2020 has been a tough year for everybody across the world – but even more so possibly in the city of Kenosha.
On March 17th, the city of Kenosha (along with most of the nation and even the world) shut down due to fears of the coronavirus pandemic.
In addition to the pandemic, our uptown neighborhood was hit on August 12th when a fire broke out in the Plous Brothers building on the northeast corner of 22nd Avenue and 63rd Street. Multiple residents and numerous businesses were displaced due to the fire and it appears the building is unsalvageable.
Less than two weeks later, on Sunday, August 23rd, the city erupted in strong emotions after Kenosha Police Officer Rusten Sheskey was involved in an incident which resulted in the shooting of 29-year-old Kenosha resident Jacob Blake. Blake survived the shooting, but reports say he is now paralyzed from the waist down due to his injuries.
For several days, protests took over the eastern part of the city. Peaceful protestors marched the streets calling for justice while others contemporaneously used the situation to cause damage to numerous businesses. Over 30 downtown businesses were affected from the rioters in the first night. By the second and third nights, agitators have spread east from downtown, and several Kenosha businesses from downtown to uptown had fallen due to fires.
In addition, two men, 36-year-old Kenosha resident Joseph Rosenbaum and 26-year-old Anthony Huber of Twin Lakes, were shot and killed by Antioch resident Kyle Rittenhouse.
As the year draws to a close, tensions are still tight in the city of Kenosha. We are currently on two cusps – as a vaccine to the coronavirus is beginning to make its way around the country, and a ruling on the Blake shooting is rumored to come as early as next week.
And we still await what will come of charges filed against Kyle Rittenhouse.
It has been one hell of a year. But when things get tough, we know that the good people shine. And so many great Kenoshans have stepped up and taken on various different roles to help better our situation.
Recently, Ktown Connects asked our neighbors via Facebook, “Who do you think is the most influential Kenoshan of 2020?”
The results have been astonishing. In the eight-day poll, over 3500 people participated, with over five dozen Kenosha citizens being nominated.
Here are the top vote getters in our poll.
Long before Jacob Blake became a household name across Kenosha, protests were already going strong in our city following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 20th.
Although right now it almost seems forgotten in comparison to the unrest in late August, tensions were indeed pretty high earlier in the year as well when a protest was held on May 31st in Kenosha.
Within a few hours of the protest in Civic Center Park, a gathering formed on 52nd Street and a few people turned to violence, throwing rocks at police cars and causing vandalism to local businesses.
Due to social media, a few incidents resulted in dozens of rumors – calls were coming in and going out over the police scanner of numerous occurrences of destruction throughout the city – most of them later debunked.
As he had been doing for several years, digital media content creator Koerri Elijah went live on Facebook bringing the action on our streets directly to the homes of everyone in Kenosha and the world.
On the night of May 31st, Koerri had over 7,000 people watching his Facebook feed at one time. When the activities died down on that Sunday night, Elijah continued to cover our city on his skateboard, showing the world our city through his eyes.
As rumors were being debunked, Koerri was there live on Facebook to let everyone know what was really happening. His calming personality rubbed off on the viewers as he alleviated tensions for all of Kenosha.
Koerri brought Kenosha its own live reality show. And the people responded. While Koerri skated through our streets, residents cheered him on from windows, honked their horns as they drove by, delivered snacks and water to him, gave him rides to check our rumors around the city (and to sit and rest for a few minutes) and even donated their phone chargers to keep him running live.
Throughout the summer, Koerri kept up his style of gonzo journalism – riding the streets and covering the multiple protests and other events through the summer.
After the Blake shooting in August, Koerri was in the midst of it once again, this time with a national audience.
Koerri took to the streets, putting himself in danger, so we can rest easy in our homes and see what was happening in our city from the comforts of our smartphones.
Due to his popularity throughout this, Koerri Elijah took in the vast majority of votes in our poll.
In May of 2019, Alexandria Binanti was named the Executive Director of Downtown Kenosha Inc.
