Jamaal Smith
Op-Ed

Black Milwaukee, Wake Up!

A community activist and NAACP member says black Milwaukeeans need to stop pointing fingers and take action.

By , Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service - Jul 5th, 2015 04:34 pm
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Jamaal E. Smith

Jamaal E. Smith

Let me start this article by saying my condolences go out to all of the brothers and sisters that have been lost across this country, whether it was Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Jordan Davis, RaNeisha McBride, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, or Eric Gardner. I firmly believe that we, as a community, should stand in solidarity with the families of the aforementioned as well as the countless others that have gone unpublicized via media outlets.

With that said, however, the efforts to restore our own communities right here in Milwaukee have been minimal and sporadic. Granted, there are many local grassroots organizations and individuals that are attempting to make a major change within our communities, yet by and large, we are merely scratching the surface. Even worse, many of our actions have been reactionary after an act of indiscretion has happened, which clearly is too late. I have grown so frustrated with vigils and makeshift memorials across the city because they are nothing more than a constant reminder of where we have gone wrong.

There are massive clouds of hopelessness, despair and oppression that hover over black Milwaukee that surprisingly, only a few recognize. Many black residents have become so cynical and apathetic in the potential change process that the mere idea of “rallying the troops” to better our communities is met with resistance. We can discuss all of the socioeconomic ills that exist within this city alone, (second poorest city in America, largest black-white income/achievement gap, highest Incarceration rates, highest infant mortality rates and high unemployment rates for black men) yet we continue to operate in silos to address these issues.

The fact that we have both a Wisconsin African American Chamber of Commerce and a Wisconsin Black Chamber of Commerce sends a huge message of division and tension within our own ranks. Or, what about the countless men and women who continuously refuse to exercise their right to vote because “it’s not going to change anything”? I’ve had countless conversations with people citywide who see no hope for Milwaukee and there is no longer any purpose for remaining here. When I ask them the simple question, “What are you doing to change that perception?” the most consistent answer is, “Nothing!” followed by, “Why should I? People are going to do what they want so why waste the effort?”

The answer seems simple to me: because our children deserve our effort! When we are gone, our children will be forced to fend for themselves because we, as adults, did not leave them the necessary instructions to thrive. Young people have shown they are intelligent enough to exemplify what they’ve learned. How else can you explain the constant chaos and turmoil they exhibit in the streets? What we are seeing on a regular basis is learned behavior, not biological traits. Black children are not born drug dealers, thieves or murderers. But these characteristics are circumventing those matters that are more important.

At what point do we begin to say, “Enough is enough?” How many more tragedies do we need to experience before people begin to realize that the direction we are heading is leading to extinction? Why are we continuing to glorify and romanticize prison life, misogyny, promiscuity and violence in our music? For all of those who complain about the lack of leadership within the black community, where do you stand in becoming a leader? Why do we allow meager distractions to block our concentration from important issues?

The protesting and complaining about the issues is quite prevalent within black Milwaukee; however, we lack numbers when it comes to those ready to be agents of change. No one is going to give us anything, so stop sitting back and expecting utopian results. What hurts my heart even more about this subject is people will see this piece as a “blame the victim” approach instead of a call for accountability. At some point, we have to stop playing the victim card and realize we have work to do.

I will be the first to admit that systemic and institutional racism/oppression continues to exist, but how many times are we going to keep pointing our finger at the problem? If “to know better is to do better” is true then why are we still stagnant? The right thing is for us to take charge of our lives and work collectively to combat the daily obstacles plaguing our streets.

Jamaal E. Smith, a community activist and chair of the education committee at the Milwaukee branch of the NAACP, urges black Milwaukeeans to step up to confront the community’s problems, for the sake of the children.

This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee.

6 thoughts on “Op-Ed: Black Milwaukee, Wake Up!”

  1. TF says:

    Great piece. Any Milwaukeean, regardless of race or politics, who complains about the city should face this question:

    “What are you doing to change that perception?”

  2. Tony Muhammad says:

    Good read Jamaal E. Smith, yet your advocacy is not new in Milwaukee Black community, nor any other Black community in America. I am surprised to read Black Empowerment and Unity advocacy printed here in Urban Milwaukee.

    Your disenchantment with the Black American experience locally is well earned, but such dedication and love of our people expressed in this op-ed should be reserved for those most in need of the reminder.

    Black people disunity and seemingly missing responsible accountability for addressing and dealing with all the societal ills present in the Black community goes unsaid to often by grassroots community leaders and the Black clergy here in Milwaukee.

