By Nyesha Stone
To know the answer to something one must first ask the question, and that’s what the Milwaukee County Office on African American Affairs (OAAA) has done and is doing. OAAA teamed up with Zeidler Center to create vision sessions revolving around three topics: Economic Growth: Employment & Small Business Creation, Social Justice and Youth (Re)engagement.
Economic Growth was the first session, and on Nov. 21, OAAA held their second session with Social Justice being the topic of the night. The last session will be held Dec. 12 at McGovern Park Senior Center from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. with the topic being youth.
OAAA has been around since 2016, and it was created with the help of Ald. Rainey. The Milwaukee Country created OAAA with the mission of “recognizing and resolving the County’s racial inequities for the benefit of all its citizenry and for the region to achieve its full potential,” according to their 2016 annual report.
Several hundred participants attended OAAA’s last year’s multiple public input sessions. The purpose of these sessions was to see what the community needed and wanted, and then OAAA used the data to start building its foundation.
Coming back to this year, OAAA’s second vision session began at 4:30 p.m. with registration and networking, and with each name tag included a number from 1-6 at the top right corner—these numbers indicated which group each participant was in. Starting around 5:15 p.m. participants were in their group’s mingling, but then chatter was halted by OAAA Director Nicole Brookshire, who gave a small introductory speech, while also showing her appreciation to the participants.
“I thank you for your time [and] your voice,” said Brookshire. “Your participation today is very critical.”
Then, the floor was immediately turned over to the Zeilder facilitators—each group had one. Zeilder is a nonprofit dedicated to helping people have difficult conversations. It’s not always easy to discuss things such as racism, especially with different cultures, which is where Zeilder comes into play. OAAA hired Zeilder to keep the vision sessions running smoothly without having commotion and other disrupting things that can occur when topics such as social justice are discussed.
In each circle, the participants and their one facilitator held a OAAA pamphlet in their hand that outlined what the session was going to be about, the date of the next session, information on Zeilder, guidelines on how the session was going to run and lastly, the questions that each participant had to answer aloud.
The facilitators took notes, but everything had to be anonymous, no names could be revealed in the notes or outside the session.
The first question immediately dove into the topic of social justice because it asked each participant to share a personal experience that they felt there was a lack of cultural understanding from a governmental agency (school, court, law enforcement, etc.)
The second question was like the first and the very last question asked the participants to provide solutions to make governmental agencies understand so they then can provide adequate help to African American residents.
Participants had no problem sharing their experiences with one another.
An elder Jewish woman described her experience as one of the only Jews at a Christian school in the 50’s. She wasn’t welcomed in her neighborhood.
“But what made it worst was the adults at the school,” she said.
According to her, the school’s principal tortured, picked on and humiliated her and her two siblings.
Two black men shared their troubles with the court system and trying to gain parental rights. Both men expressed how shocked they were that the court would treat fathers, especially black men, so horribly when they’re proving the black father stereotype wrong.
“We’re trying to make sure they have the best quality of life and still we’re experiencing kickback from the government,” said one of the men.
There aren’t many times when people from different backgrounds, careers, lifestyles and many other things come together to share their life experiences and opinions without being judged.
Zeilder will compile the data collected from these vision sessions and OAAA will use the data to implement different initiatives to hopefully make Milwaukee a better city for all people.