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Politics & Government

High Hopes for County Office on African American Affairs

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On Thursday Milwaukee County supervisors approved a resolution calling for an office that will investigate and work to solve problems affecting black residents.

Supervisor Khalif Rainey authored the resolution asking County Executive Chris Abele to create the office.

"This is the absolute worst place to be if you're African American in America," Rainey says.

Rainey says plenty of studies back up that sentiment.

"For the past, say, at least a decade, we've been looking at the data, whether it be educational disparities between the African American student and the white student here in Wisconsin, whether it be the unemployment rate, incarceration, health," Rainey says.

County supervisors were so enthused about the idea of creating an office to address the challenges, that a number of supervisors asked to be added as cosponsors. The board approved the resolution 17-0.

"What I envision is an office that is staffed with a grant writer...endowment money that speaks to the needs of African Americans here in Milwaukee County. I look forward to having research analysts, I look forward to devised strategies as to how we can turn these numbers around," Rainey says.

Rainey adds that the office could coordinate existing county resources to make sure residents take advantage of all the help available. He estimates the cost of creating and staffing the office at about $300,000.

South side Supervisor Peggy Romo West says the investment would pay for itself.

"If you can help someone to get a job, help someone to keep a job, you can provide someone with transportation, you're going to save the city and the county and the state money in the long run because that's services they're possibly not going to need provided to them," Romo West says.

County Executive Abele says he'll go along with the board's wishes to create the Office on African American Affairs, because the community faces critical issues.

"There is no other constituency in America where these disparities come close to the ratios that we they do here, and we need to do something about it as a community," Abele says.

Abele's staff is looking to other cities and states for guidance. At least a half-dozen have established such offices. Meanwhile, a Milwaukee alderman and a state lawmaker are pursuing similar ventures at their levels of government.

Supervisor Rainey, who's behind the county proposal, says his constituents are thrilled with developments.

"There's so much hope, a renewed hope, a hope that we had never even known before, you know like, maybe this is the beginning, maybe this is the solution. Maybe this is the start of something," Rainey says.