At that time, Binanti was simply looking forward to bringing more activities to Downtown Kenosha and more fundraising events, all while building a stronger connection to the businesses in Downtown Kenosha.
However, after the shooting of Jacob Blake, all that changed for Binanti. Over 30 downtown businesses were affected in the first night of the civil unrest last August, and Binanti knew that she had to step up.
“It was terrifying,” Binanti told Ktown Connects on a recent podcast, referring to watching acts of violence occur in Downtown Kenosha live on social media. “I called my board president, and said, ‘You can fire me later, I am going to buy some plywood.’”
Luckily, the board was on board with Binanti and thanks to donations by Rustoleum, Menards, Meijer, and others, Binanti oversaw a massive public outpouring of help in applying plywood to most of the downtown and uptown businesses.
According to cbs58 news, around 800 volunteers showed up to help sweep up broken glass, apply boards to broken windows (and to protect unbroken ones), and then to paint powerful messages and beautiful artwork on the boards.
Through it all, Binanti was able to take control of the situation and with the help of a great team of others, she was able to successfully protect our city.
With help from Binanti, Downtown Kenosha Inc were one of the first to bring funding relief to the businesses impacted by losses to COVID and later in those damaged in the riots.
“Most positive thing I saw from 2020 was our city’s resilience through trauma and calling out for change,” Binanti told Ktown Connects. “Change is uncomfortable, it’s hard, but it’s necessary for growth. Those pains aren’t going away until real change enhances us as a community. And if you didn’t experience a little positive change then you missed the point of 2020.”
“My hope in 2021 is to see changes coming from our leadership and new emerging leaders. I hope to see real opportunity to a multitude of voices be a part of our community’s growth. Because again change is just a necessary part of a community’s success.”
Joshua and Charrie Ferguson
Joshua and Charrie Ferguson are not new to helping the community. For many years, one of Kenosha’s hottest power couples have been making an impact with several different ventures, including their annual Trunk or Treat events, and volunteer work with the Boys and Girls Club, Walkin’ In My Shoes, and more.
As local business owners of the Sugar Boxx and Play Space, 2225 63rd Street, the Fergusons were fortunate that their business was spared by the agitators who damaged nearby locally owned businesses.
But that did not stop them from helping out the community in any way they could. The Fergusons took to the streets the days following the unrest to assist their neighbors.
Their annual Trunk or Treat event was held in October and was highly successful with dozens of participants handing out candy to hundreds of kids.
“It’s definitely a good feeling for others to acknowledge things we do,” Joshua told Ktown Connects. “But this is just the beginning. I am dedicated to building a better future for the kids of Kenosha to grow up in.”
For Arnetta Griffin, a pandemic or the civil unrest did not alter her mission. As the founder of God’s Kitchen, Griffin has been bringing meals to Kenosha’s homeless since the summer of 2017.
Griffin started out small, but when the local residents and area businesses caught wind of her generous acts, they stood behind her with on-going support and numerous donations.
When schools were shut down earlier this year and kids were not getting their lunches from school, Griffin stepped up to help see the kids get their daily meals.
“I’m just making sure the kids are eating and the homeless and less fortunate,” Griffin told the Kenosha News in May 2020.
Griffin is continuing to do her work for our community, if you would like to help, please visit godskitchenkenosha.com.
Additional Kenoshans who received numerous votes include:
Sheriff David Beth
Mayor John Antaramian
Dr. Jen Freiheit – Kenosha Health Department
Sharmain Harris – Racine-Kenosha Community Action Agency
Pastor Kevin Taylor – Journey Church
Tom Duncan – United Hospital System
Alvin Owens – Voices Project
Kenosha Police Chief Daniel Miskinis
John Cooper of Skillet
Kevin Ervin of Franks Diner
Ktown Connects gives a special THANK YOU to all of you who stood up for our community and inspired others. And thanks to everyone who participated in our survey. Cheers to a healthy 2021!
Written by Jason Hedman
Screenshots of poll results available upon request.