Five People Share Their 'Why'
PHOTO COURTESY OF FOREST COUNTY POTAWATOMI CULTURAL CENTER, LIBRARY AND MUSEUM
The humanities ask what it means to be human. The public humanities invite all of us to explore our histories and cultural traditions, reflect on society and its challenges, hear each others’ stories, and fuel an expansive, democratic vision for our communities.
We asked five people engaged in this work with us to describe a moment that reveals the “why” of what they do.
Community Powered Project Coordinator Sapatis Menomin is helping the Forest County Potawatomi community revive their history with lacrosse to deepen connections to their cultural heritage.
PHOTO BY RACHEAL MENOMIN
Returning to this place as WH’s Community Powered Project Coordinator, I’ve experienced how interconnected our stories are, and how these connections can live on across generations when we maintain them.
At the Forest County Potawatomi Cultural Center, Library and Museum I was recently introduced to a community member who remembered my grandfather and his brothers. The elder told me his memories of my family and the homestead. To meet someone here who knew my grandfather meant so much to me. I am a tribal member, but his recollections gave me a true sense of belonging to my ancestral family and this community.
Elders in the community longed to revive their long history with lacrosse, so we have been researching and crafting traditional lacrosse sticks. The sticks and other woodcrafts will be housed at the cultural center, where we will create events around them. Documenting the process of making the woodcrafts and the stories that emerge about them will inspire conversations and connections to the community’s cultural heritage and history.
Sapatis Menomin is one of four young professionals hired by WH for the pilot year of the Community Powered initiative. They are collaborating with local nonprofit organizations, businesses, and citizens in communities across the state to create locally meaningful projects. Community Powered builds resilience by helping communities recognize, communicate, and act upon their strengths, their challenges, and their histories to envision a vibrant future.
PHOTO BY JENNY PLEVIN
One leading reason is the commitment of our partners, Mothers Against Gun Violence and the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. Their ongoing academic and community collaboration to archive survivors’ stories and inspire activism deserved to be showcased. We felt that sharing these complex and often unheard stories in a theater production could counter the desensitizing effect of exposure to gun violence day in and day out.
Before the first performance, tragedy hit home. The best friend of one of our actors was shot and killed. We were heartbroken for her as she struggled to get through each line, and we were amazed at her strength and determination to remain in the production.
More than ever, it was clear to us that we needed to present Milwaukee Voices of Gun Violence to “make it real” beyond news reports. We were meant to support our artist friend and other survivors of gun violence. We were meant to share the experiences, self-examine for meaning, discuss our reactions, and come together in a healing circle.
These poignant stories were riveting and heartfelt. You could hear a pin drop at each performance. The diverse audience uttered one word again and again: “Powerful.” Those reactions, and the ripple effect the play will continue to have, confirm our decision to go forth with this project.
Barbara Wanzo is the Executive Director of Black Arts MKE. Wisconsin Humanities grants support projects like this one that use the humanities in creative ways, such as turning oral histories into theater, to help Wisconsinites learn about and work together on challenges that face our communities.
PHOTO BY NATE GRIMM
One of my students who’s in theater became curious about a “ghost light” on stage that represents someone who has passed on. With the tools of the interview and active listening that we learn in the humanities classroom, she explored the artistic life of the deceased alumna, Nicole. My student communicated with Nicole’s family, friends, and former teachers and created a legacy video that was presented alongside other student projects at our culminating event. The video has had a lasting effect on our community. The students involved have described it as “transformative.”
A project like this leads students to think, “What I do here matters. I, too, can have an impact.” The video is just one example among many student projects. Taken all together, you see how far their impact reaches.
Whether we’re engaging with a veteran, a downhill skier, a graphic designer, or a firefighter, we deepen the relationships between people in Slinger. When students engage intentionally with someone in the community, they find potential within themselves that they might not have felt before.
Nate Grimm, a history and sociology teacher at Slinger High School, received funding from WH for Finding Voice, Building Community: Art, Innovation, and Design in the Slinger Area. Wisconsin Humanities has given grants to almost 1,400 different organizations for more than 3,500 community-led projects, from schools and libraries to museums, universities, and every conceivable kind of civic organization. WH–funded projects prompt learning that sparks imagination and conversation, and build connections that are the foundation of a healthy democracy.
PHOTO BY JADE ISERI-RAMOS
Inside, I caught a glimpse of coffee and pastries, which I learned are a key part of the work. The coffee serves as a warm welcome to check in and connect. This is a place where people aren’t judged based on their past or if they’re experiencing homelessness. They can get a change of clothes here. They can get mail delivered here. They can find a place to store important items like bikes or baby pictures.
I knew what organizations like this did in theory. But nothing revealed the humanity of the work like seeing how essential it is to have a safe space to connect with another person—someone who will wonder where you are if you don’t show up for coffee.
The Open Door staff works closely together, and they have a way of relating that left an impression.
I saw them turn to one another for comfort when talking about a difficult situation. I watched them operate with the same empathy for each other that they show to the community they serve. I’m honored to share this with listeners who tune in to the new season of Human Powered.
Jade Iseri-Ramos, a sound producer at Field Noise Soundworks, helps create Human Powered, our podcast about people, places, and connections. Season 2 launches early in 2023 and includes six in-depth stories from people impacted by Wisconsin’s prison system and their engagement with the humanities. Listen and subscribe at wisconsinhumanities.org/podcast.
PHOTO BY AARON GOTTSCHALK, UW-WHITEWATER
This especially rang true during my interview with Christina Schwab, a Paralympic wheelchair basketball gold medalist and head coach of the UW-Whitewater women’s wheelchair basketball team. She shared a time her non-disabled mother challenged her on using the term “able-bodied,” telling Christina, “You’re at the Olympics! You’re more able-bodied than I am!”
I was an athlete; I’ve been a coach. I whine about my knees, my shoulder hurting. The perspective Christina has about her disability and what she’s experienced because of it really made me see things in a different way.
We all have our own ways and beliefs, but stories create an opening. We can see each other as people first. This is more important than ever. We’re divided, and we need to get to know each other a little better.
This is one reason why I love the new Love Wisconsin Story Bridges program. People you would never, ever expect to sit down together start to understand each other. If they can do it, anyone can. Stories can tie us back together.
Scott Schulz is a freelance producer for Love Wisconsin, our digital storytelling project that celebrates our state, our lives, and our shared future. The new Love Wisconsin Story Bridges project invites readers to share a Love Wisconsin story as a way to prompt genuine conversation with a friend or family member with a different perspective, and offers resources to help.
Getting to know people, and learning something about their personal story, can break down barriers between us and help us better understand each other. So we are excited to introduce season 2 of Human Powered podcast, where we are talking with people who have been impacted by the justice system. And with Love Wisconsin Story Bridges, we are offering conversation starters that make it easy to use Love Wisconsin's powerful stories to spark meaningful discussions about things that matter to you.
Wisconsin Humanities has been funding public humanities programs for 50 years! That is over 3,000 grants, in every corner of the state. We are spotlighting two outstanding projects that are making Wisconsin a better place for all of us to live: A program for rural youth about race and identity and a new outdoor exhibition commemorating the stories of Ho-Chunk families.