Although Jackie Smith was born in Chicago, she claims Milwaukee as the city that raised her. She explains that she is a product of the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) because she graduated from Custer High School in 1980. She attended several colleges such as the Cardinal Stritch University, Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC), and Lakeland University. She received her associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees in Computer Science. Since then, she has been working as an analyst for WE Energies. She purchased her first home when she was twenty-four years old. The house was on 18th off of Hadley Street. She moved from there after she had her first child.
The home that Ms. Smith purchased in the Sherman Park neighborhood used to belong to a family member who had inherited it. It was a convenient buy. She already knew the neighbors who lived in the upper unit of the duplex. She was familiar with the lower level and was initially attracted to the woodwork and craftsmanship of the home. The floors of her home are hardwood. Built-in china cabinets exhibit original stained glass doors, still in good condition. It was a smart buy for Smith, and she explained that she is still enjoying the virtues of her investment, even after twenty-five years. She has raised both her sons in this home. Her oldest son is twenty-nine years old, and her youngest is twenty.
She remembers vividly how this neighborhood once used to be. She recounts the history of German residents, Jewish homeowners, transportation systems, and tells us stories of the Sherman Park Community Association. She recalls the block parties that she helped organized—every year members of the association would go door-to-door to recruit new members and advertise community events. According to Ms. Smith, it is extremely important to know your neighbors — the people living in your community. Going door-to-door enables you to get to know the people on your block. It is a way to connect and strengthen the entire neighborhood. Sometimes a sorority from Marquette University would come into the neighborhood to host an annual community clean up. There would be giveaways for the families in the neighborhood. There was a lot of people involved in what was taking place within the community.
Her role with the Sherman Park Community Association involves her with the planning of some of the neighborhood’s most prominent events. She noticed that the association focused on everything across Sherman Boulevard, westward from 43rd Street. The fact that most homeowners who were involved in the organizing process lived on the west side of Sherman Boulevard had a lot to do with how funding was distributed throughout the neighborhood. Over the years, Ms. Smith saw a gradual shift from homeowners to tenants, and she confessed that she had “stopped participating in Sherman Park (events) for a couple of years to focus on the many extra curricular activities that her youngest son participated." It had become “hard to organize block parties because people don't stay for more than a year or two." That transition made it difficult to organize because tenants would be less likely to get involved. The neighborhood also encountered changing racial demographics since the time she began living there. Later, she explained, it went from “being family orientated to drugs.” She recalls instances where she has viewed from her window people using heroin—something that she hadn’t experienced previously. She realized that “everything happens on this [her block] corner” and wondered if she would have bought her house twenty-five years ago had she known that the neighborhood would transition this way.
Some of the things that she has seen in the neighborhood over the past couple of years has been “kind of depressing.” She spoke of learning to “adapt” to this new type of environment. She used to enjoy going for walks early in the morning, but she doesn’t do that anymore because it is no longer safe. Yet, Ms. Smith chooses to stay. She explains, “I can move if that’s what I want to do—but I don’t. I love this house.” Not only does Jackie Smith take care of her home, but she purchased her second home in the neighborhood about a year ago. She invested in a city-foreclosed property across the street. She would like to rent out her second home, but she is waiting until she finds a tenant who is qualified and who will take care of her property. Her perspective on the abundance of vacant properties throughout her street is telling, “it is depressing to see these boarded-up homes. At one point, they were just razing everything and it just looked like a ghost town. Now they’re setting up for squatters, or people coming into the vacant homes and doing crazy stuff.” Although she doesn’t know what the solution for those issues are, Jackie Smith continues to lead the way by investing in the community and doing what she can do in order to bring the neighborhood residents together.