By La Toya Sykes
Avenues West Association in partnership with Near West Side Partners recently turned a vision into reality for Executive Director, Keith Stanley by hosting A View from the Top: Five Decades of Common Council Leadership.
It was a pleasure to witness Common Council Presidents Johnson, Pratt, Hines and Hamilton in this historic moment of African American leadership as they shared experiences from their legacy as Ben Johnson related to the Growth, Death, & Rebirth of our beautiful city over decades.
As I listened to each leader share moments of challenge during their term and steps, they took to overcome/deal with those said obstacles it was clear – as a community we have made great strides, but we still have a way to go.
The event was kicked off by local youth who shared the opportunity with other governmental leaders to introduce the esteemed panel.
It was enlightening to hear Ben Johnson who served between 1976-1980 share his most worthy achievement, which was the establishment of an ethics code for City of Milwaukee Officials as well as legislation that created the Urban Home Study Program – which we commonly refer to as $1 House Program. He shared why he created this program as well as a similar program structured around businesses.
Our current Common Council President, Ashanti Hamilton who began his leadership in 2016, shared how this program has grown and has been utilized to positively impact the city. Hamilton spoke of a unique program “Be The Change” which is in its 8th year, and has helped to empower over 200 young black men.
Marvin Pratt who served from 2000-2004, and the only African American to serve as Mayor of the City of Milwaukee, discussed the Building Inspection and Code-Enforcement Interns program, which was designed to increase African American and women employment in key positions in city government. The program still exists and has assisted over 60 people who have been hired under the program and now work as building inspectors in the City of Milwaukee.
Willie Hines who served from 2004-2014, shared his philosophy during his reign as to unite the council and move the city forward. He outlined some elements he considered as the greatest growth opportunity during his tenure that occurred in the 15th and 17th district, and the greatest challenge – the death – was the housing crisis which occurred under his watch which not only devastated our city but cities around the country.
I believe this was the first time these leaders have been in a room together which allowed the community to get a glimpse into the character of each leader, their accomplishments/failures, and their hope and commitment for the future of our City.