Don’t Mess with Mama

Published: December 21, 2015

By Jim Lichtman
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The streets of Milwaukee can be tough. Fortunately, Mama’s on patrol.

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Martha Freeman is a 77-year old retired corrections officer who, by day tends to household chores like passing out donated bread to those in need. By night, however, she cruises her neighborhood looking for kids who might be getting into trouble. And she’s packin’… wisdom and kindness.

In a report that aired on the CBS Evening News (Dec. 15), Freeman says, “I don’t see them as bad people. I see them as needing help.”

Explaining to a reporter why no one has attacked her, “I think it’s the respect, you know? Not the fear.” Freeman said. “Give you an example: most boys nowadays walk around with their pants half way down. And what I usually say is ‘Hey, I like the color of those underwear!’ And they will pull their pants up.”

April Bentley explained to CBS reporter Don Dahler how Freeman turned her life around from prostitution. “She said you don’t have to live that life,” Bentley said. “She planted a seed that no one had planted before.”

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NPR reported (Oct. 12), “Local leaders like Alderman Ashanti Hamilton recognize Freeman’s credibility in her neighborhood and marvel at her ability to interrupt violence.

” ‘Nobody’s gonna come and talk to the guys on the corner doing their business over there, right? Nobody wants to go talk to them about what they need to do in order to improve their lives,’ Hamilton says.

“But Martha Freeman will. Looking around Garden Homes, you’ll see several boarded-up houses on each block, men walking around in the middle of a work day and makeshift vigils comprised of teddy bears and candles.

“When Mama Freeman greets her neighbors, they feel like they’re a part of a family.

” ‘It was women like her that guided me,’ says Shawn Moore, a Garden Homes resident.

“He’s had a number of run-ins with the law. He’s robbed drug dealers, he’s served long prison terms for car theft and counterfeiting checks. He’s dodged bullets.

” ‘Well, he really honestly thinks he belongs to me. I didn’t give birth to him but he’s, he’s just been there since he was a little boy,’ Freeman says.

“Moore says that when he was 21, he asked his mother if she had insurance on him. ‘And, if so, was it paid up? ‘Cause I wasn’t going to live to be 24,’ he says.

“Moore was one of the neighborhood kids whom Freeman nurtured. He says she taught him to care for his community.”

With stories of political showdowns, ISIS-inspired mass shootings, and other crimes dominating the news, it’s refreshing to hear about individuals who are making a real difference in their own neighborhoods – people like Martha Freeman who are planting seeds of hope, along with respect and a genuine sense of caring.

No matter the season, we all need to be reminded of the best we can be in our own neighborhoods.

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