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New Office on African American Affairs Solicits Ideas From the Public

Michelle Maternowski
The new Office of African-American Affairs will be opening soon at the Milwaukee County Courthouse.

Workers at the Milwaukee County courthouse are preparing for a new tenant: the Office on African American Affairs. It’s designed to help sectors of the black community address issues they face, including unemployment and mass incarceration.

Organizers of the new office will hold their first public brainstorming session Monday evening at the Washington Park Senior Center. Yet, planning has been in the works for months.

The Milwaukee County Board moved in November to open the Office on African American Affairs. The plan received unanimous approval after Supervisor Khalif Rainey delivered an emotional plea.

“We wake up every day with the reality that we live and we raise our children and we live with our families in the absolute worst place in America for African Americans to live,” Rainey says. “African Americans in Wisconsin are the most obese population in all of America.”

Rainey fleshed out the issues for us, in his county office. “The 53206 zip code in Milwaukee County is the most incarcerated in all of America. We have a black male unemployment rate hovering above 50 percent,” Rainey says.

Rainey says until now, local government efforts to address needs in the black community have been fragmented. The new office will bring various endeavors under one roof, according to coordinator Nate Holton. He says the county seems like a natural location because of services it already provides.

“In terms of incarceration for example, we fund early intervention programs at the courts that keep people out of prison, we fund re-entry programming at the House of Correction. We have a rather significant impact on criminal justice. We also have a wide variety of social services that we provide to communities,” Holton says.

The Office on African American Affairs will be housed inside the Milwaukee County Executive’s office. Holton says the county is in the process of hiring a full staff, including policy analysts and outreach coordinators. He says the County Board initially approved $300,000 in the current budget to launch the office.

“There’s also a $1 million African American stimulus package,” Holton says.

That one million will fund job training programs. As for tonight’s brainstorming session, Holton says it will focus on segregation. In fact, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council is the sponsor. Administrator Kori Schneider-Peragine says segregated or isolated neighborhoods is a huge issue here.

“Metro Milwaukee has the highest segregation in the country. It isn’t something we take lightly. We understand that most of the disparities that we see in our area, graduation rates, health disparities, employment disparities, we believe all have a direct tie to housing,” Schneider-Peragine says.

While organizers will hold the first public meeting tonight, the Office on African American Affairs itself isn’t expected to be up and running until April. In the meantime, the Milwaukee Common Council is thinking about setting up a companion office at the city level.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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