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Black grassroots organizations release an agenda on how to improve the lives of Black people in Milwaukee County

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Amy Harley, PhD, MPH, RD
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Members of the MKE Black Grassroots Network for Health Equity pose for a photo at the presentation of the Community Change Agenda.

The MKE Black Grassroots Network for Health Equity introduced a Community Change Agenda at the Milwaukee Area Technical College Tuesday. It’s aimed at improving life conditions and enhancing the well-being of Black families and communities in Milwaukee County.

The network includes Black faith leaders, activists and leaders of Black-led grassroots organizations. The network is funded by the Zilber Family Foundation through UW-Milwaukee’s Zilber School of Public Health.

The agenda was formed to address the impact of COVID-19 on Black families, the legacy of underinvestment in Black neighborhoods, people and institutions, and the structural and systemic racism in Milwaukee.

Quinton Cotton is the managing member of QDC Research and Policy Consulting Group, LLC, and a member of the network’s leadership. He said it’s time to move the community in a different direction. Cotton shared the approaches that the agenda is grounded in.

"The first [focus area] is social justice: the view that everyone deserves equitable, economic [and] political social rights [and] opportunities — the absence of social inequity. Two, healing justice. There’s something special and important about groups who have experienced oppression coming together, working cross- generationally to support holistic solutions to transform what is happening in that community," Cotton said.

Cotton said the agenda also focuses on Black liberation, which he defines as an organization of Black community power to end abuses toward Black people, independent of colonial systems and thinking, and to preserve Black cultural identity.

The remaining approaches are systemic change, which involves understanding the root causes of disparate conditions in Milwaukee today, and the Black cultural lens: understanding the values of Black people from the perspective of Black people.

Jeff Roman is the director of Milwaukee County’s Office on African American Affairs. He said the agenda creates real, actionable steps that will shift the paradigm to give power to Black Milwaukeeans.

Roman said it builds on generations of work that Black Milwaukee leaders and organizations have done to improve the lives of Black Milwaukeeans.

"Over are the days of this top-down approach, even from Black folk in high places. It has to start from those on the ground. And we as government, we have communities, we as system leaders, we have to invest in building the leadership — the organizational and the advocacy capacity of our grassroots," Roman said. "Black-led leaders on the ground who have been, will continue, and will always be the forefront, the vanguards, of Black-led social change in our communities."

The Community Change Agenda makes recommendations in areas including health equity, economic well-being and safety. Planners hope to affect change by sharing the agenda with the Milwaukee community, and encouraging people to get involved in a way that works best for them in order to advance the actions identified in the agenda.

Roman said the Community Change Agenda demonstrates what is known about Black people in Milwaukee, and worldwide: that when equitably invested in and supported, they have the power to define, advocate and act on what’s best for themselves, their families and their communities.

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