The City of Milwaukee celebrated Black History Month on February 28, with the 7th annual Black History Program held at the rotunda of City Hall.
Black History Month has been a time to recognized the rich history and fullness of African-American culture, and acknowledge the impact it has made across the Milwaukee community.
Emerging after two years of health restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person events for Black History Month finally returned in 2023. This followed a special recognition from last June 19, when Juneteenth National Independence Day officially became a Federal holiday.
While celebrations for Black History Month had been held in Milwaukee over the years, it was not until 2016 that the Milwaukee Common Council began holding a municipal program at City Hall.
Part of the city’s official program for 2023 included “28 Days of Black History,” which profiled a local Black leader each day in February on the Milwaukee website’s main page. The prominent online spot gave students across the city a chance to learn about, and to honor, some of the city’s notable and unsung heroes.
In addition, two special awards were presented by members of the Common Council during the City Hall program. The “Emerging Leader Award” was given to Jeremiah Johnson. Johnson is a sophomore at Marquette University High School, and has proven to be a true leader at a young age. With a heart for service, he is the co-founder of 29ELEVEN. The organization’s mission is to bring interactive cause marketing and initiatives to urban areas that reach individuals and bridge volunteerism in non-traditional ways.
A fixture in the Milwaukee media, Yvonne Kemp was given the city’s “Living Legend Award” for her years of photojournalism and tireless efforts to document the local Black community in images. Last August 29, Kemp was honored by Mayor Cavalier Johnson with an official Proclamation that named the day after her.
Kemp would graduate from North Division High School and, after college, go on to have a successful career as an account that spanned over thirty years. But it was her brother, well-known photojournalist Harry Kemp, who inspired her to leave that vocation behind and pick up a camera. She worked as his photo assistant in the field for years, until his unexpected death in 2011.
The 2023 celebration ended with a call to action from Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs. Standing with Aldermen Mark Chambers, Jr., Khalif Rainey, and Russell W. Stamper II, she challenged members of the community to help elevate the achievements of the Black community, and work together to improve the city.
The public was also invited to participate in their own historical explorations in the weeks and months ahead, by visiting the Wisconsin Black Historical Society Museum or America’s Black Holocaust Museum.