Chelsea Cross, Chair
When Blacks were formally enslaved, they were only provided meager rations and the discarded parts of animals to eat. We had to create entire meals out of unwanted ingredients. Unfortunately, the consequences of these delicious dishes, also known as “soul food,” have created an epidemic of chronic preventable illnesses. Many Blacks living in Milwaukee are plagued with living in a food desert; there is no Whole Foods or CorePower Yoga for us to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Luckily, my mother educated me on the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and diet ever since I was born.
I majored in Public Health at Brown University and earned a Master’s in education from Johns Hopkins. I left the classroom to manage a hospital department while preparing for medical school. After moving back to Milwaukee, I forwent medical school and switched to politics to do what I can to end the ramifications that reverberate across mostly low-income, minority communities. I am passionate about so many issues and policies in our country that I am now dedicated to restoring democracy.
“Fat, wasted, and distracted. Might be a good night out but it’s not a way to live a life.”
Denise Domian, Secretary
Chief Human Resources Officer, Johnson Financial Group
While I wouldn’t consider myself a gardener, I love food. My husband and I are lucky that we get to buy good, fresh produce from local farms and grocery stores. But I realize there are many who are not so lucky. I’ve volunteered at food pantries in my past, and while sometimes there is fresh produce, the majority of the basket provided is made up of canned or packaged foods. This is why Victory Garden Initiatives was an organization that I wanted to support and be a part of. Fresh food provides health and nutrition, but it also provides community. Gathering around a meal that is made with fresh food, well, there’s nothing better.
My husband is a baker in a farm-to-table restaurant and a local bakery. Food is a big part of our lives. We’re pleased to be a part of the VGI family. We believe in growing local and growing community. That’s what VGI is about.
Denise Bailey, Board Member
Research Regulatory Specialist
Denise is a Research Regulatory Specialist in the Cardiovascular Clinical Trials department at Advocate Aurora Health Care. Her background is in bench research working in renal failure and neuro-oncology. After receiving her graduate degree in Physiology and Biophysics from the University of Louisville she returned home to Milwaukee. She found joy and admiration while observing her aunts plant and harvest their own food and quickly grew to appreciate fresh food and the importance of having it available for all.
Denise is excited to be a part of the Victory Garden Initiative Board. As a lifelong learner she is sure that fulfillment of the initiative’s mission will also pave the way for learning many new things.
In her free time, Denise enjoys painting, watching movies with her husband and traveling with friends to see as many places as this lifetime will allow.
Davita Flowers-Shanklin, Board Member
Volunteer Program Manager, Urban Ecology Center
As a Milwaukee native, my love for nature comes from my time spent in Washington Park, the summers spent at camp, and visiting family in the Rocky Mountains. My dreams spanned from swimming with dolphins as a Marine Biologist, trekking into the great savannas of Africa as a big cat vet, and breathing in lots of old dust as an Egyptologist. I received her B.A. from Macalester College and M.S. from the University of Oregon, both degrees in Environmental Studies with concentrations in Biology, Ecological Restoration, and Environmental Justice. As my dreams changed, my need for adventure didn’t. I love to travel, to explore the world around me be it in New Zealand or Jamaica where I studied abroad, or right here in Milwaukee. One thing that is certain, my work has always focused on Nature and Environmental Justice with a connection to water and waterways. I’m excited to part of VGI and connect deeply to the mission. I live with my partner and two cats here in Milwaukee and love going to the movies!
Angeline Koch, Board Member
Sustainability Project Specialist, Milwaukee Public School District.
I am a litigation attorney by training but recently graduated from the University of WI-Milwaukee School of Science with a Masters in Freshwater Science and Technology. While a big part of my life centered around the law and sciences, I found that my greatest joys (aside from being with my husband and our two children) are gardening and stewardship of the environment.
I am the garden chair at my children’s Milwaukee Public School and have spent the better part of the last nine years working to remove as much asphalt as possible and replacing it with rain gardens, an orchard, raised beds and a butterfly garden. I also thoroughly enjoy helping others with their gardening efforts and supporting other schools in their pursuit of installing green spaces for the benefit and enrichment of children and the environment. I grow vegetables, fruits, herbs, and nurture native perennials and have a house full of plants. I also enjoy canning, biking, reading, knitting, and weeding (yes, weeding!). I am very grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the Victory Garden Initiative, whose Mission and Vision are a perfect match for my passions and interests.
Dora Peregrine, Board Member
Artist and Orchestra Technician at Brass Bell Music Store
Dora spent their first two years of undergrad at the The University of Denver where they also worked for the university’s Center for Sustainability and as a bike mechanic in their sustainability centered bike shop. Now back in their hometown of Milwaukee, they are continuing their BFA Studio Art degree path at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee and also creating work as a freelance artist which can be seen, bought, and commissioned through their Instagram @doraperegrine. They have continued their passions for sustainability and cycling by co-running an LGBT centered cycling group called Gears4Queers and being a bike-only commuter. Dora currently works as the orchestra strings technician at Brass Bell Music store, handling all repairs for cellos, violins, violas, basses, and bows. Dora is thrilled to be a member of the Victory Garden Initiative board and contribute to its mission. They are passionate about creating people-centered urban infrastructure that provides equitable access to nutritious food and nature. In their free time, Dora enjoys rock climbing, reading, writing, and feeding the large population of birds in their backyard.
Kitonga Alexander, Board Member
Kitonga Alexander, a Milwaukee native, taught elementary, middle and high school students in Milwaukee for 11 years. He coordinated the Welcome Home Project, a program designed to reduce recidivism by working directly with citizens returning to the Milwaukee community from incarceration. He has a bachelor’s degree in Africology, a master’s degree in Business Management and is a History PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. Kitonga’s research interests are African American migration, revolts and uprisings within the African Diaspora and African American cultural identity. He is the lead researcher and content creator for the Milwaukee Bronzeville Histories, an organization which documents historical people and places in historical communities. He is a researcher on the Living for the City Project. He created the Walk of Truth, a guided social expedition that participants returning to the community from incarceration take in order to create individual plans of productivity. He was the recipient of the first TMJ4 Positively Milwaukee Award in 2017 for teaching.
Kitonga serves on the Victory Garden Initiative Board and is the board president of City School, a private school in Milwaukee that educates predominantly African American students. He is also a member of the Racial Justice & Equity Advisory Committee for the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. As the founder of the organization UPP (United for Progress and Productivity), Kitonga is committed to establishing strong community relationships, with the aspirations of networking an array of resources for Milwaukee community members as they navigate their collective and individual journeys.
Gretchen Mead, Founder
In 2008, Gretchen Mead was among a group of people pushing through opposition in Shorewood over planting crops in front yards and parkways. After winning this struggle, she went on to found Victory Garden Initiative and launched the first Great Milwaukee Victory Garden Blitz, installing 35 raised garden beds in a single weekend. Today, Victory Garden Initiative is a thriving community gathering place thanks to her vision and leadership. We’ve installed thousands of garden beds across the city, run a 1.5 acre urban farm that feeds the Harambee community and serves as an outdoor learning lab for growing your own food, trained 67 community Food Leaders, and has launched a comprehensive Youth Education Program that reaches over 700 local youth each year! Gretchen stepped down as Executive Director in 2019, passing the trowel on to new leadership.