The Milwaukee Common Council’s Community and Economic Development Committee met on September 7 and unanimously approved a proposal that would improve the quality of life for African Americans in the city.

During his tenure as a member of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors in 2015, Alderman Khalif J. Rainey was the author of successful legislation that created the county’s Office on African American Affairs.

“What I am calling for is the City of Milwaukee to create an office of African American Affairs, which I would equate to a FEMA. We have an emergency here in Milwaukee and Wisconsin, as it relates to African Americans,” said Alderman Khalif J. Rainey, in his address to the committee. “The Office is designed to create programs, policies, modify policies, and improve the City of Milwaukee’s efforts as it relates to the equal opportunity of all residents.

The measure was authored by Alderman Rainey, and co-sponsored by committee members Alderman Russell W. Stamper II, Alderman Cavalier Johnson, Alderwoman Chantia Lewis, and Alderman Tony Zielinski.

“Studies have been telling us what we already know, that Milwaukee is the worst place in America to live if you happen to be African American,” Alderman Rainey said. “We need a real sense of urgency and my legislation calls on the city to have a key role in working to do everything possible to better the lives of African Americans, and that is precisely what the office would be charged with doing.”

According to the legislative file, the office would be established in the Department of Administration and be responsible for the administration, coordination and implementation of the city efforts relating to the special needs of the city’s African American residents.

Former Alderman Willie Wade was sponsor of the initial resolution when he was a member of the Common Council. As vice president for the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board, he attended the Committee hearing to offer his opinion and support. Wade felt that “this should be a piece of legislation that is led by the city. I think the city is best prepared to do it.”

Alderman Rainey compiled his research and data for why the Office of African-American Affairs was needed in Milwaukee and how to structure it, from his experiences traveling around the country to other cities and learning how those programs had been effective.

The resolution cites massive and increasing disparities between Milwaukee’s African Americans and whites in education, incarceration, health, joblessness, income, home ownership, entrepreneurship, infant mortality, and several other categories.

Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs was not a member of the committee but offered her perspective along with Wade. She explained that even before the recent unrest in Sherman Park, the statistical analysis of the condition of African American people in the city of Milwaukee was well known. But that knowing the statistics and doing something about the problems were not the same thing.

She felt the Office of African-American Affairs was necessary to offer stability and direction to the work that needed to be accomplished.

“Even in the wake of Sherman Park, as people attempt to do what they know how to do to help change the conditions, until there is true systematic and structural change to all the causal factors for the conditions we have witnessed over the past few weeks, we are likely to witness it again,” said Alderwoman Coggs.

The Office of African American Affairs would be administered by a manager appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the Common Council. The manager would serve concurrently with the term of the mayor.

According to the file, the manager’s top three duties would be to:

  1. Examine and define issues central to the rights and needs of African American residents of the city.
  2. Identify and assess the potential disparate impacts of new budgetary and regulatory initiatives on African American residents of the city.
  3. Present recommendations to the common council for changes in existing programs and ordinances that disparately impact African Americans residents of the city.
  4. Identify barriers faced by African American residents of the city to existing government resources and services and present recommendations for removing those barriers.
  5. Develop and implement policies, plans and programs related to the special needs of African Americans residents of the city.
  6. Promote equal opportunities for African American residents of the city with regards to home ownership, business ownership, job creation, job training, health care and education.
  7. Promote multiculturalism and full participation by African American residents of the city.

“It’s time to do everything we can as a city to make sure all of our citizens have a chance to live better and richer lives, and that all of our children can reach their full potential,” Alderman Rainey said. “I am calling on my Council colleagues to support my proposal, and if approved, I am calling on Mayor Barrett to immediately create and fully staff this critical new office.”

© Photo
Lee Matz