By Dylan Deprey
While some were agitated in the lack of “doing something,” others felt it was just going to be another study on black people to be put on the shelf alongside the many others that have came before it.
These were some of the comments and concerns during small groups sessions for the newfound Milwaukee County Office on African American Affairs (OAAA).
This was the OAAA’s second community input session for County Executive Chris Abele’s Workforce Development programs at Community Grace Baptist Church on May 17.
The OAAA was created as a Milwaukee County office to combat and resolve racial disparities in the county. Racial disparities are a complex issue. After the first community input session in March, unemployment was considered the root of most of the problems.
Abele stamped the zip code area of 53206 as the “heart of the city because” of the incarceration rate as well as the unemployment rate fluctuating at or near 50 percent.
Abele guaranteed that all of his efforts would be put into this program and that something will come out of it.
“Its not an issue, it’s a crisis,” Abele said. “You can hold us accountable.”
The OAAA plans to focus on increasing employment in the African American community through collaboration of city and county programs, policies and activities.
“This is not just a county problem or a city problem. This is an everybody problem,” Abele said.
OAAA Deputy Chief of Staff Nate Holton, a Milwaukee native, said he had seen initiatives just like this growing up but nothing to come from it.
“All of a sudden its five years later, or ten years later and we are still talking about the same thing,” Holton said.
According to District 10 Ald. Supreme Moore Omokunde, the OAAA is still in the “bare bones” stages and is not yet staffed or being funded.
“The OAAA will be successful. However it has to be done properly and the process has to be done a certain way,” Omokunde said.
Some community members were confused as to the $300,000 in funds that were available for the OAAA but were not being used. Omokunde is a board member of the Milwaukee County Finance, Personnel and Audit Committee that deals with funding county programs.
“Personally I didn’t want to provide any funds and say ‘hey go run with this’ before we had any community meetings,” Omokunde said.
“My main concern is the community has as much input as possible.”
Wisconsin State Sen. Lena Taylor was in attendance. Just like some of the community members, she was happy with the creation of the OAAA and its fight against racial disparities for African Americans in the workforce but was disappointed with the lack of funding.
“Most important, I am disappointed because they are working in silos and are not going to other entities that were created to work on this,” Sen. Taylor Said.
Sen. Taylor also said that for the OAAA to be successful, it would have to be a collaborative fashion with city and state entities like the city of Milwaukee’s Black Male Achievement Council. Taylor said all entities need to work together because of a lack of knowing what programs and legislation already exists.
Members of the input session were placed into mediated groups and asked to answer questions about personal employment success as well as what the OAAA needs to focus on.
Sandra Scott is a retired businesswoman and a concerned member of the community. Scott and many others participated in the session.
“I am at a point in my life to fight the fight,” Scott said. “I am going to fight for jobs.”