Willie Weaver-Bey is a Vietnam War veteran, artist, and community leader. He was born in 1954 in St. Louis, Missouri. Mr. Bey grew up with many siblings; his mother was a cook and domestic worker. She did not have any formal schooling but taught young Weaver- Bey important life lessons and instilled core values in him. Today, his mother's influence on him is coming into play and making an indelible mark in his everyday life.
When he was younger, he dropped out of high school and went into the military. After he returned from military duty, his circumstances led him to prison. Mr. Weaver-Bey was incarcerated for over thirty years. When he was released in 2015, he entered a halfway house in Milwaukee on 51st Street and Lisbon Avenue. From there, he moved into a transition house. Soon however, he became homeless for eight months. At that time, he was working at the VA Hospital. He didn’t tell anyone that he was homeless. In 2016, he entered a national art contest for his work “Thank you for seeing me as a veteran and not a homeless man.” He won this competition, and his homeless condition became public when the Volunteers of America released his story in their book.
Before being placed in Milwaukee, Willie Weaver-Bey didn’t have any knowledge about Sherman Park. However, he began to do research and realized that the property values in Sherman Park were set to rise in the next few years due to economic and social reasons. He bought his home a little over a year ago and is hopefully awaiting those changes. He learned the value of property ownership as a way to escape precarious conditions by looking back at his family history. Mr. Weaver-Bey’s great grandfather owned 500 acres of land in 1870 only five years after being emancipated from slavery. He knows how that landownership helped his family survive difficult times — that same blood runs through him.
Mr. Weaver-Bey leads by example. Every week, he gives away several bags of clothes to homeless people in the city because he understands what it is like to be homeless. He diligently participates in the neighborhood watches, picks up trash from the street in front of his house, sweeps the sidewalk on his block, and cleans up the alley with Ms. Cheri Fuqua’s husband, “Mr. O.”
Mr. Bey told us that when he went to prison, he was illiterate. However, in prison he began to educate himself and received his General Equivalency Diploma (GED). Then, he started studying Black History, Art History, and Art Theory. Learning from an artist he met in prison, he started to paint. Today, he has 2500 to 3000 paintings in his attic. He attends Upper Iowa University to get his Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration and Entrepreneurship. He proudly stated that he made the Dean’s List.
Willie Weaver-Bey's ultimate goal is to purchase a vacant home in the neighborhood and turn it into an art gallery and center for children in the neighborhood. Currently, he is working third shift at the VA Hospital doing murals.
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