Milwaukee, like many urban metropolitan cities, represents a tale of two Americas.
Without fail, or hesitation, we have reviewed studies, statistics, or systems with one recurring theme: disparate outcomes in education, income, health, and incarceration that disproportionately impact African-Americans.
Reeling from the sting of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s study, “Race for Results: Building a Path to Opportunity for All Children”, Wisconsin has been confronted with ranking dead last in the country for our ability to prepare African-American children for educational or financial success.
Bolstering our negative national standings, are data and decisions that have driven increased racial segregation, distrust and division.
And yet, as a community, we have the tools needed to change course.
However, we must act now.
As we celebrate Black History Month, we are reminded of the legacy and enduring strength of the civil rights movement.
It was an immediate call to unite people, from varying backgrounds and experiences, in a singular call for equality.
The movement demonstrated that when we come together as a community, to address common goals, we do our best work.
Understanding that our work is far from done, it appears that Milwaukee County has put stakes in the ground.
Whether in the charge to end chronic homelessness in the County or address disparate treatment of our residents, they have taken steps to provide determinate outcomes and goals.
We are watching with great anticipation what will come from the Office of African-American Affairs, which was originally proposed by Milwaukee County Supervisor Khalif Rainey.
Embraced by County Executive Chris Abele, we have great expectations for the work of this office.
He has shared with the first set of community stakeholders a vision for the department.
Sadly, the County Board failed to pass funding for this office in their February meeting.
This is unacceptable. The vision County Executive Abele has laid out needs to begin.
The office would first focus its time and funding in pursuit of significant and measurable improvement in three main areas: workforce training, small business development, and criminal justice reform.
Milwaukee County already invests in workforce training but we can and must do more to empower people to live better lives and achieve economic security.
It’s not enough to provide skills training for family supporting jobs — we must ensure residents are connected to those jobs and have a realistic pathway to access these positions.
As this Office implements a job mapping tool, using technology to provide the most recent information about employment, job training opportunities, and public transportation services to and from work sites, we will be better positioned to decrease economic disparities by having information to inform our public investments.
To further strengthen families and our community, Abele has said that Milwaukee County is committed to business and economic development intended to increase the number of minority owned businesses.
With an eye towards moving many African- American owned businesses from the “disadvantaged” category to being awarded “prime contractor” status, he hopes to create a stronger infrastructure for job creation, growth, and financial sustainability.
The office will also focus on criminal justice reform. Far too many families have a child or parent that is incarcerated, often for low-level or non-violent offenses.
Filling our jails with men and women who made the mistake of possessing a small amount of marijuana or who can’t afford to settle a traffic fine for an expired license plate doesn’t keep us safer; it weakens our communities, it weakens our families, and it contributes to a new Jim Crow era that Dr. King would have recognized as a threat to justice everywhere.
As we continue to monitor work on these issues, Abele has asked that we hold him accountable. That in and of itself, is refreshing. We should hold every elected official accountable for what they say they are going to do.
This is why we are so disappointed the Milwaukee County Board did not act to fund this work.
The ancient African proverb is right, it does take a village – elected officials, educators, faith leaders, community advocates, social justice reformers, and each of us — working together in pursuit of a better and fairer society.
We must elevate public discourse; we must seek partners and solutions, so that every child, in every zip code, has the same opportunity to live their dreams.
We must act now.