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.

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.