“I love living here. I love the area.”
This is a quote from Mrs. Denise Johnson-Sherard, a resident in the Martin Drive Neighborhood for over 20 years. This week, Keith Stanley, Executive Director of Near West Side Partners, had the pleasure of interviewing Mrs. Johnson-Sherard and learning about her experience living in and being a part of the Martin Drive community.
Denise moved to Milwaukee from Freeport, Illinois in 1980 at the age of 23 and found work through the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development at Harley-Davidson, one of the Near West Side’s Five Anchor Institutions. Though she initially imagined her time at Harley-Davidson being temporary, she ended up spending decades at the company working in different departments, such as data entry and human resources for shorter periods of time, and sales administration for the bulk of her career.
To hear more about Mrs. Johnson-Sherard’s time at Harley-Davidson, click the link below for an audio clip.
After spending a few years at Harley-Davidson, Denise and her husband purchased a home in the Martin Drive Neighborhood. Denise was drawn to the Martin Drive Neighborhood because Harley-Davidson’s “Walk to Work Program” and the beautiful bungalow-style homes available. While Denise retired from Harley-Davidson in December 2015, she still thoroughly enjoys the community and says she has “no desire to leave” at this time.
Pictured above: Denise standing outside her bungalow-style home that drew her to the Martin Drive Neighborhood.
Denise shared the community has an active neighborhood association that has programs and activities planned throughout the year. Examples include summer movie nights, an organized and safe trick-or-treat event during Halloween, and “Bloom and Groom,” an opportunity to purchase discounted flowers for front yards and curb sides. Most favorably, Denise described an event where the neighborhood association chose a block in the community, closed the street for a few hours, and encouraged people to leave their houses and get to know their neighbors together safely in the road. She noted, “they haven’t done that in awhile but that was a very good thing.”
Denise and Keith also had the opportunity to discuss some more recent events and how the community was being impacted. Regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, Denise stated the “African American community” neighborhood was being impacted “in a horrible, horrible way.” As Denise has pre-existing conditions that make her more susceptible to the risk COVID-19 poses, she has to be extra careful during these unprecedented times and fears “this community [is] not taking the necessary precautions.”
Denise was disappointed that the free COVID-19 testing drive-thru site on Capitol Drive was shut down so abruptly. She asked, “why were people not more informed?” Now, many African American people living on the “north” side of Milwaukee will have to go to the South Side of Milwaukee to be tested for COVID-19 or at the hospital or clinic locations. Denise expressed worry about having to go into a building, where people who might already have the virus may be, and potentially expose herself just to be tested.
In addition to COVID-19, Denise was also able to share her thoughts on the activities of civil unrest that have impacted the Near West Side recently. She said, “I can’t speak for all the other neighborhoods, but Martin Drive specifically I think there are more people who understand that are more interested in knowing history than there are those who are so close minded.”
Denise shared she had attended a local peaceful prayer protests and would “like to get more involved.” She said, “I think what we have been doing is the right way to go. I love the peaceful protests. I am so proud of Milwaukee for participating and allowing the rallies and marches that… [Police brutality and other discriminatory incidents] are wrong, it’s unjust, and it has to end. Not only police brutality against African Americans, but with anyone.”
A proud grandmother, Denise feels confident about the future of the black community. To hear more about Mrs. Johnson-Sherard’s opinion on younger generations, click the link below.
Denise is a member of the New Covenant Baptist Church and mentioned the importance of “something to lean on” during these difficult times. Denise leans on her faith and her family and recommends “even if your family is five people, make sure those five people stay connected.
To hear more about what Mrs. Johnson-Sherard recommends during these difficult times, click the link below.
Pictured above: Denise gives credit to her husband for their beautiful garden.
Near West Side Partners would like to thank Mrs. Denise Johnson-Sherard for being willing to be interviewed and for sharing her experience as a member of the Martin Drive Neighborhood.