Ever since she was a child, Angela Pruitt has been fond of gardening. She was introduced to it through her grandmother, who lived in Robbins, Illinois, which is just outside Angela's hometown, Chicago. Little Angie, her 15 siblings and her friends, would play outside all day, and when they were hungry, they'd pluck fresh fruits and vegetables from the neighbors' gardens. Her grandmother's plots of plump tomatoes, hardy potatoes, and sweet corn gave Pruitt precious hope. But Pruitt did not know that you could grow vegetables within city boundaries because she had never seen it done.
Upon moving to Milwaukee, Pruitt was excited to set her roots deep into the community. At first she rented but soon she became a homeowner. She worked with Habitat for Humanity to rehabilitate an older house in the Washington Park neighborhood. Pruitt recalls the intimidating feeling when she took a look at that burnt, broken down mess that was going to become her home. But, she loved what it could become and imagined the life she desired. Pruitt and her six children put in 500 hours of sweat equity as a down payment. She decided to keep a door, an original piece of the duplex that was there before she moved in. A child who use to live in this building had written something on it. Pruitt preserved this door for its symbolism: This original door represents where she was and how far she had come in life.
When her home was finally finished and her family was completely settled, Angela would try to get the neighbors together to mimic the community from her childhood. In Chicago, her neighbors had known one another by name, the community children had played with each other and everyone had enjoyed the fresh bounty of the gardens. After a while of trying, Angela decided to take a break from her neighborhood. No one spoke, no one trusted the other. She took a 5 year-long hiatus. It was like winter, where everything –– issues, triumphs, and people –– was buried under the snow to lie dormant. She took on the cold blanket of hopelessness and went to sleep.
Pruitt's faith in God started to wake her up from that five-year slumber. She was tired of coming and going. Believing that a key to a healthy community is stewardship, she decided to get started again. To her, God gave us the earth in all of its glory. He wants us to take care of it and share it at its best. She decided to work with students from Marquette who partnered with an organization called Safe and Sound. The students knocked door to door in order to get neighbors to help with a community clean-up. It was a success! Erin from Safe and Sound introduced her to Phoua Vang, who is a part of Washington Park Partners. From then on, Angela wanted to learn how she could re-introduce herself to the community. She came up with many ideas such as a community drive-in theater and community gardens.
Her entire mission was to keep hope alive as the nourishment pumped through the neighborhood's veins. Gardening taught her the value of life; it reveals every step of nourishing something until it grows healthy and strong. Life, like fruits and vegetables, begins somewhere and grows into nourishment for others. It nurtures the mind, body, and soul. Vang and Pruitt started a community garden on 31st and Brown to establish trust among her neighbors. Washington Park Partners applied for a grant to employ three teens to help with the gardens. They were called the Beet Team. These gardens are meant to cultivate trust, and are aimed specifically towards local children. Many children are bored during the summer because they are not in school anymore and their parents are always working. Pruitt tells the children, "When I grow these vegetables, you know you're welcomed to come get it right?"
Pruitt's faith drives her. Her hope in God keeps her moving forward and pressing on. She understands how hope has been lost within her community; for example, lack of funding for teen jobs and lack of trust among the neighbors. It's hard for people to keep hope up when they keep getting knocked down or shoved to the side. Pruitt believes that if the people lose hope, then they are lost forever. It's an ongoing battle, but she refuses to close her door again. She explains, "To prosper in acceptance financially, educational, grow as a community, safety, relationship-wise as far as business, government, our police officers...that we all work towards the same goal...see the beauty in the residents, businesses, and all that's connected. That's my hope. That's what I'm fighting for."
Angela Pruitt, Interviewed by Ever Clinton, June 2016