Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service

Lake Effect Contributor

Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, or NNS, is an online source for objective, professional multimedia reporting on issues in 18 central city Milwaukee communities.

NNS covers stories that are important to the people who live, work and serve in city neighborhoods, on topics such as education, public safety, economic development, health and wellness, environment, recreation, employment, youth development and housing.

NNS has won several prestigious awards, including a 2014 gold award for best news or feature website from the Milwaukee Press Club and a regional Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence from RTDNA (Radio Television Digital News Association) in March 2012.

Sharon McGowan, editor-in-chief of NNS, is a reporter, writer, editor and teacher. She has a master’s degree from Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, and started her career as an investigative reporter and managing editor of The Chicago Reporter, a monthly publication covering race relations and poverty issues. She later was managing editor/assistant news director at all-news WBBM-AM, and then assignment manager for WBBM-TV, both CBS stations in Chicago.

McGowan and her husband, Jim, founded Complete Communications, Inc. in 1986. She also directed the graduate Introduction to Journalism program at Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University and was an adjunct lecturer for more than 20 years. She has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Radio Television News Directors Association, Women in Communications and others.

Jabril Faraj is a staff reporter for NNS. Raised in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood, he is a graduate of MPS Riverside University High School and alumnus of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Prior to joining the NNS staff, Faraj wrote and reported for the Boulder Daily Camera, Colorado’s second-largest daily publication. He has also been published in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and Milwaukee BizTimes. Since June 2014 he has explored the streets and neighborhoods of Milwaukee, meeting people and sharing their personal stories via milwaukeestories.org.

Edgar Mendez is a beat reporter for NNS, covering Clarke Square, the neighborhood in which he lives. Prior to joining the team, he was a feature writer for El Conquistador Newspaper in Milwaukee and a web writer/reporter for Scene262.com in Racine. Mendez, who is bilingual in English and Spanish, earned his undergraduate degree from UW-Milwaukee with a double major in Journalism and Media Communications and Sociology, and his master’s degree in Communication from Marquette University. He won a 2014 award from the Milwaukee Press Club for his article headlined “Black men bear the brunt of unequal enforcement of marijuana laws.” In 2008, he won a Society of Professional Journalists’ regional award for social columns dealing with diverse issues such as poverty, homelessness and racism.

Brendan O’Brien is a staff reporter for the NNS. During his career as a reporter and editor, O’Brien has covered breaking news, politics and governmental affairs for several news outlets, including Thomson Reuters and the Racine Journal Times.

O’Brien has a bachelor’s degree from DePaul University and a master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin Robert La Follette School of Public Affairs, where he focused on social policy such as poverty, employment and housing.

Andrea Waxman is a staff reporter at NNS. A professional writer, she completed a graduate certificate in Digital Storytelling at Marquette University’s Diederich College of Communication. Previously, she worked as a reporter and editor for a community newspaper and taught English and Japanese in several area middle and high schools. Waxman has lived in Milwaukee since 1981, but spent most of her early years living in Tokyo, where her father was stationed at the American embassy. She returned to Japan in 1986 and again in 1993 when her husband was there as a Fulbright scholar.

The number of GED graduates at Milwaukee’s main test sites plummeted beginning in 2014, the year a new GED test — a computer-based exam that focuses on higher-order thinking — was adopted across the nation. Still, educators agree that the new test assesses the skills that are needed to succeed in today’s workplace, and the passing rate has improved — from 47 percent in 2014 to 72 percent in 2016.

Women of color in Milwaukee will be disproportionately harmed by a provision in the American Health Care Act ending Medicaid reimbursements for abortion providers, such as Planned Parenthood. This could result in severely limited services such as gynecological exams, STD testing and treatment, and contraception.

Until she was 20, Tiferet Berenbaum, 34, had never seen a gynecologist. She had never had a Pap smear, or even heard of one.

Andrea Waxman

In spring 2013, the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service started an occasional series of stories about four graduating high school students who participated in a program that helps students from low-income families get into college and earn a degree. Four years later, they checked back to see how they are doing.

