Dr. Tati Joseph

Tati photo

Photo Credit: UWM Graduate School

Words by Amanda Avalos

Dr. Tatiana (Tati) Joseph moved from Costa Rica to Milwaukee at ten years old with her family who was seeking better educational opportunities for her and her sister. She is a woman, a mother, and holds a PhD with a passion for teaching and working for social equality. Tati is one of the Founders of the Omicron Gamma chapter of Sigma Lambda Gamma National Sorority, Incorporated at Marquette University. She currently serves as an Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

As a Spanish-speaking Milwaukee Southsider, Tati grew up appreciating the diversity that her neighborhood offered. She enjoys the ability to drive down the street with her son, Noah, and husband, Josh, to the Polish bakery, while being just minutes away from tapas restaurants in Walker’s Point. To her, Milwaukee offers a “cultural hub” that is unique to Wisconsin – and believes that “Milwaukee needs more credit for this.” Her love for the city and what it provided her has helped shape her work for social equality within education.

Growing up as an undocumented person living in poverty, she saw many gaps in the educational opportunities that were available and this spurred a lifelong passion for education and aspirations to become a teacher. Despite the many inequalities and pushback that Tati witnessed within the education system, she pursued her educational goals and earned a Master’s degree where she learned how to name the problem and find the solution. With a Ph.D. in Urban Education, she now describes her role as being an agent responsible for social change. Her passion for teaching and more broadly, her passion for education is rooted in her childhood memories of playing “school” with her sister and friends where she always chose to play the role of the teacher.

Tati currently serves as the District 6 School Board Member, where she serves schools located primarily on the Southside of Milwaukee. As a member of the MPS School Board, Tati uses her position to find missed opportunities and combine her personal and academic experiences to ask the question, “how does this impact community?” Part of what she loves most is working alongside her community to building opportunities for families.

Milwaukee’s Biggest Challenge

Tati finds that one of Milwaukee’s biggest challenges is a lack of partnership between organizations and individuals. The division creates finger-pointing and blaming among community change agents and leaves everyone feeling unsupported. Her concern lies directly with her passion. The biggest questions she hopes to answer are: what is the student’s life like and what conditions enable or disable opportunities? How can we prevent families from feeling alone? How can we best support families as a community?

Tati family photo

Photo Credit: Nicole Acosta

What Makes Milwaukee Beautiful

In Tati’s experience, she describes Milwaukee as very personable. You can still find communities that come together to figure out how to change things for themselves. There are groups that come together to support one another, to collect donations for families and individuals in need. In her experience there are always people willing to help. The power of community and human touch, of sisterhood and brotherhood, of community leaders who are true about the people they serve, leaders who pull people of color to the top with them, the first generation college students and their mentors – are what makes Milwaukee, beautiful.

Tati strives to be a leader of social change and an ambassador and advocate for building spaces of educational opportunities for the city of Milwaukee. Tati makes Milwaukee beautiful by using her time to lead and represent the schools in District 6, through continuous support and mentorship for her undergrad sorority chapter, and by volunteering to help coordinate community events like Mexican Fiesta and by assisting neighborhood youth in pre-college advising. Tati makes Milwaukee beautiful.

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Alida Cardós Whaley

words by Eric Mata

You can tell her mind is always working. I imagine it is thinking about people, partnerships, and/or problems that need to be addressed.

This is how I remember Alida from our time together in Madison, WI. Constantly thinking about the next thing that could allow her to make an impact on her community. She is a writer, a mother, a muxer and a community organizer. This is what she’s doing.

Alida grew up on the northside of Milwaukee, partially in America Apartments on the far northwest side but moved to 54th and Burleigh and the Sherman Park neighborhood.  From there she went to the University of Wisconsin – Madison where she attended as a part of the First Wave Hip Hop and Urban Arts Learning Community. While there, she began her search for a connection to her roots and her identity and began organizing first with the First Wave program and then with Movimiento Estudiantil Chican@ de Aztlán (MEChA). It was through her experience with MEChA where she developed the foundation for how to organize effectively, how to interpret the world and began to inform the consciousness she uses to engage the world.

When she first went to college, she told herself that she was not going back to Milwaukee. There was too much anger at the city of Milwaukee and all of the issues that not only she had to deal with, but because of all that was wrong with the city. But that all began to change through some of the connections Alida made as a result of her participating in the First Wave program.

We came to include Alida because of the work she has been doing with STITCH. This experience came out of her participation in the First Wave program where she first cut her teeth in community organizing. She also began to understand the importance of intentional space. Just Bust was her first experience with space and the importance of providing space not just as a physical experience but a space for voice.

As with most students of color who attend historically white institutions like the University of Wisconsin, the idea of space became hyper-critical to Alida and most of the folks she began to surround herself with. She began to organize around accountability and justice. It was through these experiences that she began to think more about Milwaukee and what it was (or was not) providing the young people of her city. It was through this that STITCH started to take shape.

According to Alida, as they began to think through what STITCH would be, they “talked about the city being the most racially segregated. It was our lived experience. What about a name that speaks to that? Jeanette threw out STITCH. They wanted to bring our people together. North and South. To heal, to stitch our wounds, but also like stitch as in clothing. The idea of changing location creates the movement that brings the city together just like if you’re stitching something together.” And thus STITCH was born.

STITCH has happened every summer since 2009. Historically there would be workshops before every open mic from poetry, to breakdance, to stenciling, to know your rights, to emceeing, hip hop, urban arts, culture while always focusing on creating space for people to create.

