With the assistance of wonderful weather, over 400 nurturing relatives and friends arriving during the course of the day, Milwaukee’s Jim Godsil celebrated his 70th birthday on August 22.
Affirming his uniquely inclusive style, the festivities began with a relaxing bus tour and concluded with Godsil’s festive Southside Rainbow Street Party of “100 Names.”
The date chosen honors the following important organizations in Godsil’s life: the 40th year of Community Roofing and Restoration – the main event sponsor, the 10th anniversary of the Milwaukee Renaissance Wiki Magazine, the 5th anniversary of the Sweetwater Foundation and the one-year anniversary of Heart Haus, the tour’s final destination.
Intermingling from “hither and yonder,” guests appeared representing diverse family members, community advocates, gender diversities, artistic professions, religious persuasions, political interests, age and education ranges and class designations.
“All I wanted to do was expand the value of my 70th birthday to include jump-starting a rainbow artist and adventurer boundary-crossing drum-bus party experiment,” Godsil said. “I hoped to introduce European Americans to the wonderful neighborhoods, galleries and studios of African American artists on the North side and introduce African Americans to a south side European American neighborhood. I hoped to mix up all of God’s children with good food, good drink, good music and a street party celebration and it worked!”
Starting at noon, Godsil greeted his first round of bus riders as they gathered at Riverwest Coop and Café to board the 71-seat capacity Purple Cow Organics Bus donated for this event by Sandy Syburg. Traveling from all parts of the country, Godsil welcomed the attendance of his children Rachel, Megan, Joseph, and Bridie, as well as grandchildren Kate, Rebecca, Monilola, and Darragh, sons-in-law Jim Freeman and Ok Jeyifous, sisters JoAnn and Jean, and brother-in-law Joe Werth.
Bused to the Northside
On the bus, Jahmés Tony Finlayson’s adept drumming established a comfortable ambiance. Marquette University’s Bob Pavlik, Riverwest backstreet Mayor Vince Bushnell and Seton Hall Law Professor Rachel Godsil joined 40 Riverwest activists.
The tour’s initial stop was Mother Clara Atwater’s and Toussaint Harris’ Gingerbread Land, which included several brightly colored houses and Atwater’s Love Tabernacle church. There another ten people boarded the bus.
The “rainbow” busload proceeded further into Milwaukee’s north side central city to explore additional treasures. The next stop was the Terry McCormick Contemporary Fine and Folk Art Gallery, located in Evelyn Patricia Terry’s two-story home.
Godsil said, “We feasted upon Fondé Bridges’ healing “Healthy Words” performance as Terry’s gallery greeter. The tour party went inside the gallery filled with room after room of beauty and listened to Evelyn’s great stories, which she continued after she boarded the bus to join the tour.”
Passing by Dep’s Hall of Fade and proceeding west to Lisbon Avenue, the bus unloaded its passengers to view Muneer Bahauddeen’s Ogbe Meji Studio exhibiting his finely crafted ceramic art. Some viewers momentarily slipped into the Amaranth Café across the street to buy a quick treat. Bahauddeen spoke outside to visitors about his vision to create an Amaranth Urban Sanctuary. Everyone participated in Finlayson’s Drum Bus Circle and sang Godsil’s birthday song before boarding the bus with new riders.
Bused to the Southside Finale
Introducing Milwaukee’s Southside, the tour bus entered the site of the Old Main Soldiers Home Reef National Historic Landmark. Cleo Pruitt, who met us there, gave a moving tribute to forgotten soldiers of color as founder of the Rebirth of Freedom Project. She explained her vision of a future monument to them. Godsil observed, “The site astonished people with the terrible beauty of that sacred place.” Ms. Pruitt later joined the street party.
As the finale, Ben Kohler’s Heart Haus team impressively hosted the Southside Rainbow Street Party of “100 Names.” “Foolosopher” Sky Schultz, in white cloth, silently greeted enlightened bus riders – arriving an hour late without complaints
Joining the party already in progress, the travelers settled in to participate in the merriment. They listened to award-winning Christina Zawadiwsky read poetry within the shadow of a specially constructed street stage. Howard Lewis, Holly Haebig, Dena Aronson and Jay Anderson provided music.
Internationally collected artist, Della Wells and her great grandson, Momari Dejohnett, visited the designated inter-generational play area and Bahauddeen’s Peace Post Clay Table.
Occupying a corner of the Heart Haus porch, Tim Green skillfully scratched records and played a range of music, welcoming revelers as they gathered “food and drink” from the house. Tables covered with Cheryl Sitzler’s African patterned tablecloths transformed the space.
Scrumptious rainbow entrees came from The Riverwest Coop Café, Juan’s Mom’s Tamale, Curt’s Chicken, Timbuktu and Martha’s Mighty Fine Foods. Janine Arseneau placed her six freshly baked fruit pies on a table in the street.
Brad Pruitt, an awarded documentary filmmaker, directed filming of this historical event.
Enjoying every moment, along with his guests, Godsil noted, “A European American retired doctor told me it was the most significant trip he had ever taken. An African American elder said it was a life-changing experience to see 20 and 30 African Americans celebrating with scores of European Americans in a south side residential neighborhood.”
Revelers delighted in the impact of Godsil’s mindfulness as a community and world force. Many openly expressed appreciation for Godsil’s refreshing wisdom, activism, buoyant nature, enthusiasm, supportive language and visionary joyfulness. He plans many more celebrations until his 100th birthday!