By Karen Stokes
Milwaukee residents, politicians, community organizers, faith based and the non profit community all came together to have a courageous and truthful conversation on how to dismantle poverty.
Hosted by the Social Development Committee (SDC) The Summit on Poverty, Dismantling Poverty: A Courageous Conversation held at the Italian Community Center, 631 E Chicago St was at capacity as keynote speaker Dr. Joy DeGruy, an internationally renowned researcher, author and professor offered insights on how the history of culture and racial struggles continue to plague society in America today.
“We can’t move forward uninformed,” DeGruy said.
DeGruy is the author of “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome-America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing.” In her research for the book, DeGruy discusses the impact of slavery on generations of African Americans.
According to DeGruy, PTSS is a theory of how African Americans appropriately adapted when living in a hostile environment for survival. The condition exists as a consequence of multi-generational oppression of Africans from centuries of slavery. Slavery was enforced on the belief that Africans were inherently and genetically inferior to whites. After the thirteenth amendment abolished slavery, the belief continued through institutional racism, and still exists today.
A staggering fact from DeGruy is that trauma can be passed down from generation to generation through the genetic makeup of DNA.
After a powerful presentation from Dr DeGruy, the audience participated in smaller, breakout courageous conversation sessions to discuss topics including cognitive dissonance policies and systems.
Jeffery Roman, chairman of the City of Milwaukee Equal Rights Commission said, “Today was a perfect opportunity to address the elephant in the room. Structural racism and the effect that it has on poverty in Milwaukee are the reasons why I’m here today. We don’t usually have opportunities to have these candid conversations.”
The SDC Planning Committee’s goal for this summit was to create a platform on which real change could happen in Milwaukee County through a community-wide ‘Call to Action’ approach. It was meant to engage community members with initiatives, and address the major issues like poverty in the community. The summit worked on developing workgroups to address poverty related barriers and develop strategies to alleviate them.
“The proof will be that all of us in the room that represent government, philanthropy, education and the private sector move forward,” Roman said. “The question is what will we all do tomorrow. If we could figure out a way to work together and use the information given to us today we can see some change in the community. We will see tomorrow on how we start to work together.”
With an invitation for audience members to participate in the question and answer portion of the Summit, Senator Lena Taylor asked Dr DeGruy how to get past the poverty and the dysfunctional attitudes in Milwaukee.
DeGruy answered, “They will be resistant but we need to build where we are. We need to begin to develop ownership where we are, build a village. Insist, not hope, but insist that change happens.”