Having lived the majority of the past five years in other cities, I’m always filled with pride whenever I hear news regarding Wisconsin — even more so when it’s about Milwaukee. It allows me to rekindle that connection I have with the place I called home for the better part of 18 years.
Milwaukee is rarely a city in the national spotlight, and it remains underrated or unknown to the rest of the country.
Yet, I couldn’t express any surprise when I heard about the unrest and riots which sprung up in our city in August; much of the underlying tensions which have defined our communities found themselves thrust into the spotlight, leaving us all with the uncomfortable feeling of attempting to reconcile and move forward with it.
For anyone who’s spent significant time here, we know segregation is a living reality. And I don’t just mean by geography. For decades, many groups of people who have called Milwaukee home have adopted an “us vs. the rest” attitude, born out of a resentment of being targeted or, even worse, being ignored.
Of course, given recent national concerns and situations, the most obvious example of these is the perceived conflict between law enforcement and minority communities.
Before I go any further, I’m not writing this to express any sort of opinion about the politics associated with what happened in Milwaukee. Rather, I’m writing more to discuss how we can — and must — move forward, propelled and guided by principles that anchor how we live our lives in faith.
Turn to any book in the Bible and you won’t need to page through very long before finding an example of groups that stand against each other. “Us vs. the rest” or “us vs. them” is too ubiquitous of a theme in our faith. While Catholicism has at times used conflict to move ahead in the world, we cannot deny that our faith, our church, has been strongest when we’ve sought to find common ground, and sought to reconcile with, rather than fight against, others.
We cannot pretend the societal issues that were dragged into the forefront these last few weeks are easy ones to solve. At the same time, we cannot allow our differences and our anger to dictate how we can interact with each other.
We cannot place blame on just one group of people, but more importantly, we surely will not be able to move forward without the help of everyone. We can and must find it within ourselves to believe that, together, we can find ways to improve the city we call home.
I have been struck by how, in Scripture, the sick were often marginalized and viewed with distain. It took the actions of one man, Jesus Christ, to push us to love our neighbor, regardless of our differences. While we are not him, we all are capable of making the effort to do the same. We can make Milwaukee better.
(Espino, a 2011 graduate of Marquette University High School, Milwaukee, who earned his bachelor’s degree in economics and political science at Harvard University in May 2015, works at an investment management firm in Los Angeles. His home parish is St. Vincent de Paul, Milwaukee. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org)