By Milwaukee Courier Staff
It’s no secret that racial and ethnic disparities are pervasive in Milwaukee County – more Black men are in jail here than anywhere else, the infant mortality rate is staggering for Black children, child poverty is above 60 percent in some of our neighborhoods, and the list goes on.
We hear a lot of talk about these statistics but unfortunately don’t see too much action.
That’s not the case, however, at Milwaukee County’s Department of Health and Human Services, thanks to Director Hector Colon. Since first being appointed to the role six years ago, Colon has taken a diligent approach to reducing racial and ethnic disparities in the County.
When President Barack Obama issued a “Healthy Communities” challenge last year to encourage communities like ours to increase healthcare coverage rates, Hector Colon took the lead to enroll more people – and Milwaukee won. Part of that success is attributed to the fact that Hector recognized that racial and ethnic minorities are statistically less likely to have access to affordable, comprehensive healthcare, and took an intentional approach to ensure full minority inclusion by partnering with groups like the Black Health Coalition and Centro Hispano.
Hector has taken the same diligent approach to eliminating racial disparities in our criminal justice system, and reducing our jail population overall. Earlier this year the County was awarded a $2 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation to do just that. Hector’s team will take the lead across Milwaukee County to keep people with mental health and substance abuse issues out of our jails, and get them into treatment programs where they belong.
The County is also expanding its focus on trauma-informed care. Hector oversaw the creation of a Mobile Crisis Intervention Team that responds to families and children who have been exposed to violent trauma. That team went to work recently at Sherman Park, with officers and clinicians helping to mend a community that is still healing.
And when it comes to the challenges facing youths in our justice system, Hector has been a force for change. Even before the shocking allegations of abuse and mistreatment at the state’s Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake facilities came to light, Hector Colon was working to expand community-based alternatives for youth offenders. Vulnerable kids shouldn’t be thrown in solitary four hours away from home – they should be offered services right here in our community where they can see their families and have a local support network. For the past ten months Hector has worked with partners in the community justice system to bring home from Lincoln Hills as many kids as possible. He can’t do it alone, but we’re making progress. In December of last year, we had more than 100 kids at Lincoln Hills and Cooper Lake. Today we have under 80.
Given this record of success, it would seem that keeping Hector Colon in his position as Milwaukee County’s Director of Health and Human Services is a no-brainer. Yet for some reason, the County Board’s Health and Human Needs Committee, led by Supervisor Supreme Moore Omokunde, did not support Hector’s reappointment.
This appears to be part of a disturbing pattern for the County Board – attempting to punish their political enemy, Chris Abele, by taking out their anger on qualified, committed public servants. We saw this several years ago, when the Board summarily fired the County’s first African American, and first female, corporation counsel, Kimberly Walker. That this misguided attempt at political retribution seems to come at the expense of black and brown men and women – who we so need in leadership roles in our community – makes this kind of gamesmanship all the more distasteful.
There’s still a chance to make this right and keep Hector Colon where he belongs, serving our community. The full County Board votes on Thursday, September 22nd. We heartily endorse Hector Colon’s reappointment and urge you to contact your County Board supervisor to ask them to do the same.