Listen to Gee Smith’s full conversation with Jay Sorgi as part of this week’s Jaytalking podcast below. Subscribe to WTMJ Extra for many more of our best interviews and features.
The late Senator John McCain once said that so much more unites us than divides us. But sometimes it takes something big, something that bridges invisible but strong geographic and racial lines like those in Milwaukee, to remind us of that.
“That’s what it takes…it has to take something to unify us and it took the Milwaukee Bucks on this winning run they’re on,” said Gaulien “Gee” Smith.
He’s seen that unifying force. Inside Fiserv Forum. Certainly outside Fiserv Forum in the Deer District.
“It has brought so many of us together that typically wouldn’t be together.”
And also at his business in Milwaukee’s Bronzeville neighborhood. A business where you might see Bucks president Peter Feigin, or legend Jon McGlocklin.
Barber shops have traditionally been places where the clientele talks sports, and Gee’s has embraced it with his love of the Bucks.
Even the floor is a Bucks court.
“The floor you’re looking at there is done by the same company that does the Fiserv Forum floor,” Gee says.
“Pro-Star flooring they actually installed this floor, did the logos, and it’s been a great look.”
Gee and his team of haircutters hold court with the Bucks, and have for a generation.
“I’ve been a barber for the Milwaukee Bucks for 22 years now, so I cut quite a few individuals within the Bucks organization as well,” said Gee.
“Including the president, the assistant general manager, the president of player operations, and the vice president of player operations. I can go on and on, season ticket sales rep, along with players.”
Along with fans who have every encouragement to discuss Gee’s team and inspiration for his business design motif.
“It’s Bucks fever right now, man. Now you have a huge percentage of over about 90 percent (talking about the team). You can’t come in here and leave without saying something, even if it’s just Go Bucks!”
And it’s fans of every race.
It’s a mixed clientele that comes to the shop near the corner of MLK and North Avenue to get cuts and talk Bucks – and do more on the block.
“This is a unique area…that’s been going through a transformation over the last ten plus years, the Bronzeville area right here on MLK and Garfield,” Gee explains.
“You talk about diversity…not only the people who own the Caribbean restaurant, but the (patrons) that maybe have got outside of their comfort zone, left their norm restaurants that they would have normally went to and came here in the inner city, right here off the corner of MLK and North Avenue to eat.”
It follows the lead that Bucks’ ownership is trying to take in numerous commitments the team has made in focusing on central city issues: From the team’s own charitable and education-centered campaigns on both the north and south sides, to building playgrounds within the city, to guaranteeing living wage jobs in the future for team and arena employees.
“They were serious, when they came in here and saw the state of the city of Milwaukee and saw how it wa…in terms of the segregation,” Gee said.
“They saw that and they had a mission to turn it around in whatever they could, and they have definitely put their money where their mouth is. They have definitely made strides, and the best is yet to come.”
But in one way, Gee says that “best that’s yet to come” needs to come from each of us taking a simple step one – to not be afraid to cross the invisible wall and venture into an area of town where we seem different.
“That’s what it takes, people just taking it one step further,” Gee said.
“That’s huge man, it takes people like that, extending themselves going out their comfort zone to help. It takes a village to raise a child, and an even bigger village to bring this whole community together. It takes us individually to go outside of our comfort zone and realize it’s something greater than us out here that we need to focus on and do what we can to help.”
Gee’s sees its way of helping is fostering a place to simply talk about something that isn’t different between us, like a shared favorite team making a run for a championship.
“We’re going to be the 2019 NBA Champs. Remember, Gee said it.”