Eric Von, a veteran broadcaster in Milwaukee, saw a crisis in his city’s gun violence rates and used the tools he had to address it.
Eric died at home last week, and too soon. At 58, he was older by decades than the young people whose stories he brought to the airwaves for “Precious Lives,” but he had set himself a young man’s task, and the challenge of a lifetime: documenting the stories of those killed by guns, and those touched by gun crime. His experience and passion for the community of people struggling to understand and address guns in Milwaukee led him to create the Precious Lives project, and to join the circle of Localore: Finding America projects with “Precious Lives: Before the Gunshots.”
“Of our 16 Finding America lead producers, Eric was our elder statesman,” AIR Executive Director Sue Schardt said. “As a commercial radio talk show host, he brought to the work and to WUWM a deep connection to Milwaukee’s African American community. He was wise — a mentor to some of our producers — and his deep respect for the power of media to bring together those who are seemingly divided was a signature of the Precious Lives: Before the Gunshots production.”
This summer, the young people who had found voice and room to speak in Eric’s project took to the stage. Sue was there, was powerfully moved and wrote about it for Current:
Timberley Princess Brown got down onto her hands and knees to show how her father jumped into the grave of her cousin, Pooh. “It was the worst death I ever experienced in my life,” she said.
Timberley is 16. She was one of six teenagers brought to the public media stage of the Pabst Theater last month to speak, dance, rap and sing about day-to-day life in “53206,” or Center City Milwaukee. Hard-hit by job losses of the 1980s and corrupt housing practices in the ’90s, it is the neighborhood where the annual homicide rate increased 69 percent in a single year, from 2014 to 2015, the fastest in the country.
As WUWM’s general manager, Dave Edwards, said, “No one in that theater could have left without a sense of hope that together we can do something to stop senseless violence.”