Bright Spots

Four local initiatives make Cream City a safer, healthier place to live.


When small groups of people come together, they can do great things. We talk to enterprising residents behind projects making a positive impact in Milwaukee — and neighbors who support them.

Gather Together
Joshua Stephens and Charles Carmickle, both regular patrons of Tricklebee Café in Sherman Park, say the café is much than more than a pay-what-you-can eatery. It’s a community and a sanctuary — a place where those from diverse backgrounds and circumstances enjoy pleasant hospitality without worrying about what they can afford.

“The food is locally sourced, and it’s a place where people meet people they know and new friends (too),” Stephens says.

Café owner Christie Melby-Gibbons, a Moravian minister, is joined by her husband, David, employees who earn $14.32 an hour, and a group of volunteers. She says the café is a “calling” to offer local food — much of which has been donated. Patrons cover the meal cost, give more as a donation, or pay nothing at all.  

“This is a melting pot,” she says, noting that the café is a safe space for those in distress.

4424 W. North Ave., (414) 488-2477,

Quality Counts
Having mastered the art of cuisine, Chef Michael Feker is adding a new role to his repertoire: turning a boarded-up building in one of Milwaukee’s most distressed neighborhoods into a community-supported restaurant, grocery store and agricultural facility.

The project, which Feker named the “3 Story Project,” involves remodeling the Ramona Building on North 27th Street, a city-owned, Mediterranean Revival-style structure in dire condition. He proposed a $500,000 renovation to repurpose the 13,000-square-foot space, hoping to address the area’s dearth of quality, healthy food options.

“The community needs to come together,” Feker says. “I can’t do this by myself. I’m not coming in riding a white horse and saving everything. I need other people to be involved.”

District 7 Alderman Khalif J. Rainey echoes Feker’s sentiment. “That’s the only way to get buy-in,” Rainey says. “We have to include the entire neighborhood so that they will support (it).”

The alderman envisions a community center beyond the culinary arts. “People are conditioned to eat unhealthy, so what better way to bring the neighborhood together than over a place where healthy food is introduced?” he says.

Blessings, No Questions Asked
Freestanding kiosks of food and household/hygiene products are now planted in some of Milwaukee’s neediest neighborhoods, thanks to the ingenuity of two young CEOs. Reginald Reed of Mindful Staffing Solutions and Rashaad Washington of ProTrade Job Development Center recently established Blessing Box Milwaukee, an initiative with a nationwide presence. Residents are encouraged to donate what they can to the kiosks, and items can be taken for free — no questions asked. The first box was installed in late May on North Teutonia Avenue, and the plan is to add six more by the end of the summer.  

Change Leaders
Students get beyond-classroom experience through Lead2Change, an organization that provides students quality leadership opportunities through internships with participating businesses and organizations.

Dionne Grayson, president and chief innovation officer, says the ever-evolving work includes measuring a student’s confidence, professionalism, teamwork, communication and critical thinking.
“We don’t have it all figured out, but we see progress,” Grayson says.

That progress is seen in Devon Ellis, a recent Rufus King High School graduate who in April was recognized by the Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee for his Lead2Change work, which involved mentoring other students.

Ellis is enrolled at Morehouse College in Atlanta, and is working toward his goal of pursuing a career in corporate finance. He also plans to return to Milwaukee.

“It can be a rough environment,” Ellis says, “but this place made me who I am, so it’s only right that I give back.”