Deborah Ford-Lewis moved into her home in Sherman Park in 1991. She and her husband had a two-year-old child at the time and wanted to live on a safe and quiet block where he could grow up. They found that sanctuary on a tree-lined street in this neighborhood. Ms. Ford-Lewis currently serves on the Board of the Sherman Park Community Association. As an active community member, she is dedicated to community improvement. She also understands the importance of reaching out to young people in the neighborhood.
Ms. Ford-Lewis learned community-based activism from her father. As a child growing up in Milwaukee during the civil rights movement, her father taught her "right is right and wrong is wrong," and that you should always stand up for what you believe in. She remembers experiencing de facto segregation in schools as a child, and watching the National Guard go by during the 1967 riots. These specific events didn’t make her the person she is today, but they certainly had an impact. These experiences are also the reason why she appreciates a neighborhood like Sherman Park so much.
After her family moved from Arkansas to Milwaukee, Ms. Ford-Lewis went through the Milwaukee Public School system and then to Lawrence University and Marquette University where she received her law degree. Raising two sons and working a demanding job, she didn’t have much time to invest in her community. Yet, she made it a point to know her neighbors. She remembers her children playing with other kids on the block while adults sat outside and supervised.
Now that Ms. Ford-Lewis is retired, she finds time to be more involved in her neighborhood. Times have changed. There aren’t as many homeowners as there used to be. People are struggling financially and the crime has increased. Nevertheless, she is encouraged by the young families coming in and the younger members of the community starting to take on leadership roles. She continues to be close to many of her neighbors on the street and across the alley, including renters. Responding to stories of difficulties with careless tenants in the area, Mrs. Ford-Lewis reminds us that the renters next door to her care just as much about their property as she does. She is also working with the Sherman Park Community Association to include renters into conversations around community and stewardship. Since tenants are such a large percentage of residents in the area, she believes involving them is crucial to improving their investment and sense of ownership in the community.
Ms. Ford-Lewis owns a duplex and rents out the upstairs unit to her sons. Before her sons moved in, her parents lived upstairs for many years. For her children, growing up in an intergenerational household had a significant influence. She enjoys having her family upstairs and says that there are many other duplexes on the block that have the same intergenerational setup, which creates a certain connected atmosphere as well as a link to history. When she hosts large family parties, people can spread out all over the house and use both units.
Ms. Ford-Lewis enjoys all the light and fresh air from the large windows in her apartment. She likes her alone-time, which she describes as moments when she can open the windows, read, and listen to jazz. After retirement she found more time to keep up with her landscaping and gardening. She has bushes and flowers at the front of her home, tomatoes on the side, and a raised herb garden in her back yard. The care that Ms. Ford-Lewis shows her community is also reflected in the way she tends her home and garden.
Deborah Ford-Lewis does not have plans to leave Sherman Park any time soon. In her retirement, she is now hoping to do more work the the elderly and abused and neglected children.
"This is a neighborhood worth fighting for."