UWM alum organizes block party and neighborhood cleanup

August 29, 2019

By Kathy Quirk

UWM alum Schuyler Ramsey is organizing a neighborhood cleanup and block party for the second year in a row. (UWM Photo/Pete Amland)

Schuyler Ramsey, who earned his bachelor’s degree in community engagement and education from UWM, is taking what he learned in the classroom back to his neighborhood.

For the second straight year, Ramsey is organizing a neighborhood cleanup and block party, which is set for Sept. 21 in the area around Benjamin Franklin School on West Nash Street. “My goal is to bring what I learn back to my community,” said the 28-year-old Ramsey, who works part time in UWM’s TRIO & Pre-College programs office and plans to start working on a master’s degree in community education this fall.

In 2018, when he was first inspired to do a neighborhood project, he asked people in the area what issues they would like to see addressed. In the 53206 ZIP code, there were many, including reckless driving, drugs and poverty. Ramsey decided to start with something focused and doable. “I had a few issues to choose from, but I kind of wanted to start small,” he said, “and that’s where the community cleanup idea came from.”

Drawing on what he’d learned in his UWM community education classes about organizing, he went door to door around West Capitol Drive, North 27th Street and West Keefe Avenue, telling people about the project and inviting them to join in. He also promoted the event on social media and through local news media.

The 2018 “Sweep the Streets” community cleanup and block party attracted several hundred residents, mostly local, who worked with volunteers from Milwaukee Public Schools and other organizations to fill a dumpster full of trash. A few sponsors donated toward food and refreshments for the block party, held near Benjamin Franklin School. Games and activities, a DJ and a dance contest encouraged neighbors to get to know each other. Community leaders spoke to the gathering about peacemaking and building a stronger community.

This year, with backing from BLOC (Black Leaders Organizing for Change), the event will expand with a theme of mental health. In addition to fun, games and yoga, community organizations will have booths and representatives available to let people know what resources are available to them. Ramsey will be passing out contact information for jobs organizations and city agencies. And, as at last year’s event, voting information will also be available.

“I named it a cleanup and block party,” Ramsey said. “However, I definitely want to educate the community. I kind of like catching them by surprise with all the educational stuff.”

April Holland, executive director of the TRIO & Pre-College programs, describes Ramsey as a “phenomenal asset” to the program. “Schuyler inspires each of us daily through his words of encouragement and positive attitude,” Holland said. “He displays a strong belief that education is important, an education is priceless, and demonstrates daily for our students that no matter what the obstacles we encounter each day, an education is your key to living a successful life.”

Ramsey sees the block party and cleanup as a way of challenging the perception that people in the neighborhood don’t care about their community. After last year’s event, he said he’s already seeing changes. Some of the young men who used to just hang out around the neighborhood helped with the cleanup and pitched in for the block party. A few have gone back to school.

Ramsey grew up in the neighborhood and still lives there. “Growing up in 53206 psyched me in a way because you see the good and the bad,” he said. “It makes me more eager to help make improvements. A lot of people want to move away, but I love it here. My goal is one little thing at a time.”