Crossing Milwaukee Garden Homes community, you can find Martha “Mama” Freeman. The anti-violence community activist has become such a fixture in the neighborhood that they even named a street after her.
Mama Freeman has spent most of her life working for the community as a school crossing guard, teacher, community builder and now as a pastor at Alpha Omega Ministries. Mama Freeman also spent 20 years working inside the reformatory. She often worked the night shift, where she engaged with incarcerated people and spoke about their emotional well-being in life.
“You know some of them, did you think, were so hard and rough during the day, [but] at night it wasn’t like that,” Freeman says. “They were sitting down. Some would cry. And it just changed my whole perspective. I just wanted to see if I could help them out and help them stay out.
These experiences motivated Freeman’s anti-violence and community-building activism within the Garden Homes community. She moved to the neighborhood in the early 70s and became famous for playing basketball, orchestrating fashion shows on her front porch, and hosting watermelon eating contests.
“I think that’s why they put my name on the street,” Freeman says. “It was a place where I dreamed of, you know, my own home and I didn’t have to take my kids far because the park was right there. I love this neighborhood.
Freeman believes that generating a sense of community and respect in the neighborhood is key to reducing violence in Milwaukee. She says she knows practically everyone in the neighborhood because she saw most of them growing up.
“I sincerely believe that the Lord put me there. Because it seems like if there’s a problem in the street, I can just go out there and say, ‘now what did you guys do?’ ” Freeman said. “You know, I’m just able to deter them, you know, some of the violence and that makes my heart feel good.
Freeman’s involvement led to clashes with large crowds and even the removal of weapons from other people’s hands. She explains that she does everything out of love for people and her desire to get good out of them, even though it takes a lot to bring out that good.
“I never thought I’d be a pastor, and I never thought I’d have my name on the street, and I never thought I’d achieve goals like that. But honestly, I just think working with people who are in positions like [the] city councilor and senator and those kinds of people. I think there is hope there.
Have a story idea you’d like to hear about Lake Effect? Share below.