Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett met last night with a group of St. Aemilian-Lakeside young people from the Residential Treatment and Independent Living Services programs, focusing on character and perseverance in the face of adversity.
Mayor Barrett told stories about problems he experienced growing up in Milwaukee’s Washington Park neighborhood, such as getting in a fight and having a tooth knocked out, being arrested for sneaking into a movie theater, and being the only kid among his friends who was cut from the football team.
“Every one of us has fallen down in our lives. The question is, did you get up?” he said.
The mayor talked about how people love to yell at politicians. They particularly like to goad him in front of a TV camera, he said.
“Sometimes it’s just to get under my skin.”
But he has turned such situations into a game, “because when people get so angry they nearly explode, that’s when they make mistakes.
“The harder they try to get me mad, the less mad I become. The nastier they get and the more they try to disrespect me, I just say to myself, ‘No, I won’t let you win this.’ I think, ‘If I explode you win.’ I think of it as a game. If someone is trying to get you mad, they’re trying to beat you, so I say to myself, ‘I keep my cool. I ain’t no fool!’
“Then I’ll just say something like, “Hey, I like your tie!’”
Reflecting on his not making the football team and feeling like a total failure, particularly to his father, he realized when his dad shrugged it off that, “It’s not about being the best. It’s about being your best.”
Sometimes you will fail, he told the young people, but you need to pick yourself up and go on. He encouraged them to try to find a job they like and which makes them happy, to try hard, and to be respectful to other people.
“And just remember there are people who want to help you,” he said, “like here at St. Aemilian-Lakeside, your teachers, your coaches… And I’m here because I think you’re important. You’re important to the future of this city.”
Taking questions after his talk, the mayor addressed gun violence in the city. He said there are far too many guns in the central city and that carrying a gun makes some people feel invincible, and they end up putting themselves in situations they would not otherwise.
“Way too often, an argument occurs, they feel disrespected and gunfire happens. We are losing too many young black and Hispanic men because they feel they have to carry guns.”
On a lighter note, he answered a question about an incident two years ago when he was attacked with a tire iron outside State Fair Park trying to protect a woman. He was hit in the face and the tooth that was implanted after his boyhood fight was knocked out again.
“I’m the only guy who’s lost the same tooth 41 years apart!”