Tyshun Wardlaw (‘Growing Up Milwaukee’ director): ‘We have to do something’ about ‘preserving the lives within the Black community’ [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

When Tyshun Wardlaw decided to focus her documentary, “Growing Up Milwaukee,” on the youth in Wisconsin, it didn’t take her long to find the three young people that would be the center of her film. “When I decided that I was going to do youth, I approached youth-based organizations to check and see if they knew any youth that we could be able to see and experience what some of the youth in the city is dealing with day-in and day-out,” Wardlaw tells us in our recent webchat (watch the exclusive video above). Wardlaw elaborates that the day-in and day-out for young people of color in Wisconsin’s largest city is not one that is currently promising. “Unfortunately, Milwaukee is ranked as one of the worst cities for Blacks to live and grow up in. We have high statistics with incarceration of Black and Brown men as well as economic disparities, education and the list goes on.”

“Growing Up Milwaukee” examines the lives of three young people as they seek to become more than just another statistic in the city. Marquell is finding his voice through writing while trying to process past abuse in his single-parent household. Brandon is trying to get back on his feet after being incarcerated and is now living in a group home. Tiana has dreams of being singer/rapper with the talent to back it up but is also navigating being a young mother who has had several run-ins with the law. The film also serves as Wardlaw’s debut feature film.

Wardlaw is no stranger to Milwaukee as she was born and raised in the city and even after she left, the city was still a part of her. “I always like to say that I’m a self-proclaimed ‘floater,’ because I’ve floated between states for jobs in the entertainment industry. Between all that floating, Milwaukee was still home.” But she soon saw that there was a change happening in the city that she wanted to capture. “I noticed there was a shift in what was happening and what was being said on the local news and national news about the city and in the Black community. When I decided that I wanted to create my own content, that’s when my desire to tell the stories about what was happening in Milwaukee really started to develop.”

Since she finished production back in early 2020, Wardlaw has since learned that one of her subjects has become active in the demonstrations for racial justice and police accountability that sprung up later in the year. “Marquell has become quite the activist because, now when you get a camera in front of him, he’s out in the street.” It would soon hit even closer to home when Jacob Blake was shot several times in the back by police in Kenosha, about 40 miles south of Milwaukee. “Marquell has been the person who has really stood up and said, we can’t tolerate this. We have to do something, not only preserving the lives within the Black community but also how its created within law enforcement and how we’re treated.”

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