Jabril Faraj

Around dusk on a Thursday night in early August, a group of about 30 black men parade down the 4300 block of N. 25th Street in Garden Homes.

Jabril Faraj

Zahra Omar describes her aunt as a strong woman. But when she resisted armed Somali militants who had entered her home, they tied her up before one of the men shot and killed her.

“My daddy, too — he died like that,” said Omar, 25. “I’ve never seen my dad.”

WIDOCC

In the wee hours of the morning on July 1, 2015, Valencia Laws decided it was time to take a walk around Wilson Park. Her water had broken the night before and after eight hours of contractions she set off, accompanied by her husband and her doula, DeAnna Tharpe.

“There were people walking their dogs and I would have a contraction and have to stop,” she said. “They would be looking at me like ‘I don’t know if she’s supposed to be here.’”

But with Tharpe by her side, Laws knew she was exactly where she needed to be.

Sue Vliet

For Mary Ward, who worked as a prostitute on West Lincoln and West Greenfield avenues for decades, the scenario had played itself out a thousand times before. During her date, her pimp was to show up, deliver drugs, collect money and leave. But this time, things quickly broke badly, and in the end, Ward’s john would lay lifeless in the street with two bullet holes in his head. Faced with the decision of whether to stay or run away, Ward waited for police to arrive. That was the last day she used drugs or allowed someone to abuse her body.

“That was my do or die day,” Ward said.

Andrea Waxman

A new city law that will take effect on Oct. 28 prohibits panhandling on street medians narrower than 5 feet, or any highway ramp that might be dangerous for pedestrians. Panhandling itself is not illegal.

All 15 members of the council voted in favor of the measure, which the mayor signed into law Wednesday.

According to the ordinance, violators can be fined $50 to $200 plus court costs or imprisoned if unable to pay.

Jabril Faraj

Community organizations from across Milwaukee sent a clear, unified message to the Common Council at a recent Public Safety Committee hearing: more police will not be sufficient to reduce violence and crime in the city.

Jabril Faraj

Since Saturday night, Sherman Park has been roiled by protests that have, at times, turned violent in the wake of the police killing of Sylville K. Smith, a 23-year-old black man.

Residents have expressed pain over these events but many who were present in the area following the shooting said they understand why people are angry.

Sue Vliet

Jackie Burrell is looking forward to living in a new apartment after the entire western section of Westlawn, the state’s largest public housing development, is torn down and rebuilt. Burrell said her unit, which was built in the 1950s, sometimes floods when it rains and mold is an ongoing problem.

Sophia Boyd / Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service

All Lismari Montes, 15, had to do was find the bottle of prescribed sleeping pills that were hidden in her parent’s room. “I’m done” was all she could think as she walked upstairs to her room, yearning for escape from her exhausting fight with depression.

Anger drove her to this point. She was angry at her family and herself. “I like to think of it as a snowball,” she said. “It went from this little tiny issue … to the point where I didn’t think [it] was worth living.”

Wyatt Massey

In a two-part series on the ongoing risk of lead poisoning in Milwaukee, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service reports on how diminished federal funding for lead-abatement efforts prompted the City to limit subsidies to six North Side ZIP codes, leaving owners of old homes in other neighborhoods scrambling for help. The series also looks at how Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers responds to elevated blood lead levels in children on the South Side. 

Photo by Allison Dikanovic / Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service

The commercial sex trade industry works like any other market, with supply and demand. Experts say that a stronger emphasis on deterring people from purchasing sex in Milwaukee would address a root cause of the problem.

Martha Kuhlman looked down, feeling outside of her body. She saw herself climb into the backseat of a car in a body-hugging dress as a man promised to go get her money. Instead of cash, he returned with a knife in hand. Before tossing her out onto the curb, the man strangled the young woman until she lost consciousness.

Photo by Andrea Waxman

When Shiredon Roper and her children fled their home two months ago to escape a violent situation, they took shelter in abandoned buildings. Roper dared not sleep as she watched over her son, 15, and daughter, 10, she said.

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