By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
“I can hear the grinding, the crunch of bone and hope, city as machine chomps greedily eating everything unhinged, unattached…”
Those words were written by Dasha Kelly Hamilton, Wisconsin’s poet laurate, and recited during the Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s kick off event for its new series, “A Milwaukee for All” on Friday, June 25.
The event featured Andre Perry, the author of “Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities.”
To start the event, Ellen Gilligan, the CEO of the Greater Milwaukee foundation, and Perry talked about why Milwaukee needs to care about equitable economic opportunities and how to invest equitably in communities.
“When we talk about equity, it misses the point,” Perry said. “For me, plainly stated, equity is making sure you have the conditions so your families can thrive. I wrote my book in a way that really situated Black people in the center of the research. I run my data through the lived experience, trusting that what Black people are saying is actually correct and can add value to solutions.”
Perry’s book explores the devaluation of Black people and their communities.
“Often times when we see something going wrong in Black communities, we blame Black people instead of looking at the policies that contribute to the conditions.”
Perry noted that instead of looking at external factors, which are rooted in racism, people encourage children to work harder.
Gilligan asked Perry to expand on the asset-based approach, which he addresses in his book. Many social scientists and researchers approach Black communities as deficits, she said, as something that needs to be fixed.
When white people are shown on one level and Black people below them, it gives the illusion that Black people have to catch up to white people for justice, equity and so on, Perry said. Perry noted that when Black people are labeled as deficits the investments often go toward people to ‘fix people.’
“For me, it’s about realizing that nothing grows without investment and until you see the asset or the strength you’re not going to invest in those things,” Perry said.
He continued, “How do we get out of this white-savior mentality, where we’re investing in organizations to fix people instead of investing in the people themselves…Nothing grows without investment.”
When people trust in the Black entrepreneur, Black school board, Black housing advocate, then they invest in them. That’s the approach, he said. Philanthropy often produces white saviors to solve the problem instead of investing in the people themselves.
Following the conversation, participants split into one of the following breakout rooms: affordable housing and stabilization, anti-displacement strategies, decolonizing philanthropy, early childhood education, economic repair and reparations, entrepreneurship and wealth creation, forging a talent pipeline, housing equity, neighborhood and community development, and social activism.
Jeffrey Roman, the executive director for the Milwaukee County Office on African American Affairs, lead the conversation on social activism. During the conversation, a participant asked what they can do as a white person to dismantle racist practices.
“The first thing is, commit to doing the work you need to do for yourself,” Roman said. “To recognize your own biases, to recognize your own prejudices, to recognize your own conditioning that you have, that we all have. We all live in a society where we’re conditioned by racism, by sexism, by all those things.”
Everyone has to make a commitment to learn themselves and challenge themselves, Roman said. Get comfortable being uncomfortable, he added. Center people of color, he said, and support them.
Deatra Kemp of ACTS Housing and Will Martin of Wisconsin Diversified Investments lead the conversation on housing equity. The conversation also featured Erica Steele and Bethany Sanchez.
The group discussed the eviction moratorium and how to help people who might be facing eviction. Martin said the Greater Milwaukee Foundation and other coalitions could think about matching the public sector funds to double the pot. He noted that in neighborhoods like Amani, mortgage loans could help establish homeowners and strengthen the community.
Cory Nettles, the founder and managing director of Generation Growth Capital, concluded the event. “A Milwaukee for All” was inspired by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s North Star: racial equity and inclusion, he said. The goal of the series to reimagine the approach the foundation and many others take to investing in Milwaukee.
“We can build a better Milwaukee for everyone,” he said.