By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
When it comes to diversity in the Village of Whitefish Bay, one could say its lacking. The community is majority white and according to local Whitefish Bay resident, Kathy Wurzer, it is not the most welcoming.
In 2019, Wurzer along with Anne O’Connor and Jennifer Koop Olsta set out to change and challenge Whitefish Bay’s reputation. The three women – who are all white – knew something had to be done, so they started Bay Bridge, an organization dedicated to addressing racial inequalities in Whitefish Bay.
“We started Bay Bridge because Whitefish Bay has a reputation for not being a welcome community to people of color,” Wurzer said. “We knew that it was something as a community we could do better.”
Its efforts focus mainly on addressing the systemic racism that exists in the suburb and the school district. For Wurzer, this means discussing the topic of race and supporting parents and students such as her African American daughter who have experienced racism.
Although the group is just starting out, Wurzer has been fighting for racial equality for over 20 years.
“I believe in the oneness of humanity,” she said. “We are all God’s children, and everybody should be treated with equity and equality, and I don’t see that in our society.”
Wurzer first became aware of race while attending John Marshall High School during desegregation. When the Black students started coming to school, the school changed from an open campus to a closed one, it switched out glass doors for metal ones and it added security guards, she said.
The experience stuck with Wurzer. Since then, she’s strived to be part of the change, which is where the organization Bay Bridge come in.
Each month, Bay Bridge offers educational events on racism.
During January, the group celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day with various activities all month long. This month, the group is encouraging people to watch the documentary
“Remembering Bronzeville,” which follows the rise and fall of the historically Black neighborhood. It will then be having a Zoom conversation with Clayborn Benson, the founder of the Wisconsin Black Historical Society and Museum, at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 17.
Bay Bridge has formed partnerships with 5 Points Neighborhood Association and the Fair Housing Council. It is supporting the association’s anti-displacement and anti-gentrification efforts and the council’s efforts to establish Whitefish Bay as part of the opportunity housing network.
While the group has been getting more attention, Wurzer said it is still struggling to overcome Whitefish Bay’s reputation. People of color are hesitant to join the group, she said.
In response, Bay Bridge has redoubled its efforts to establish itself as trusted organization that people can have confidence in.
For now, the group has three students of color as liaisons and two members from 5 Points Neighborhood Association on its board. It’s also focusing its attention on the school board elections and electing people who want to make long lasting systemic changes.
But Wurzer know there’s more to be done.
“The more I find out, the more I learn, the deeper I become involved,” she said. “Once you know, you just can’t turn back.”
To learn more about Bay Bridge, go to baybridgewisconsin.org.