    The Milwaukee Machine has a history of pacifying young and old grassroots / educated Black leadership with tax dollar funded grants or decent paying jobs in community non-profit agencies which have strings attached or contract clauses that prevent silence addressing the machine that keeps the Black community here in Milwaukee impoverished.

    For example, Mayor Tom Barrett eliminated city minority hiring quotas with the support of City Council members. Also city leadership ignored and arrogantly prevent community leaders (NAACP President James Hall and Edward C McDonnal just to mention) “writ” to open city books to an outside auditor to address the City and County of Milwaukee procurement practices that are suspect adding to the “overall disenfranchisement” of the Black community here in Milwaukee. Black men here in Milwaukee face greater obstacles than their White male counter- parts to secure job skills and employment in the building trades, as an example of discriminatory institutionalize practices by local and surrounding White run trade unions and construction contractors.

    So to say Black Milwaukee is irresponsible in reporting criminal activity is indeed worthy of mention, but to be a person in a leadership position (young community advocate) not addressing the broader political mechanisms that create high poverty, crime and disenfranchisement in the Black community is also irresponsible and suspect of someone that can not see the forest because of the trees.

    Stay strong Jamaal, but broaden your view of the Black American experience.

  3. Tony Muhammad says:

    Noted correction in my previous comment…Paragraph # 4, line 4 – strike the word “prevent”

  4. MARY GLASS says:

    July 6, 2015

    Greetings Mr. Smith!

    As a true Stewardship and Leadership business and public policy leader, I welcome your assessment with measured due diligence needed by you, me and all of the Milwaukeeans for removal of Enduring Concentrated Poverty and disparities that have so many of the over half-million population in Milwaukee, the 1st Class designated city, mired in lack of hope but more with lacking Inspiration and Hope.

    We have systemic and institutional racism/oppression as you stated. That is one of the first steps to, “We Shall Overcome”. Period. That says a lot. What specifics in your message shall WE, the People, attack first as a task force and intelligence group?

    What specifics do you see part of the whole that you mentioned that would garner excitement and the type of wherewithal that came from our historians like Fannie Lou Hammer’s type of “tired of being tired” resolution of change?

    Take the present in-your-face arrogance of the MEGA NBA Milwaukee Bucks arena deal that has a 30-year Anaconda Boa Constrictor squeeze on Milwaukee taxpayers’ millions.

    Yes. Call for accountability of self, the citizenry; and, call for specifics from those controlling the economic development and quality of life issues that is a form of “census tract and neighborhood” terrorism. Call for a partnership led by the stakeholders you are speaking of in your OpEd.

    I say, WE, Milwaukeeans have much to do and let’s not get hung up with disappointments and most of all blaming ourselves. Yes. Not get hung up on what is not but more about what we can do. Call on each one by name, office and organization for due diligence. The NAACP cut its teeth on DISAPPOINTMENTS, BRUTALITY, DISCRIMINATION, MURDERS, BOMBINGS, SEGREGATION, EXPLOITATION, HARD KNOCKS; and made what wasn’t, what it should be with collaborative leadership.

