Ramona Hallmon | Green Bay, WI
I’ve always had a big personality and been outspoken. Growing up my friends looked to me to be a leader. When I was in grade school, I knew I would be the voice for people who couldn’t speak for themselves. I grew up in the Baptist church and my mom had us doing the Easter speeches, announcements, serving as ushers, singing in the choir. You name it I was pretty much doing it. Family and church sharpened my skills.
I moved to Wisconsin from California because I lost a bet in the late 90s. My late husband and I knew we wanted to relocate. He had Midwest roots and was a Packers fan. That year the Packers went to the Super Bowl. So, what better way to make a decision than make a wager? I said, ‘If these Packers win, we’ll move to Green Bay.’ They won!
The first time that I ever experienced people looking at me because I was different was in Green Bay. It was a culture shock. Adults would say, ‘Oh, you must be married to or related to a football player.’ My late husband was white and worked in a factory. Once, in a toy store, a boy who was no more than three left his mother’s side and walked up to me. He started touching and caressing my leg with both hands, and all he could say was ‘she’s a doll’ and ‘she’s soft.’ It seemed that he had never seen a person who was not white. All the blood left his mother’s face. I was fine because he was just a child. But it just showed me where I was.
I started at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College doing computer programming. I hated it, though, because I like to talk and be with people, so I shifted majors to business. I had a great instructor who invited management from Walmart to come in, and I was recruited to be a management trainee. In early 2004 I took on that role, and that opportunity really set the trajectory of my life. In December of that same year, I lost my husband to a car accident. I shifted from being a young housewife to figuring out how to stand completely on my own.
Early in my career, I learned that I was the first salaried African-American employee at Walmart in the area. During my 10+ year career, I ran the store with teams of up to 400+ people and trained hundreds for management roles. I made it my mission to encourage people of color and women to take on salaried roles.
A promotion to regional trainer brought me to Baraboo. I traveled the Midwest to other stores so much that I really didn’t get to know Baraboo until my travel slowed down. At first, I saw the nice and beautiful things, the reasons people come to visit. If you think of a city as a house, I saw the living room, the fancy kitchen, but I hadn’t yet seen what was pushed under the bed. I wanted to know my new town better. I started volunteering at Hope House, a place for women and children who had been abused. I would bake cookies, play with the kids, talk with anyone who wanted to. I would just pour love into them, encouraging them, helping them feel proud of themselves. I also volunteered at SSM Health Hospice House.
I’d had some interactions with people in stores and restaurants that made me feel like an unwelcome outsider. One experience was being ignored and treated disrespectfully by a waitress, a white woman, during a work lunch to welcome a new team member, who was also white. At the end of the meal, which I left untouched, the waitress gave the check to my colleague. She immediately handed it to me and let the waitress know that I was her manager and I would be paying. It was a powerful move for her to correct the server right at that moment.
My faith in God is what really strengthens me. Life is too short to be mad, to sit in unforgiveness. If somebody has hurt you, you don’t have to be the best of friends, but forgive, because forgiveness is not for the other person. It’s for you!
In 2015 I started RamonaVation a “WHOLElistic” life-transformation coaching business. I was tired of being told and exhausted by the feeling that I could only be one part of me at a time – either corporate Ramona, or church Ramona, or community work Ramona depending on the environment. I decided to show up as every part of me all of the time, the WHOLE me. And now I make it my business to motivate and empower others to live a more fulfilled life, by being whole.
I met my husband Antowan Hallmon, Sr. in church. And we were married in 2011. When he was new, he was known as ‘the guy who could cook,’ I saw him as the guy who was extremely handsome. In church Antowan served in different capacities, he was a deacon, then associate pastor. We now have our own church, FaithWorks Ministries. Antowan is the senior pastor and I’m the executive pastor. We are an outreach ministry. That means you won’t see us only in four walls having service. We are not telling people to come to church so we can feed you, we go out to where the people are. This past holiday season, we served around 1000+ meals.
In leadership capacities, in ministry, you’re always on the clock. If you’re not careful, you get to the point where you’re not taking care of you. That is where the spiritual, mental, and emotional work has to take place, to help us to evolve. Doing that for myself is what helped me to stand strong when someone has called me the ugliest words or demeaned me. I’m able to stand stronger in my position in life right now, which allows me to care for and nurture others.
Through our Chosen Generation and SHINE programs, I’ve worked with women and teenage girls of color in the Baraboo area. I meet with them once or twice a month to just be in their world with them and create a safe space. We laugh, we have a great time, and we talk about topics that they want to talk about. No topic is off limits. Some teens and women shared that when they represented their culture at school or work with their dress or the way they did their hair they were made to feel that they did not fit in.
One of the reasons that the Baraboo Acts Coalition came to be was the infamous prom photo of the high school students giving the Nazi salute, which had Baraboo all over the news. It is years removed now, but that picture was a physical representation of what I experienced in certain spaces here as a person of color. Marcy Hufaker – who is Jewish and whose children attended the high school at the time of the photo going viral – knew the work being done by our ministry and reached out to Antowan and me about being a part of the coalition. We decided to join the Coalition to help the community see that there is growth, and we can change. I believe that the younger generation has to see people of color and different cultures living in the community come together. So, we held an event that brought community businesses together to talk openly about race.
I partnered with some amazing women in the community to put on the Celebrate Sauk event last fall. We all have different backgrounds, different beliefs, though we find so many things that are alike. Through that event we brought cultures together – Dutch, Peruvian, Lithuanian, Ho-Chunk, African-American. We had all of these groups come together to share food, music, traditions. We said, look at the culture that is here! We are all a part of this community. To Celebrate Sauk means that everyone is valued. Everyone is welcome.
What is locked in my heart about the event is dance. Music bridges gaps and draws people together. What I saw dance do was bring everyone together in a way that made your heart overjoyed. We had so many different dances that we not only watched but participated in. You are physically immersing yourself in a different culture and we’re learning together and we’re moving and we’re having a great time. Everyone was happy, wearing what they wanted to wear, and being themselves. The feeling was to let your hair down and just be you. It was empowering. It was beautiful.
When the Ho-Chunk tribal members closed out the event, they blessed the lands and danced. To hear it all narrated was very emotional. The community was able to not only see that there’s richness of culture here but that there’s love here, there’s happiness. Even now, I can hear the music. I can hear the sounds, I can see the movement, and how the movement translated into connectivity.
Things like this have to be done. The generation coming up will see that there are groups of people who care, who want to learn. This will allow space for people to be themselves. It’s so needed. FaithWorks Ministries is a virtual church/outreach ministry and our team is growing, we have expanded our reach to the Green Bay area, and we still have strong roots in Baraboo. Our work in Sauk County will continue. We still have a hand in serving Baraboo and making it better. The generations who came before us are shouting, ‘Move forward and do not be silenced!’ Show that there is love. There is unity.
Ramona’s story was produced by Jynelle Gracia and is part of the Baraboo Acts Coalition series, which formed in 2018 when Baraboo became an international controversy after a photo circulated depicting several young people giving the Nazi salute.
Photo 1: Members of the Celebrate Sauk planning team; Photos 2-4: Participants at the Celebrate Sauk event; Photo 5: Students speaking at a Baraboo Acts Coalition event.