By Karen Stokes
The Office of African American Affairs (OAAA) organized an input session for members of the community hosted by Milwaukee County Executive, Chris Abele and State Representative David Crowley. This is one of several events conducted in the past year for the OAAA to obtain community input.
The purpose of the OAAA is to empower the African American community through recognizing and resolving racial inequities. The office was created and funded in June 2016.
“The idea of this office is to help coordinate everything we do at the county and we look at which departments and divisions have an impact on the African American community,” Abele said in an interview. “We’ve been focusing on programs that were added specifically to empower the parts of the African American communities that need it the most.”
Approximately 150 people assembled at the COA Goldin Center, 2320 W. Burleigh St. for a conversation facilitated by the Zeidler Center for Public Discussion. The group divided into small groups where Zeidler Center representatives assisted in conversations on “what’s at the heart” for each person on state legislative ideas that focus on the issues of workforce development and criminal justice reform. These issues have received bipartisan support with county and state officials.
The meeting began with county officials explaining OAAA initiatives.
“This is a long-term effort as you all know it’s going to take us a long time to get us to a place where we don’t have our racial inequities anymore or when we get to a place where our racial inequities are no worse than any other major city. It’s a long-term effort,” said Nate Holton, deputy chief of staff in the Milwaukee County Executive’s office.
One program that was discussed was Uplift Milwaukee, a jobs program that provides the opportunity, training and support to residents in low income neighborhoods.
Abele said that they have had a ton of success with the Uplift Milwaukee program. With an average starting wage of $15 an hour, over 100 residents have been successfully placed with employment. Uplift Milwaukee is partnering with Employ Milwaukee, a workforce development board that connects communities to meaningful work.
Opportunity Knocks is another program launched in 2016. Coordinating with the OAAA, the program takes Milwaukee County owned foreclosed homes and offers the opportunity for nonviolent House of Correction offenders to be trained to renovate these homes and then the homes are available for purchase to first-time home buyers. The program pays for itself, through the purchase of the homes.
“I think OAAA has the potential of having a great impact on our current civil rights and equal opportunity laws that are on the books that aren’t being enforced and administered the way they are written,” said Fred Royal, president of the NAACP Milwaukee Branch. “I think it will give an opportunity for any new legislation to be embedded to see an impact in our community.”
“We have been doing everything we can through universal screening and community prosecutors to keep people out of the criminal justice system,” Abele said. “One of the big targets for the OAAA is to lower Wisconsin from being the highest rate of incarcerated African Americans in the country to not just below average but to the lowest.”