm, Alderman Robert Perez, County Supervisor David Bowen and others. Speeches were kept mercifully short, as the cold rain intensified, but they drew a spirited response from the enthusiastic crowd that had been entertained by a drumming group.
Speakers also cited the elderly marchers scattered among the group, many of whom had participated in the 1960s civil rights efforts.
The marches and rally are a kickoff to the Project Bridge initiative that also inaugurated that day its online presence through a website and social media. In June, the Project plans to produce a music video, using the anthem for the group, “United We Must Stand.” Beginning in July, the Project will be encouraging the creation of Bridge Projects throughout Milwaukee neighborhoods.