    We can:
    • Provide facts that educate and communicate to those needing guidance and assurance.
    • Engage all, NO ONE IS EXEMPT.
    • Collaborate with groups like Milwaukee Professionals Association LLC for neighborhood governance, capacity building, leadership and stewardship.
    • Confront with accountability the bait-n-switch and duplicitous acts of the three branches of government at the local, county and state level.
    • Call for and MOUNT a Voting Campaign never seen before here in Milwaukee. We have the 50th year coming up August 6, 2015 – Join MPA LLC in its tribute to this historic day.
    • Call for Empowerment of our constituents in the neighborhood for combating the elected-appointed-hired and donor for hire extremists with a mean-spirited takeover by those who have taken an Oath to the U.S. Constitution.
    • Call for the NAACP and ACLU to jointly and wisely forge legal wherewithal that include Class-Action suits against Willie Lynch models and disenfranchisements of People of Color and other protected groups.
    • Call for the Wisconsin African American Chamber of Commerce and the Wisconsin Black Chamber of Commerce to forge a JOINT AGENDA that disallow the powers to be to pit them against each other – when each group are not really being considered with leveraging respect – only one or more of the members are pulled out for meaningless awards and “we accept you but not the rest of you” status quo.
    • Call for the Wisconsin African American Chamber of Commerce and the Wisconsin Black Chamber of Commerce to forge a JOINT AGENDA – if they are going to represent African Americans in Milwaukee.
    • Call for our senators (federal and state – Senators Tim Carpenter, Lena Taylor, Leah Vukmir, Nikiya Harris, Chris Larson, and Alberta Darling), U.S. Congresswoman Gwen Moore, all city of Milwaukee representatives, all board of Supervisors, all common council representatives and all MPS Board members to show their leadership by coming together and providing a unified front that we the People would overwhelming support – if it is for the strengthening of the People first and foremost – a subsequent plan that speaks to the benefits of Milwaukeeans, rather than supporting the public relations of the NBA Milwaukee Bucks hype and scare tactic of leaving in 2017 – a deal cut by ex-Bucks owner/negotiator/millionaire Herb Kohl and Marc Lasry and Wes Edens billionaires that tied their personal deal to a commitment of the taxpayers of Milwaukee without their say-so.
    • Call out Neighborhood groups, non-profit and for-profit, that have paid outreach representatives speak – speak to truth-telling that includes PUSH BACK on mandates sent from the mayor’s office, DCD, DPW, Neighborhood Services, CDBG, Redevelopment Authority, county executive office, governor’s office and funding foundations, Greater Milwaukee Committee, Gale Klappa – WE Energies and Milwaukee 7, Tim Sheehy – Milwaukee Metropolitan Commerce Association, Wisconsin Center District, that DISRESPECTS African Americans, other People of Color and the Work Challenged groups at the neighborhood level.
    • Call out developments that pit one in the neighborhood against another group that is not one of the cronies (i.e., St. Ann’s Center – Sister Edna Lonergan, Tim Sullivan – closed Bucyrus Corporation/Caterpillar, Next Door Foundation Day Care, Bishop Walter Harvey – Parklawn Assembly God & Christ, Una Van Duvall – Heartlove Place) OR Walnut Way and BID/Business Investment District 32, Board member Sharon Adams and others seeking a $6.1 million structure that was not OK’d by the People the money came into the neighborhood for – the ones that are not on the board of directors and jobs earmarked for 20 positions for COMMONS project – 17th and North Avenue OR PROPERTY OWNER, MC COLE and Hammer’s Den owner and taxpayer was sabotaged by Alderman Russell Stamper II – District 15, Sharon Adams, BID 32 and Friends (President Virginia DuPriest – WAICO Y) – all three African Americans and designated as leaders – elected by the People (Stamper), appointed by Tom Barrett, mayor (Sharon Adam and BID 32 members) and neighborhood hired/elected (Virginia Du Priest).

    According to you Mr. Smith, “The protesting and complaining about the issues is quite prevalent within black Milwaukee; however, we lack numbers when it comes to those ready to be agents of change. No one is going to give us anything, so stop sitting back and expecting utopian results. What hurts my heart even more about this subject is people will see this piece as a ‘blame the victim’ approach instead of a call for accountability. At some point, we have to stop playing the victim card and realize we have work to do.”

    “I will be the first to admit that systemic and institutional racism/oppression continues to exist, but how many times are we going to keep pointing our finger at the problem? If ‘to know better is to do better’ is true then why are we still stagnant? The right thing is for us to take charge of our lives and work collectively to combat the daily obstacles plaguing our streets.

    My final points speaks to the above two paragraphs of yours.
    I do not think the wise is waiting for Tom Barrett, Chris Abele, Scott Walker or the members of the privileged monopoly-oligopoly group to give anything but what is “Rightfully ours”.

    As far as “utopian results”, I do not know who you are talking about but I strongly suggest more is needed for your Education Committee. As far as you “blaming the victim”, you are doing just that. And, you can. But at the end of the day, What I hold you responsible and accountable for IS the missing paragraphs of “what you are doing” as a member of the legacy organization of NAACP to make a difference.

    I did not hear your “take charge of our lives specifics and work collectively specifics to overcome the obstacles of the institutional racism/oppression you mentioned and the obstacles plaguing our streets”.

    I would like to explore some ethical and value-added goals and projects to do just that. I am Mary Glass, Chair/CEO/CVO, Milwaukee Professionals Association LLC and Moderator of SATURDAY TALK. My email is: mpapublicpolicyreview@gmail.com.

  5. Toni Wagner says:

    Good piece. Your message is a powerful one and should be shared. I’m inviting you to join the neighborhood Block Party on Saturday, July 11th from 12noon – 4pm. West Center Street, Sherman Blvd. to 46th St. will be closed for all the neighbors to gather and to get to know each other. The event is sponsored by the 7th District Police and Center St. BID #39.

  6. Jamaal E. Smith says:

    So I was jus t informed that this piece was posted here. I definitely appreciate all of the comments here and will humbly take them all into consideration moving forward. Mary Glass, I will email you very soon!!

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