‘We need more love in this community’

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‘Building Hope’ panelists discuss changing roles in 2020 unrest, hopes for 2021

KENOSHA ⸺ “We need more love in this community.”

After an hour-and-a-half-long conversation, Ald. Anthony Kennedy boiled down the vast issues facing the city into a missing component in its core: Love.

“You don’t have to like me,” the Dist. 10 alderman said. “But you do have to love me.

“And I have to love you.”

Kennedy gave his response during Thursday’s “Building Hope: Your Voice Matters Part 2” event hosted by the LIHF Initiative and the Kenosha County Democratic Party.

The “Building Hope” series focuses on giving a voice and conversational outlet to those in the Kenosha community who haven’t previously been given such a platform. Sally Simpson of the Kenosha County Democratic Party and Atifa Robinson of the Lifecourse Initiative for Healthy Families (LIHF).

While the first installment of the series focused on activism, last night’s installment focused on the role of government and community leaders, and how they found their roles changing in 2020.

Kennedy, Rev. Lawrence Kirby and Kenosha County Dist. 16 Supervisor Jerry Gulley served as the featured panelists.

What is your role?

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Kennedy and Kirby had already been serving in their roles as alderman and pastor in the community.

However, Gulley, who entered office in April 2020, spent the majority of his freshman year on the County Board dealing with pandemic- and race-related issues.

The traditional roles of each participant were:

  • Kennedy, alderman, serving on the City Council ⏤ the “legislative branch” of the city, he explained;
  • Gulley, supervisor, serving on County Board ⏤ jurisdiction over the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department, Kenosha County Health Department and other county departments, and said described “Google” for many constituents;
  • And Kirby, local pastor ⏤ “taking care of people and leading them in their faith.”

“I always wanted to be part of a church Kenosha needs,” Kirby added.

All three roles changed during pandemic, unrest

However, when the pandemic and the killing of George Floyd impacted the local community, all three adjusted their roles in order to fit the evolving landscape of the city on a daily basis.

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Kenosha County Supervisor Jerry Gulley. Photo by Daniel Thompson/The Uptown Observer.

For Gulley, perhaps the shift came during the time that the County Board introduced a resolution to make racism a public health crisis in Kenosha County.

He recalled that, when he first saw the resolution, he didn’t think much of it.

However, other supervisors’ reactions when it was first introduced to the Human Services Committee, which he serves on, were eye-opening.

“I kind of went into the meeting thinking it was kind of like a throwaway, and then was very surprised to be sitting in a room with people who literally said that racism doesn’t exist.

“And so, I think that just the declaration and identifying it is something that is valuable.”

Gulley is now the chair of the county’s Racial Equity Work Group. That group is tasked with coming up with the guidelines that will govern members of the Racial Equity Commission.

Work group members will choose who will sit on the commission, which will be tasked with recognizing and addressing inequities in county policies and ordinances.

Kennedy’s role in 2020

Kennedy tried to put himself in the middle of the community and serve as a calming voice, especially during the unrest, he said.

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Ald. Anthony Kennedy, who serves on the Licenses and Permits Committee, speaks at a Kenosha Tavern League meeting in 2020. Photo by Daniel Thompson/The Uptown Observer.

However, now he calls that move “arrogance.”

He also now looks back a little critically at how entities didn’t forward concerned citizens with questions on to the right sources.

“I think one of the disservices we did over the unrest is (when people had concerns) what we didn’t do is state who could address those concerns,” Kennedy said.

In fact, both Kennedy and Gulley mentioned people passionately arguing with them and putting them down for not taking action on things that were beyond the purview of their respective government bodies.

“The city of Kenosha, the Common Council cannot fire the police chief,” Kennedy said, referencing the most common call from the community in public comments submitted before city meetings.

The only thing he could do is write a resolution to the Police and Fire Commission stating that the city had lost trust in the chief and ask them to take action, he said. However, the council cannot unilaterally order something to that effect, he explained.

However, Kennedy acknowledged that he has a heavy heart concerning the Jacob Blake shooting in August 2020.

“My job is to maintain or improve the lives of my constituents,” he said. “For Jacob Blake, whose family lives in my district, I failed.”

From heaven above to the world below

For Kirby, whose mission had naturally focused him on the kingdom of God above as a pastor, he found himself trying to help people make sense of the earth below.

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Pastor Lawrence Kirby speaks to a crowd at the Civil War Museum after a press conference held by Mayor John Antaramian in September 2020. Photo by Daniel Thompson/The Uptown Observer. 

He found himself helping congregants and people in the community make sense of the events of summer 2020.

However, even in that, he still sees how faith will lead the way to a better place in 2021.

He expects to do this by not “generalizing issues so we don’t see them as personal.”

“Relationships, developing deep relationships helps to humanize issues we tend to generalize,” he said.

He also hopes to find more ways to lift up the community and partner with more organizations.

All three agree that unity does not mean letting bygones be bygones

While the word “unity” has been thrown around quite a bit lately, Kirby cautioned against unearned unity.

“Unity is not just we’re going to let bygones be bygones and move on and hold hands,” he said.

Moving on before dealing with the underlying issues  will only lead to the same problems, he expressed. First, we must rebuild trust. Only transparency from city officials and on all levels can do that, he said.

“On the heels of trust, we can find that unity,” he said.

For Kennedy, in order to move forward, “we need to stop using absolutes.”

“We have to stop the idea that we need to buy into everything. We need to find commonalities.”

However, the process takes time, Gulley added.

“Trust is not a switch,” he said.

Put aside egos

Kennedy would also like to see everyone stow their egos in order to truly move Kenosha forward this year.

“The work is what’s important,” he said. “Not whether or not you like me. We gotta get past emotions.

“The work is what’s important.”

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