Digital Portal Connects Milwaukee to Newark

In Milwaukee's Moody Park, the 15-foot shipping container is hard to miss. Painted bright gold, the shiny exterior draws you in for a closer look. 

Once inside, you step face to face with a stranger in Newark New Jersey. 

It's part of a world-wide project devised by Washington-based group Shared Studios. Each portal is outfitted with a computer, projector, and wide-angle camera, allowing multiple people to talk at once. 

     "What we do is they walk in, we introduce ourselves, and then we wave," says Organizer Brandon Culpepper. "Then they're able to interact and have conversations about life. We want to have fluid and unstructured conversations," 

Friday afternoon, a group of Newark teenagers entered on their side of the portal. They were on their way home from school and noticed a big gold box in a park near them. From Milwaukee, Culpepper gives them a simple prompt; What does criminal justice mean to you? 

     "In my neighborhood, you see gang violence, you see gang-bangers right there in front of the liquor store," says Jarvis Jakor. "They're always having that shootout."

Marlaine Erisnord lives in the same Newark neighborhood. 

     "When you thing of a police officer, they're there to give you safety, but when I think of a police officer, I think of like, 'am I going to be able to come home tonight?'

The two cities are among the most violent in the country, and share similar statistics on incarceration rates, youth pregnancy, gun violence, robbery, and car theft. 

Through the portal, organizers are hoping to learn more about police-interaction, and how various neighborhoods relate to police interaction. 

Lewis Lee is the "gatekeeper" of the portal, which is open for walk-ins from 11 until 4 on most weekdays.

     "The portal for me, is bridging the gap," he says. "Bridging the gap between places I'd probably never get to visit."

The first 200 conversations are being recorded by Yale and Rutgers Universities. Funding will allow the portal to stay at Moody park through the end of June, but organizers hope it stays in Milwaukee much longer.

     "For me, it's like a form of therapy, and a way to interact with people I never thought could happen," says Lee. 

     "These are people that have 2 eyes, 2 legs, 2 hands just like everyone else," says Culpepper. "They're good people, so let's help each other, and make a change in these communities." 

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