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Community Advocate Nate Holton Reflects on Martin Luther King's Influence

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Nate Holton, the man Milwaukee County hired in 2015 to make life better here for struggling African Americans, says he knew when he was young that he wanted to help improve the lives of Milwaukee’s black residents. He says Dr. King was his inspiration.

“He looked past the fundamental differences that appear on the surface of folks and the issues of the day and saw a brighter future for the country, one in which we are judged on the content of our character and not the color of our skin. As someone who is biracial and has had a lot of racial experiences that are diverse in nature, I have felt the sting come from many different directions and his message rings extremely true for me and it’s something I fight for on a personal level and a professional level,” Holton says.

Holton was born and raised in Milwaukee, earned his law degree at Indiana, then moved back here in 2010. He began work on social justice issues with the NAACP and Legal Action of Wisconsin.

His current endeavor is helping form the Office on African American Affairs in the county executive’s office. It’s charged with helping members of the black community address issues they face, such as unemployment and mass incarceration. Holton says he believes the work reflects King’s legacy.

“It’s continuing to fight for his vision. That’s what this is all about. It’s why I returned to Milwaukee and it’s one of the county executive’s primary focuses with this office. Milwaukee has one of the arguably worst black-white racial disparities in the country and that has been the case for decades and we have not made much progress relative to other similarly situated areas and it’s time that we did something productive about that,” Holton says.

Holton says, since the office got up and running a year ago, it has fostered networks and programs such as Uplift Milwaukee. It has helped place about 100 people in jobs. Holton believes Dr. King would applaud progress made so far, but remind the community that there is much more to do.

“When you look at Milwaukee’s segregation in education and housing and some of the things we were battling in the ‘60s and how we’re still having those battles today, I’m sure he would have some level of frustration, but he would look at the ultimate goodness of people and the commitment of people at the end of the day to do better and use that as a source of optimism for the future.”