The NAACP’s ONE MKE Summit was a call to action to end disparity between the races in Milwaukee, repeatedly called one of the most divided cities in the nation.
The purpose of the daylong meeting was to discuss the disparities – political, educational, social and economic – and renew a sense of urgency to narrow the gap.
“We need to turn frustration into action,” said Hall.
That was a refrain of speakers and panelists at the summit’s Town Hall meeting voiced. About 100 attended, in MATC’s 1,800-seat Cooley Auditorium.
“We have to get past anger and isolation and get toward doing,” said Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, noting the hurdles of joblessness among blacks and inadequate public transportation that often inhibits employment.
Mayor Tom Barrett agreed: “We have to do a better job providing jobs in the city of Milwaukee. Milwaukee Public Schools has to be a place parents want to send their children.”
The summit gained impetus from a recent report from the NAACP. Milwaukee Today, co-written by R.L. McNeely, David Pate and Lisa Ann Johnson, of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, painted a dismal picture of race relations here. Among their findings:
• Two out of three blacks without high school diplomas in Milwaukee would spend time in prison.
• Milwaukee employers are more likely to choose a white employee with a criminal background than a black one without a record.
• Blacks are arrested on average 11 times more often than whites in Wisconsin.
None of the panelists at the summit’s Town Hall meeting refuted those findings.
“The facts speak for themselves,” said Hall. “It’s not acceptable to continue going on like that.”
MPS Superintendent Gregory Thornton said that racial bias is not lost on students he’s talked with. “In the end, they don’t think anyone has their back.”
He said complacency can’t be accepted any longer: “We as Americans, sometimes we play it safe. Many of us in this room, we play it safe. Jobs get pretty comfortable. Positions in the community get pretty comfortable. You’ve got to have an organization that doesn’t play it safe. That’s the NAACP. The NAACP has the children’s back.”
Meanwhile, panelist Rev. Willie Brisco noted that Milwaukee’s not an island.
“One Milwaukee means if there’s a cancer in the inner city, it’ll be in Mequon soon,” the president of the Milwaukee Inter-city Congregations Allied for Hope.
Panelist Ralph Hollmon, president of the Milwaukee Urban League, reiterated the need to take action: “There’s a tremendous amount of frustration in our community,” he said. “In spite of that frustration, we can never ever quit.”
Hall said he wanted a “collective commitment” from attendees to bring about change. “This meeting is good but we don’t want it to be just a feel-good moment,” he said.
Also on the Town Hall panel were Sen. Lena Taylor (D) and W. Curtis Marshall of the state’s Division of Public Health.