Community garden's impact on North Milwaukee neighborhood invaluable

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by Nate Kuester

MILWAUKEE, WI -- The community in a Milwaukee neighborhood have one man to thank for bringing everyone together to clean up the place they all call home.

"I call Ninth and Ring the new Lake Drive," community organizer and resident Andre Lee Ellis told CBS 58.

While the neighborhood on Milwaukee's North side may not actually resemble that comparison just yet, don't tell that to the folks who gathered Saturday morning to beautify their neighborhood by cleaning up the community garden. However, the people who live in this area did not always feel so neighborly. Ellis noticed that the first week he moved into his home there in 2011.

"There was a murder in the street," Ellis recounted. "We heard gunshots.

"When we came outside, there was a young man just kitty-corner of our house layin' in the streets there dead. As I watched that unfold, I looked at this empty lot."

Soon it became Ellis' mission to transform that empty lot into a place where neighbors greeted each other and take interest in the people around them.

"Young guys would come and sit with Andre and just kind of talk about some things," said Safe and Sound Community Organizer Talibah Mateen. "He found out what they needed.

"He contacted some of the organizers. And we get them what they need; whether that's information, whether it's jobs, whether it's a conversation."

"Andre would always say that he wanted to put; you know how people reference the neighborhood as the hoods," said Community Organizer Gracelyn Wilson. "He wanted to put the neighbor back into the hood and bring people together."

"Crime has gone down on our block, especially on our block, about 95 percent,' said Ellis "What used to be a busy area with police phone calls, drug delaing and a lot of other things is now quiet."

Ellis' drive to reclaim the neighborhood went against the grain of how many had previously dealt with the situation. By simply grabbing a broom and striking up a conversation with the folks walking by, he soon transformed that into a full feldged effort by the folks on the block to take part in the garden. And the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree.

 says, "Cleaning up and letting people see the clean areas will certainly help us to build community," said Pastors United President Rev. Greg Lewis. "Build and internalize that this is our place. This is us."

"Neighbors getting to know neighbors and working with each other is always a great thing," said Milwaukee Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs. "Not just for cleanups, but long term, period."

"You don't have to sell drugs or you don't have to be in a gang," said teacher and youth mentor MarQuis Washington. "You can come here and be in a garden. [You can] Actually put your hand in the ground to be rooted."

Ellis' daughter Alexandria Ellis is founder and president of Guns Down MKE. She shares in his giving spirit, and is proud to see how far things have come.

"Like my father, I work very hard to make a difference to see people really coming together; genuinely," Alexandria Ellis pondered. "It makes me happy. My heart smiles."

Her father shared with us the motto he lives by.

Ellis said, "On the block where I live, I am the change that needs to be. On the block where I live, I'm helping to make the change that the people need to see, on the block where I live."

Andre Ellis and the folks of Ninth and Ring... are Making Milwaukee Great.

Ellis is well known for bringing his chocolate chip cookies to a neighbor's home whenever anyone on the block is having issues with another neighbor. He does this as a way to get them talking. He guarantees that once you eat his cookies, he has your heart... And people seem to agree with him.

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