“The President’s Perspective”
By Alderman Ashanti Hamilton
Common Council President City of Milwaukee
Promise. The word seems to be everywhere in our City. It is part of a persistent message that permeates every space that deals with community development and revitalization. For example, the MATC Promise is a commitment to provide tuition free college to students who come from low-income backgrounds.
The Milwaukee Promise was passed in 2010 to intentionally direct City funds into disinvested neighborhoods to alleviate systemically driven poverty. With committed partners, the Promise Zones initiative supports building neighborhood level systems through collaboration to positively impact employment, safety, education, and youth development. This collaborative approach, uniting community members, non-profits and city government, builds capacity and infrastructure that creates power at the neighborhood level. These efforts create critical systems to make sure that we are able to make good on promises owed to our community by the City, educational institutions, and for-profit private institutions.
At the core of these commitments are the people. The people that live within the Promise Zones neighborhoods have been left out of opportunities afforded to the broader community for decades. When we do this work, we have to take into account that many from our communities have heard it all before and have experienced disappointment when these efforts fall short of the promises they seek to fulfill. They have been promised access and opportunity before by the very institutions and systems responsible for our community’s well-being. As we continue to build new systems, we must remember to address the mistrust the failure of unkept promises have created.
We also have to remember that our promises cannot be met in isolation. This is why system building is so important. One unfortunate truth about program implementation in Milwaukee is that we too often operate in silos. We work in the same areas, target the same people, and offer the same or complementary services however we don’t communicate with one another. If we intend to keep our promises, we have to genuinely connect with those we seek to serve, create pipelines and have a shared vision. Developing a relationship between the Milwaukee Promise Zone youth and the MATC Promise is a logical step that allows our young people to see higher education as a reality. We must connect entities that offer the same services so that they can reach people with a more comprehensive approach. We have to connect our City, or we will continue to make promises that we lack the capacity to keep.
Finally, we must remember why we made these promises in the first place. The disparities that entities and initiatives like the Office On African American Affairs, Boys and Men of Color initiative, Black Male Achievement Advisory Council, Be The Change mentoring program, and the Office of Violence Prevention are just a few that have collaboratively come together to work across public and private organizations, politics, neighborhood geographies, and priorities to make a commitment to tackle systemic issues by building systems reflective of the real needs of our community. Our collective promise to address poverty and provide sustained access to more opportunities in education, entrepreneurship, homeownership and safe and livable neighborhoods is one we must keep. Exclusion from opportunity cannot continue if we want our community to reach its full potential. We must address this now, and that urgency should keep us on course to fulfill our commitments.
We know that Milwaukee is not just the negative. There are so many great things about this City, especially in the areas that are often the most overlooked. This truly is a City full of promise and potential. It is going to require deep and sustained investment and efforts from dedicated organizations and institutions to realize Milwaukee’s potential, and this is what is necessary to ensure that we see our promises through.