The STITCH folks are always encouraging young people to bring new ideas. In 2013 an idea was presented for a mural project. Most of the murals here in the city were dilapidated. While Alida was involved in organizing the project, Jeanette Martín and Tia Richardson, a local artist, held the space. More information can be found on their website.

While STITCH didn’t present their regularly scheduled Summer Open Mic Series this year, they did re-imagine the intention via a two-day arts and music festival that will be held on September 12 and 13 with each day being held on a different side of the city. More information can be found here and here. (Check the website for updated information for Sunday’s event)

Festival del Barrio Poster

Milwaukee has a history of challenges. Wisconsin as a state is the worst state to raise a black child. For Alida, it makes her angry to think about the inequality that exists amongst its people. There is a difference in a person’s ability to access basic human rights simply because of the color of your skin, or the neighborhood in which you live. Alida put it best when she said that not everyone has a dignified life and that people are being denied the opportunity to live with dignity. And a part of what makes this a reality for so many is the militarization of our communities through the increase of police presence.

But there is some good happening in Milwaukee that Alida has come to know. Alida shared Alice’s Garden, directed by Venice Williams as an example of a space that has been created to reclaim and nourish cultural and family traditions connected to land and food According to Alida, a part of what makes Venice and her work so great is that she knows the context she works within. Venice connects people and creates spaces, she addresses real issues and invites everyone to the table. Venice is a visionary and a leader and someone Alida and the STITCH collective have come to love as a mentor. Alida believes in the importance of creating autonomous community spaces where the parameters are defined by the community and this is just what STITCH strives to do.

To close out our chat, I asked Alida what makes Milwaukee beautiful. I’ll let her tell you in her own words.

I think about Milwaukee as the land. It was here before we got here. It was someone else’s home before we got here. The spirit of the land lives here. It is alive. It’s its own life source. It has always been beautiful. I think about the spaces that STITCH has created and that’s beautiful. There are babies to grandparents. And it reminds me of how our ancestors would gather.

Dasha Kelly

words by Eric Mata

Dasha Kelly is a writer, poet, actor, and community leader with a heart as large as our city and an even bigger spirit. I had a chance to speak to her over the phone during my commute home from work by train. This is a small peek into her life.


Photo Credit - Catina Cole

Photo Credit – Catina Cole

Dasha is the founder of the Stillwaters Collective. What started as one workshop being done at the request of a high school has turned into a full-fledged program that engages and interacts with thousands of young people throughout the city of Milwaukee.

Responding To The Call

It started with a teacher asking Dasha to come in to do a workshop for one of her classes. That one class became multiple workshops for that same teacher; which turned into multiple workshops in that same school; which became workshops in several schools across the city. In order to fulfill the need, she pulled in folks from across the city who do this kind of youth engagement work and found ways to bring them in. As Dasha puts it, she was just “responding to the call.”

Over the years, the Stillwaters Collective evolved into its current form: from a collective of teaching artists going into schools, in to a youth empowerment and engagement initiative that seeks to help young people find their voice and encourage their leadership.

In its current iteration, Stillwaters is an artistic platform for youth that helps them understand what their voice needs to sound like. One way that this manifests itself is through the Milwaukee Slam League. The league pits local schools against each other in a competition style poetry slam. But just like most youth-centered poetry slams, the points are not the point of the competition. The point of the Milwaukee Slam League is about the space it creates for young people to find their voice, and to share their stories.

But the opportunities for youth do not end once they finish high school. Once a student has graduated, they are eligible to serve as interns/facilitators for the Collective. This opportunity provides a space for this age group to serve as mentors and leaders for other young people. they learn how to run an organization and/or coordinate programs. For Dasha, this is an entryway for young people to engage in “excellence in art, leadership and community development.” But more importantly, Dasha sees it as an opportunity to find their selves, to shape their thoughts, and to be engaged listeners.

Photo Credit - US Embassy Botswana

Photo Credit – US Embassy Botswana

Milwaukee’s Biggest Challenge

According to Dasha, one of Milwaukee’s biggest challenges is that we operate in silos that are oftentimes rooted in our history of segregation. We are divided by class, by age, by race, by affinity. In a sense, these silos dictate where one is allowed or not allowed based on how they identify. But for Dasha, it’s not just that. She feels like “there is complacency in the water.” Almost as if there is an acceptance of the complacency. For Dasha, this is what’s disheartening. There’s almost a sense that to question or even consider that things could/should be different is too much of a challenge of the status quo. Dasha believes that we should be able to consider what the city needs to be, in order to move forward.

“The city needs an injection of fresh, a reaching across borders, an asking of [critical] questions out loud,” says Dasha. And this takes the encouragement and applauding of coalitions, of cross partnerships and a “celebration of the new and fresh.”

What Makes Milwaukee Beautiful

Recently, Dasha was leading a writing workshop for young people that centered around personification. She asked the students to give their neighborhood a persona and to write as if they were their respective neighborhoods. As any good facilitator would do, she had prepared her own example.

Dasha lives near the Johnson Park neighborhood on the city’s northside. She shared with the students that her neighborhood is “like a good student in a bad class.” Dasha went on to share that “the two block radius around her house is an oasis” where she is able to walk around her neighborhood without a worry, but that the outer ring is a struggling community and is “reminded of the work that needs to be done.”

But what makes Milwaukee beautiful to her is that the city is full of surprises. The the city is constantly reminding her of what it is capable of. Dasha on more than one occasion has found herself thinking “once you feel like you know [the city], you meet someone new” who is doing some outstanding work. And of course, “the lake.”

This notion of constantly being reminded of the good people emerging from the bellows of this city, doing amazing work is really at the center of this website. It is what we hope to do through these stories and profiles.