Ms. Mary Criss is a political activist and community leader who has lived in Sherman Park for thirty-five years. Ms. Criss grew up in the Bayous of Louisiana, and moved to the East Side of Milwaukee in 1975. She decided to purchase a home in Sherman Park, a neighborhood that she fell in love with. The neighborhood has changed since then, and the 2007 economic recession took its toll. Ms. Criss told us that people may have a bad initial impression of the neighborhood, but they often change their mind after spending some time here. According to her, the historic old homes are architectural assets for this community. She wants to make sure that her home, which was built in 1926, retains its historical integrity.
Mary Criss attended Southern University in Baton Rouge before moving to Milwaukee with her husband. They have a daughter who is also an activist, a son, and one grandchild. Upon moving to Milwaukee, Ms. Criss attended the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee and graduated with a degree in medical technology. Thereafter, she worked at St. Joseph’s Hospital for the majority of her career.
After retiring in 2017, Ms. Criss decided she wanted to be involved with politics and her community. Her priority is to restore the vitality of Sherman Park. Like many women, she was energized by the 2016 presidential election. The experiences of the 2016 Sherman Park uprising also galvanized her towards civic action. She took a course with the Wisconsin's Woman Network Policy Institute to gain the knowledge required to make a change. She then became involved with Common Ground and the Sherman Park Action Network (SPAN).
Using what she learned in the class, she helped prevent the opening of a strip club on 35th and Capitol. Ms. Criss is currently involved with a committee that is collaborating with local aldermen to make sure that Milwaukee's St. Joseph’s Hospital stays open and remains a vital asset for the community. The committee is also working on introducing a behavioral health care unit at the hospital which would aid people struggling with poverty, addiction, and loss and help solve many of the issues that plague the neighborhood.
Ms. Criss cares because she doesn't want her neighborhood to become run down. She works hard to make sure that her neighbors — homeowners as well as renters — take good care of their properties. As a result, many of her neighbors follow her lead and become good stewards. But Ms. Criss knows that caring for our environment is not an easy task: It was difficult for her to watch the neighborhood decline as renters who didn’t care moved in and out. Because she was raised in poverty, her grandmother taught her to care for what she has, what little it may be, and to get the best education possible. Coming to Milwaukee, she learned that not everyone was raised that way, and that children today are not being taught the value of good education and the ethics of care.
Ms. Criss has great spirit and enthusiasm, and she imparts these qualities to those who come in contact with her. It gives her hope that more and more people around her are excited about the community and are trying to make a difference.
On Being Involved