By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Rep. David Crowley of the 17th District and Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa of the 8th District organized the Black and Latino Caucus and delivered the first annual State of Black and Brown Wisconsin. They were joined by their fellow representatives, senators and community leaders in a monumental moment in Wisconsin’s history.
“This is an opportunity to talk about issues affecting Black and Latino communities,” Crowley said.
While the address in total covered a variety of topics, the forefront of several speeches was about the disparity between black and brown youths and their white counterparts. It examined the statistics that mark Milwaukee as one of the worst places for Black youth, and it offered hope and an urgency to change.
Sen. Lena Taylor of the 4th District was the first to speak.
“These issues require all hands on deck,” Taylor said.
According to Taylor, people of color makeup 13% of Wisconsin’s population and yet, Milwaukee has the highest incarceration rate of Black men. Between 1990 and 2012, she said, 26,222 Black men were in jail.
“These statistics are ours and they’ve been ours for a while,” Taylor stated.
These numbers, she explained affected the census and the state lost out on federal aid and seats in the Senate.
“This is not fake news,” she said. “This is real.”
People need love and faith she said, and by growing their economic wealth they can improve their health. She concluded her speech by urging listeners to create clubs that teach workforce training and agriculture and offer support.
Rep. Zamarripa of the 8th district represents Milwaukee’s south side. She told the story of two undocumented girls who call Wisconsin their home in part thanks to DACA. Zamarripa lamented over the fact that Governor Walker failed to mention Latinos in his speech despite there being nearly 7,000 DACA Dreamers in Wisconsin.
“[Latinos] are essential to the fabric of life here [in Milwaukee],” she said.
Despite the fact that Republicans have blocked “common sense” bills related to Milwaukee’s Latino community, Zamarripa hasn’t given up hope. She vowed to continue to fight for Latinos and undocumented persons
“Hasta la victoria gana,” she said, or until victory wins.
Rep. Crowley then introduced Sen. La Tonya Johnson of the 6th District. Johnson remarked on the education gap between Black and white children. There’s a 34-pt. gap in 8th-grade reading and a 48-pt. gap in 8th-grade math. According to Johnson, Wisconsin has the largest gap compared to rest of the nation.
However, Johnson is pleased that Lincoln Hills Correctional is closing and said, “We are making progress.”
In addition to Rep. Crowley who returned to speak, other representatives were Rep. Leon Young and Rep. David Bowen. While Crowley stressed the need for better transportation, Young spoke about improving housing and Bowen addressed education and tuition costs.
“It’s not going to be easy,” Crowley said.
The final two speakers were Dr. Eve Hall President/CEO of Milwaukee Urban League and Reverend Alexander Gee pastor of Fountain of Life Church in Madison.
While the stats aren’t in black people’s favor Hall reminded everyone that Milwaukee was once the best place for African Americans in terms of jobs and education and that it could be again.
Like Hall, Gee pleaded for a renowned sense of hope.
“Let’s not forget our state motto is ‘Forward,’ so why have we accepted a backwards way of life,” Gee asked.