As the mother of two sons, I’ve had my share of worries through the years – whether our boys were safe, healthy, studying hard, making good choices, preparing to be caring, responsible adults. I’ve always accepted these worries as a condition of parenting.
What I cannot accept and can scarcely imagine are the worries faced by many families in our community today. Like many of you, I’ve seen and come to understand how different the American experience can be depending on your race, ethnicity, gender identity, religion or economic status. Research confirms the disparities.
Nearly 238,000 people throughout our four-county area are living in poverty and many more are in low-income brackets, including 64 percent of black residents and 56 percent of Latino residents. African American median household income in our region is less than half that of white/non-Hispanic households; Latino income is barely half, according to our Vital Signs research. We also hear concerns directly from the community about safety and violence, neighborhood conditions, economic opportunities and housing affordability.
Helping one helps all
The Greater Milwaukee Foundation was founded on the premise that generosity can unlock an individual’s potential and strengthen the community for all who live here. As I reflect on the divisiveness of our recent election, as well as our nation’s and our community’s ongoing challenges, it is clear that as a community foundation, we can play an important role in bringing people together to bridge divides. We must be active and vocal in building a more inclusive and equitable region.
The importance of this work has led the Foundation’s Board to make a generational commitment to increasing opportunity and economic inclusion while reducing disparities among people of color and marginalized communities in our four-county region. Building on longstanding values and priorities, we are intensifying our efforts to eliminate chronic opportunity gaps so that each person has genuine opportunity to reach their full potential and has a voice in shaping the future of this region.
The benefits of economic inclusion reach far beyond the individual to the community as a whole. Our region, for example, stands to gain $14.5 billion in local purchasing power if we achieve racial equity in income, according to 2014 data from the National Equity Atlas.
We have work to do
We know what equity looks like. It looks like equal access to good jobs and financial stability. It looks like safe neighborhoods with affordable housing. It looks like high-performing schools and access to further education or training. It means a voice in the conversation and a high quality of life for everyone, with no one left out or left behind.
How do we get there? Within the Foundation’s mission of inspiring philanthropy and honoring donor intent is a mandate to address the most pressing needs of our region as they have changed over time. Our community’s needs compel us now to convene people, generate ideas and catalyze investment to accelerate our progress toward an equitable region. There are no easy answers or short-term fixes, but we’ve taken some early steps, including:
- Two years of in-depth Board and staff learning to better understand racial equity, our local context, and the role of philanthropy.
- Investment of more than $1 million in community groups working specifically to advance racial equity and inclusion in the region.
- Commissioning research to share knowledge about the diversity of our region, its challenges and opportunities including Vital Signs: Benchmarking Metro Milwaukee in 2015 and Latino Milwaukee: A Statistical Portrait in 2016.
- Conducting 11 community listening sessions to hear directly about issues facing local communities of color.
In the coming months, you will hear more about how the Foundation is continuing its commitment to equity, inclusion and increasing opportunity throughout the region. Yet, this is not the work of one organization or sector.
This is our community’s work, and we look forward to joining partners across the region to develop collaborations, investments, policies and pathways to ensure that a promising future does indeed apply to everyone.
Ellen M. Gilligan
President & CEO