It's been one of those weeks that runs high on inspiration and low on free time.
However, I couldn't stay away from one piece of information I got for long. It was actually funny, because I was sitting at the Mifflin Street Block Party informational meeting when I heard about it. Contrary to conventional wisdom, when confronted with the choice between sitting at a table with strangers and plopping down with a couple of competing reporters, I will often plop down with the other newshounds. We delight in taunting each other with tantalizing leads we're working on and swapping stories of our favorite and least favoite public officials.
Anyway, the meeting was getting long, a student asked a particularly asinine question of an already badgered Madison cop and I was sharing a knowing glance with State Journal writer Brittany Schoepp and WIBA reporter Jason Fischer. Mike Verveer, in the midst of a sentence that likely defused the eighth potential police / student clash of the evening, mentioned this noteble tidbit. Immediately, the three of us siezed notebooks and began shorthanding furiously.
Apparently, Brittany Zimmermann's family will be at the Mifflin Street Block Party this weekend operating a food stand. That's right, the people whose daughter was stabbed by some psycho who's nowhere near being brought to justice will be selling hot dogs to drunk college kids a few short blocks from where the body was found in order to raise money to establish a college scholarship in their daughter's name. I hope you'll pause just a moment to reflect on the colossal hearts beating in these people's chests...
...because I, quite frankly, am in awe. And don't for a moment think that it's numbness or insensitivity at play in her parents. This is love. It's bravery, it's philanthropy, it's every good and decent thing most of us don't even have the gall to imagine we would be capable of in their position. Instead of wallowing in self pity and hiding from the cold reality of the situation, they're immersing themselves in it. Saturday will, in all likelihood, be the second most painful day of their lives, as they watch kids their dead daughter's age enjoying everything Madison has to offer. Every reveler they see will be a reminder that Brittany should be there, among them.
They know this, yet they'll be there Saturday, tears streaming down their faces, lips pressed tight in brave smiles, hearts broken. They will come because it's a chance, they think, to raise a few hundred bucks to keep their daughter's memory alive.
I spoke to Brittany's father, Kevin Zimmermann, a couple of weeks after the killing. He told me he never went to college, but his family loved the Univerity of Wisconsin. They went to football games for years, and it was his daughter's goal to attend school here. She made it in, and even though they were a family barely scraping by, they worked hard, together, and raised the money for her to attend. He told me he and his wife agreed founding a scholarship in her name is something Brittany would have liked a lot.
On Saturday, I hope our students show the Zimmermanns not only that we know how to party at the UW. Everyone knows that. I hope we show them how we take care of our own, and how the block party is more than just a "drunk fest." It's a celebration of life in general, and foremost this year, one life in particular.
In the worst years, through sleet and rain, I've seen 10,000 people turn out to the block party. In good years, authorities have estimated the number between 25,000 and 30,000. At any rate, if half those people visit the Zimmermanns' food stand and buy something for five bucks, they'll have enough money to start a fund that will guarantee their daughter's name will outlive them both, which Kevin told me was his goal. I will personally be disappointed if they leave Miffland with less than $100,000, and long after the last hot dog has been sold, I expect to see Badgers lined up to pay their respects and drop a tenner in the bucket.
After all, it's how we roll.
In closing, I just caught wind there was a shooting on West Washington Avenue, and crews are going to begin setting up to shoot scenes for the new Depp movie at the state capitol tomorrow. There's a whole lot of shooting going on. May 1st is indeed going to be a damn long day.