Community celebrates opening of The Griot

Last updated on May 15th, 2019 at 04:51 pm

Hundreds of community members gathered on Monday to celebrate the opening of the Griot Apartments in Milwaukee’s Bronzeville district and the future reopening of America’s Black Holocaust Museum.

America’s Black Holocaust Museum

The museum has been closed since 2008, and is slated to reopen this fall as part of a $17.7 million project being led by Maures Development LLC and Jeffers & Co.

The project includes redeveloping the historic former Garfield Avenue Elementary School. The Griot also includes four floors of new construction apartments adjacent to the school at 401 W. North Ave.

Wearing a bright red T-shirt with black lettering stating, “Let Your Inner Dopeness Arise,” developer Melissa Goins, who led the project, was a woman of few words Monday.

She invited all of the guests, who included many community leaders, city aldermen, people who lived in the neighborhood and the original members of the Black Panthers.

Actor and activist Danny Glover was also at the event. Glover is part of Sankofa, a social justice group founded by Harry Belafonte to bring support to grassroots organizations.

The celebration was held in what will become the Black Holocaust Museum. The Griot site was occupied by the former Grant’s Soul Food restaurant at 411 W. North Ave. and the former America’s Black Holocaust Museum at 2235 N. Fourth St., as well as vacant parcels at 2226-34 N. Fifth St.

The original America’s Black Holocaust Museum was founded by James Cameron, who survived a lynching in 1930 when he was 16 years old.

Cameron died in 2006 when he was 92.

This fall, Cameron’s story, the story of slavery, Jim Crow and segregation, will be on display, said Rocky Marcoux commissioner for the Department of City Development.

“It’s Milwaukee’s time to move forward and to do so, we have to confront our past,” Marcoux said. “To our embarrassment, no other city in the U.S. has as much wealth outside the city, and as much poverty in the city. If people don’t understand white privilege, they can come to the Black Holocaust Museum.”

Actor Danny Glover and developer Melissa Goins.

Marcoux praised Goins for understanding that now is Milwaukee’s time to move forward. He said that despite being a black woman in a field dominated by white men, Goins has fought.

“Nothing she does is second class,” Marcoux said. “It’s Milwaukee’s time. Let’s make sure history records it.”

The project is receiving $1.4 million in city funds (including tax incremental financing and grants), plus a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.’s Community Development Investment Grant Program has given the project $250,000 for construction of the Griot.

Alderwoman Milele Coggs said the project will not only be an economic catalyst for the area and pay reverence to the history of Bronzeville and the experiences of black America, but it will also be great for the nation and the world.

“At a time in this nation where we are talking about kids being separated from their parents, where we are discussing the meaning of white privilege and where doing anything while black could get you arrested or killed, there is no greater time for the reemergence of the Black Holocaust Museum,” Coggs said. “And no greater place than Milwaukee. It is going to take tons of us to help it survive.”

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