These days, the phrase, “we’re all in this together,” has become somewhat cliche. It is the battle cry in the 2006 Disney hit musical movie High School Musical (which, thanks to Disney+, has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity). It is a tag line on a plethora of emails and social media posts related to “Safer At Home” measures evoked by local, state and national governments, and a popular tag line to accompany suggestions by the Center for Disease Control regarding self-quarantining practices that accompany the COVID19 pandemic.
As the pandemic has gone on, however, the concept of community outreach continues to grow. Our mission at Rock the Green has also grown, as we have pivoted to raise awareness not only for environmental nonprofit organizations whom we have worked with, in the past, but for other institutions who have been affected adversely by the pandemic and who provide essential services for members of the Greater Milwaukee Community who are in need.
Add to all of this the horrific tragedy of George Floyd’s death and the protests going on across the country and world in support of equity and social justice, and a whole other layer has been added on to 2020.
Enter in Milwaukee artist, Kellen “Klassik” Abston. Klassik performed at the 2017 Rock the Green Sustainability Festival and has been a mainstay in the Milwaukee music scene for some time. Blending elements of hip-hop, jazz, soul, and r&b, Klassik has cultivated a sound that is uniquely his own. His most recent album NOISE dropped last year and has a totally unique vibe, blending thoughtful lyrics, beats, and a kaleidoscope of sounds.
“Right now we are all in this together, sincerely,” Klassik stated on a recent Zoom call, “We are at a unique place and time in history where we need to use our talents in ways to help others. We need to collaborate and amplify everyone’s efforts.” When speaking about how the pandemic has effected himself as an artist, Klassik shared, “Artists are emotional documentarians. Everything has to be so much more intentional these days, as we create, as artists, from a certain sense of urgency with everything going on around us. I always try to digest, reflect and observe, and take in everything around me. Art comes with responsibility; I’ve been just as busy if not more so now with everything going on.”
As a very connected person, involved in many facets of the Greater Milwaukee community and being a life-long Milwaukee resident, Klassik has been on the front lines of the protests. “Powerful doesn’t even begin to do it justice,” Klassik stated passionately, “People are controlling the narrative these days. It used to be that we had to watch the news to see what is going on. Now with technology and social media, you can see things in real-time. We’re making history, taking part in the biggest collective movement for civil rights which has expanded into all fifth states and is gaining momentum worldwide.”
In an effort to further engage in the community, Klassik is giving all of the donations to an organization he’s personally passionate about, the African-American Roundtable (AART) as part of their #LiberateMKE campaign. “One of the goals of the AART and their #LiberateMKE campaign is to allocate funds to help areas in the city that need it the most as opposed to just adding more police. We need to work on schools, healthcare, and the environment, and take a step to do something more productive and positive to put resources to help educate and empower individuals directly into the community.”
Here is where the Urban Ecology Center comes into the picture as well. Ken Leinbach, Executive Director of the Urban Ecology Center, has been a long time supporter and 'Eco-Champ' partner of Rock the Green. Ken mused on the Zoom call about attending the first Rock the Green Sustainability Festival back in 2011 in the torrential rain and followed up with a kind note after the Festival...
"I hope this message finds you well. I wanted to write you today to let you know how proud I am of you for your work with Rock the Green. Sure the inclement weather was unfortunate, however I can assure you those who attended had a great experience. I know from firsthand experience how difficult it was to build a green building when considering each advancement through a unique
environmental lens, you really try do everything right, but still have to compromise all along the way. You, in essence, just went through the same experience "building" RtG and in my mind you excelled on all levels. Honestly, I was so impressed with how well everything came to fruition. It is a great template for the future!"
“The UEC (Urban Ecology Center) has really grown in recent years,” Leinbach stated, “We are a neighborhood-based center first and foremost, with a mission to bring kids and adults into nature. We now operate three centers, one in Riverside Park, one in Washington Park, and one in the Menomonee Valley. We have over seventy staff members as well. We have found that our centers are vital to the community as crime has decreased in areas where we are at, community pride has increased, and getting involved with educating the community about environmental sustainability and care has helped unite folks, not just here in Milwaukee, but worldwide.” Leinbach referenced his book Urban Ecology: A Natural Way to Transform Kids, Parks, Cities and the World, which has been used as a manual of sorts for starting centers like the UEC in other cities around the US and beyond.
“Even with COIVD19 we have a lot of things going on,” Leinbach continued, “We have created the UEC In My Backyard program, which offers a set of activities to engage families at this time, with different adventures for them to have in their backyards or at local parks. We are also focusing on getting our younger kid camps going with COVID19 protocols. Like so many other organizations, we have had to be nimble and quick in these times to help our neighbors in the community. We’ve had to pivot and use our vehicles to distribute food in the city as well.”
“While we appreciate all of the support, at this time, we want to help our neighbors and communities get through everything going on right now,” Leinbach added, “In this exact moment in time, it is important to do what we can to strengthen our community. We are donating all of the proceeds UEC receives from the #RockTheStream show to Metcalfe Park Community Bridges in an effort to help our neighbors. We, as a center, are engaged with the protests and want to help.”
These are times of much trial and tribulation. However, being “all in this together,” we, as a community can unite, listen, learn from one another and move forward.
Please tune in to Rock the Stream for Klassik’s passionate performance on June 4th at 7pm and please consider supporting these worthwhile causes focusing on helping Milwaukee residents and rejuvenating the community. 100% of the donations are split 50/50. DONATE HERE
UPDATE AS OF JUNE 2: It's been a hard and tumultuous week. RTG is pivoting to address pressing needs around #Milwaukee. Last week #RockTheStream featured BRETT NEWSKI and nonprofit partner Vivent Health, who's food pantry flooded on May 17th, which provides essential nutrition to their HIV patients. We’ve made some differences. We’ve also made a change to our upcoming Klassik show on Thursday...Klassik will still perform with our nonprofit partner the week, Urban Ecology Center. UEC and Kellen Klassik Abston are generously donating what would have been their proceeds to support the following: Kellen Klassik is donating his concert to #LiberateMKE, an initiative of African-American Roundtable and Urban Ecology Center is donating their funds to Metcalfe Park Community Bridges. Together we are making a difference. #MusicWithAMission #FreedomToThrive #InConcertWithTheCommunity #InConcertWithEachOther #MKE #BlackLivesMatter