Lifelong Learners: Michelle Farley

Michelle Farley

Michelle Farley 

Degree: Master of Arts with a Social Change concentration

School: DePaul University

Graduation: June 2024

A few blocks from Michelle Farley’s former Milwaukee home sits a giant, abandoned, public school. Carleton School shuttered in 2005.

“Way too long this has been sitting like this — a lot of broken promises,” Farley says. “My granddaughter is 2, and this is her future?”

To bring those broken promises to fruition, Farley has founded a start-up, Green Alternatives Housing and Supportive Services, and headed back to school to sharpen her skills: “I was starting a business and thought I should be the best I could be,” Farley says.

In a city where 40% of renters earn less than $25,000 a year, Farley plans to turn Carleton School — or a vacant school like it — into a holistic community center that includes affordable, energy-efficient housing and supportive services, such as job training, educational support, and athletic facilities. Her business plan targets multiple crises: environmental, housing, crime, and more.

Farley has had dreams before, like in the early 2000s when she had the chance to build a home in Chicago from the ground up. To help her in that work, she earned two associates degrees in building construction technology and building code enforcement, and by 2007, she had earned a bachelor’s degree focused in construction management at DePaul University.

The mother of four and grandmother of nine had a vision back then and made it a reality, just as she’s doing now. In a neighborhood made up of 80% Black people, Farley says, “We’ve been told a lot what we can’t do, what we can’t be.”

Farley shakes her head. “I want to change not just the housing, but the person. Get them to see that their voice is powerful. It’s needed.” 

Just like her own voice.

Above photo by Jim Vondruska
Originally published in the Winter/Spring 2023 print issue.